its a good deal for the cards. saves some cash. his salary gets knocked down from 9.25 to 7 this year. also, the 25.75 million includes 5.5 million that he has already deferred. izzy isnt an elite closer and i always got the impression that he wasnt quite as good as his numbers indicate, but he has been successful for us, it is a good deal considering what other closers are getting, and there really arent any other options for us. billy wags is about the only other 'elite' closer that will be a free agent at the end of the year. we dont have any sure fire potential closers in the minors. i think the cards learned a lesson from the renteria ordeal and will make better attempts to sign extensions before the season.
By Joe Strauss Of the Post-Dispatch
JUPITER, Fla. - For the past three seasons, the Cardinals' successes and failures have corresponded closely to closer Jason Isringhausen's health and productivity. When Isringhausen has appeared without interruption, the Cardinals have won division titles in 2002 and 2004. When he has faltered, as was the case in 2003, his team has experienced maddening inconsistency.
Owing to Isringhausen's significance and his willingness to defer money in his previous four-year deal, the club on Saturday announced agreement on a two-year extension plus an option that could keep the Brighton, Ill., native in St. Louis through 2008.
Terms call for Isringhausen to receive $7 million this season and $8.75 million in 2006 and 2007. A club option for 2008 would provide him $8 million if the club does not exercise a $1.25 million buyout.
This season is the final installment of a four-year, $26 million deal Isringhausen signed as a free agent in 2001. Though the extension is valued at a potential $25.75 million, it includes approximately $5.5 million deferred from the initial deal. Isringhausen would have been due $12.5 million from the Cardinals this season had the parties not agreed on the extension.
If the Cardinals eventually assume the option for 2008, the two deals would be worth a total of $46.25 million rather than $51.75 million. The two-year extension guarantees him at least $18.75 million.
"I give them all I've got, during the painful days and everything," Isringhausen said. "Everybody here does. You treat the organization with respect, and they do this. I'm deeply thankful."
Isringhausen tied Armando Benitez for the league lead with 47 saves despite pitching last season on a badly damaged left hip. Surgery in November revealed a significant tear of the surrounding labrum.
He also had surgery after the 2002 season to repair a frayed labrum in his pitching shoulder. Isringhausen's attempt at a premature return backfired the following spring, causing him to miss the season's first two months and the Cardinals to experience bullpen chaos throughout a third-place campaign. Isringhausen, 32, has had seven surgeries.
The deal rewards Isringhausen for contributing heavily to two playoff runs as well as deferring money from each of his first three seasons with the club. He made clear Saturday his attachment to the organization goes beyond monetary considerations, citing the recent three-year deals signed by general manager Walt Jocketty and manager Tony La Russa.
"At the end of the deal it'll be 12 years. I'd love to retire as a Cardinal. We'll see how it works out," said Isringhausen, an American League All-Star in 2000 who has split his career between the New York Mets, Oakland A's and Cardinals, reaching the postseason four times in the past five seasons. "I'm just happy I'm going to be part of the organization for three more years. I know Walt has signed on for three more. I know Tony has signed on for three more. We know who we're going to be working with, which is comfortable."
Isringhausen has 101 saves in three seasons with the Redbirds, allowing opponents a .200 average and only seven home runs in 174 appearances. Isringhausen ranks fourth on the team's career saves list, 26 shy of Bruce Sutter for third place and 28 short of Todd Worrell for second. His 168 saves the last five seasons rank fourth in the game to Mariano Rivera (207), Benitez (185) and Troy Percival (177).
"He's definitely an elite closer," La Russa said. "The only other credential you have to have is the ability to repeat it. I think Izzy is in a position this year to pitch even better, which I think moves him into that same class."
Jocketty said negotiations began shortly after the World Series but intensified only after the club received assurances from its medical staff regarding Isringhausen's soundness.
Isringhausen has so far shown no ill effects from November's surgery, though he admittedly placed undue strain on his shoulder last summer while compensating for the hip injury.
The club has prescribed less running for Isringhausen, and he is not expected to appear in an exhibition game until the schedule's second week.
The Cardinals and their closer learned a costly lesson in 2003, when his absence coincided with the bullpen blowing 30 saves as the club dropped the division to the Chicago Cubs by three games. With him available all last season, the Cardinals led the major leagues in bullpen ERA (3.01) while converting 57 of 73 saves. The save total was the highest in franchise history
"We've been to the playoffs every year except the year I was hurt. And that was my fault," said Isringhausen, who did not appear until mid-June 2003 after rushing his rehab from surgery. "I tried to rush back a little too quick that spring. In my first (batting practice) I blew it out, got some bad inflammation and had to shut it down a little bit."
Isringhausen pitched last season with pain so excruciating it sometimes prevented him from sleeping, while consistently sapping velocity from his fastball. He still managed a career-high 74 appearances in the regular season.
"Any time you're dealing with pain - just like Albert (Pujols) with his foot and Scotty (Rolen) with his knee - it's something you wonder how it will affect you down the road," Isringhausen said. "But this is what we get paid to do. So you go out and do it and get by."
The Cardinals have struggled to get by the last three seasons when Isringhausen hasn't been available. La Russa insisted the lack of a dominant closer factored into the team's failure to reach the World Series in its first three playoff appearances with him as manager.
"We've consistently shown ourselves to be a very good team with Izzy in the bullpen for us," Jocketty said. "And it showed a couple years ago when we missed him early in the season."
La Russa said: "I think he is probably coming into this season healthier than the others. He's been really good. He was a difference-maker in 2002 and last year, and he was a difference-maker in 2003 by not having him. It's one of the good things in camp.."
The Cardinals are banking that Isringhausen will outlast many others who have dominated in the role, then faded away. The 2008 season would be his ninth as a closer.
In recent years, Isringhausen has tried to regulate his effort while also incorporating more off-speed pitches to save wear on his arm.
"He's got three fastballs," La Russa said. "He's got his breaking ball. I think you'll see more and more him throwing something softer. Just like (former Atlanta Braves closer) John Smoltz, one thing that made him great was his ability to get you out with three above-average pitches. Last year Izzy didn't have that extra velocity, but he got a lot of saves because he has extra pitches."