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Bernie: New park won't mean much if talent dries

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  • Bernie: New park won't mean much if talent dries


    A new ballpark won't mean much if talent dries up
    By Bernie Miklasz
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    We were told that the Cardinals needed a new ballpark to increase revenue, so the franchise can remain financially competitive. But in a story that appeared in Sunday's Post-Dispatch, team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. didn't offer precise projections on the Cardinals' payroll spending power once the gates to the new palace swing open in 2006. For the next couple of seasons, ownership probably will keep the payroll roughly where it is now, close to $85 million.

    I'd like to believe that the new ballpark will give the Cardinals a rush of money, to be funneled into that payroll war chest. But there's no conclusive evidence to prove that a new ballpark leads to an improved baseball team. Some of the worst franchises - Texas, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Detroit - reside in fancy new ballparks.

    In the past two postseasons, only five of the 16 competing teams had new ballparks for homes. The past two World Series champions, Anaheim and Florida, have home stadiums that are considered inadequate by modern standards. Small-market clubs such as Oakland and Minnesota play in subpar ballparks but continue to win.

    So the impact of the new ballpark on the Cardinals' future is fuzzy. But this much is certain: The Cardinals must improve their farm system. That's the best way to remain competitive, regardless of payroll size. To hold the payroll down - and thus keep some money available for a few quick-fix trades and free-agent signings - the Cardinals need a shift in philosophy.

    The Cardinals must be more committed to developing their own players. And DeWitt, to his credit, is moving that way. DeWitt hired Jeff Luhnow to come in and shake up the team's outdated player-development operation.

    In the past, the Cardinals have effectively used their farm system to supply prospects used in trades for good veteran players. That's how they got Mark McGwire, Edgar Renteria, Jim Edmonds, Darryl Kile, Scott Rolen, Will Clark and others. But keeping those veterans around for a long time requires fat contracts. The Cardinals have locked up Rolen and Albert Pujols through 2010, and Edmonds is under contract through 2006. Renteria, the superb shortstop, is next in line; his contract expires after 2004. And his price will be substantial, judging by the $12 million-a-year contract Baltimore gave to free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada.

    Let's say the Cardinals retain Renteria at about $10 million a season. That means they'll have a large percentage of their payroll tied up in four position players: Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds and Renteria. How can they address pitching and other areas of need and still maintain the desired payroll? There's only one way out: young pitching talent.

    It's OK to invest so much money into three or four position players and set the foundation of your lineup for many years. But free-agent starting pitchers are very expensive. And they break down. And they only pitch once every five days. Can the Cardinals really afford to keep Matt Morris when he becomes a free agent after the season? Probably not. But it's less costly, and less of a risk, to develop your own young starting pitchers, or acquire them via trade.

    And the Cardinals are in good shape in this department. A number of impressive young arms are on the way: Dan Haren, Blake Hawksworth, Adam Wainwright, Chris Narveson, Rhett Parrott, Tyler Johnson. The most important thing the Cardinals organization can do over the next two or three seasons is handle its pitching prospects with care, and give them every chance to thrive at the big-league level.

    These are precious commodities. It's been a long time since the Cardinals truly developed a pitching star. Morris is the closest. If these starting-pitching prospects go bust, the Cardinals will be in serious trouble. A new stadium won't save them in the standings.