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Players with options, free agents GM's top priorities

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Players with options, free agents GM's top priorities

Postby Mad'sWife » Fri Oct 24, 2003 7:17 am


10/22/2003 5:17 PM ET
Jocketty: No wholesale changes
Players with options, free agents GM's top priorities
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com



Brett Tomko says he wants to be back in St. Louis in '04, but could test free agency. (Cardinals/Scott Rovak)



ST. LOUIS -- On Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty and slugger Albert Pujols attended a news conference. At the event, Pujols was recognized as The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year. Clearly, the event brought pride and satisfaction to Jocketty.
But the man who builds the Redbirds each year also knew the award made his job a little more difficult. Because with every accomplishment, Pujols' price goes up. Pujols is sure to garner his third top-5 finish in MVP balloting in as many seasons, and he could actually snare the award for the first time next month. His name is all over the team's record book already, and it's starting to appear in the Major League annals.

That doesn't come cheap -- at least it won't, starting next year. Pujols is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, and it's assumed he will make well over $5 million one way or another -- a major jump from the approximately $900,000 he garnered in 2003.

"I started thinking about that a long time ago," Jocketty said when asked about his superstar's price tag. "We will obviously try to work something out with him in the near future on a long-term deal and see where it goes, but we haven't approached that yet."

The price to keep Pujols is just one of a slew of questions facing Jocketty and the Cardinals this offseason. And it may be pushed to the bottom of the list because one way or another, Pujols will be wearing the birds on the bat come spring. He's still three years from free-agent eligibility.


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"I don't think there will be wholesale changes. ... We've got a very solid everyday lineup and parts of our pitching staff were very good. We've just got to try and find a way to build on it."
-- Walt Jocketty

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Issue No. 1 is contract options. Five Cardinals have team options for 2004 that have yet to be exercised: pitchers Chris Carpenter, Mike DeJean, Jeff Fassero, and Sterling Hitchcock, and second baseman Fernando Vina. Some of those are simple decisions; at least one is not.

Carpenter is almost certain to see his option exercised, while Vina and Fassero both are likely to have theirs bought out. DeJean's '04 price tag is a reasonable $2.5 million, about the going rate for an established reliever of his ability level. Hitchcock has a hefty option after making $6 million in '03. The Cards might like to have him back, but not at a cost in the high seven figures.

"That's the first step, is the guys that have options," Jocketty said. "We've had some conversations. There are probably a couple that are slam dunks, but I won't comment on them yet."

Once those questions are answered, or at least addressed, then it's on to the free agents -- and there should be plenty of those. Foremost among them are starting pitchers Brett Tomko and Garrett Stephenson, both of whom can file for free agency this year. Tomko has expressed an interest in returning, while Stephenson seems resigned to leaving town.

If Tomko is back, and Carpenter -- who missed all of 2003 with a shoulder injury -- is healthy, that leaves one open spot in the rotation. Matt Morris and Woody Williams are penciled in the top two spots. Danny Haren would be a candidate for the fifth spot, but it's safe to say that Jocketty would still like to bring in one more starter for '04.

"I don't think there will be wholesale changes," he said. "I don't think we need to do that. I think we just need to make a few changes to try and improve on what we have. We've got a very solid everyday lineup and parts of our pitching staff were very good. We've just got to try and find a way to build on it."

Significant improvements will cost money, of course. And that's where it starts getting more complicated. A trade -- or more than one trade -- may have to happen in order to clear room on the payroll for another quality starting pitcher.

Even with a payroll around $84 million -- the highest in the NL Central -- dollars are a big deal for the Redbirds.

"What we may have to do with some of these guys is wait and see what the market is," Jocketty said. "Because we know what we're gonna be able to afford to pay them, but it may not be what they are looking for. They may have to go out and test the market and see what the market's like."


We either make ourselves happy or miserable.

The amount of work is the same.
Mad'sWife
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