Monday, January 11, 2010

Holliday ... and Gun Play

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 10:11 AM

The St. Louis Cardinals’ signing of outfielder Matt Holliday last week — $120 million over seven years — should have an impact at AutoZone Park. With the Cards’ next priority locking up three-time MVP Albert Pujols beyond 2011, the franchise simply must devote itself to young, farm-grown (read: inexpensive) talent to supplement its top-heavy payroll. (Don’t forget the big salaries pulled in by the team’s two aces, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.)

The acquisitions of Holliday and Mark DeRosa last summer cost the Cardinals three of their top five prospects: third-baseman Brett Wallace and relief pitchers Chris Perez and Jess Todd. DeRosa is already gone, having signed a free-agent deal with the San Francisco Giants (making the losses of Perez and Todd especially painful when you factor in the struggles of Ryan Franklin and Kyle McClellan at the end of the 2009 season). Among the leading candidates to replace DeRosa at third for St. Louis will be David Freese, a key member of the Memphis Redbirds’ 2009 Pacific Coast League champions (and a midwinter distraction, having been arrested for driving under the influence in December).

The development of centerfielder Colby Rasmus (still just 23, Rasmus hit .251 with 16 homers as a rookie last summer) will be critical to supporting the Pujols/Holliday tandem in the middle of the Cardinal order. And then what? In Baseball America’s most recent ranking of farm systems, the Cardinals plummeted to 29th (ahead of only the Houston Astros), and that’s after being ranked eighth at the dawn of the 2009 season.

The Cardinals’ top prospects as of today:

1) Shelby Miller (RHP) — The 19th pick in last June’s draft, Miller likely won’t see Triple A until 2011 at the earliest.

2) Jaime Garcia (LHP) — Garcia returned from surgery late last season and was instrumental in the Redbirds’ undefeated push through the PCL playoffs (12 innings, no earned runs). He’ll be a candidate for the Cardinals’ starting rotation this spring.

3) Lance Lynn (RHP) — The big righty (6’5”, 250) was a Texas League All-Star last season, going 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA for Double-A Springfield. Like Garcia, he’ll be considered for any opening in the St. Louis rotation, but will likely be pitching every fifth day for Memphis.

4) Daryl Jones (OF) — Hit .279 in 80 games for Springfield last season. Hit .326 and stole 18 bases in Class A in 2008. Hard to envision him getting much playing time as a Cardinal with Holliday, Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick on the roster.

click to enlarge gilbert-arenas.jpg

• Just when you think a professional athlete has established a new standard for thick-headedness — like, say, shooting himself in the leg in public — a story breaks like the one about Gilbert Arenas showing off guns in the Washington Wizards’ locker room. And then making light of it as a “joke” when the act is called into question. (Best part of all this? Arenas plays for a team that was known as the Washington Bullets until 1997, when owner Abe Pollin renamed the team in the wake of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.)

NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely, a classic case of making an example out of a transgression, but one that needed to be made. The right to bear arms is sacred to millions of Americans, but where those arms are carried matters greatly. (See the ongoing debate over Tennessee’s new law allowing firearms in bars.) Seems like an NBA arena should be among the first places crossed off the list of “appropriate for handguns.”

In the NBA, “I got your back” is heard a lot more than “I’m sorry,” which makes the words spoken by Wizards captain Antawn Jamison to a crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington last Friday night rather astounding. Here they are:

"On behalf of my teammates, this coaching staff, we know it's been a trying week. One thing my teammates and I take very seriously is that being a positive role model ... something we don't take lightly. And there's been a picture that's been shown of us taking this event very lightly. This is a serious situation; it's something we take to heart. We never meant to make light of the situation. And we're going to do everything in our power, as long as I'm your captain and all these guys right here are my teammates, to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league.

"In order to make that happen, we need you guys to continue to support us. This thing here is very embarrassing for my teammates and the coaching staff, but we're going to do everything possible to make this one of the toughest places to play in, to make this an exciting place, but most importantly, a place where you can bring your kids, your families, your buddy, to come and have a good time."

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