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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: A tough transition for Carp…

There seems to be a lot of ridiculous irritation over the fact that Chris Carpenter won’t just say the words “I retire” and forfeit the $12.5 million the Cardinals will pay him to sit on the disabled list this season.

A few things about that before I make my point:

*I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…money MLB owners save will not be returned to fans. It just won’t. We’re talking about a couple of millionaires playing hot potato with a couple buckets of cash. If Carp gives up the money, Bill DeWitt will not be standing at the Busch Stadium gates handing out $20 bills to fans so they can share in the savings. He’s going to pocket it. That’s why player salaries are so high…because either the owner or the player will keep it, so why not the guy sweatin’ on the field and going under the knife occasionally to earn it? And, while we’re at it, payroll size does not affect ticket prices as much as fans want to believe. The MLB owners have a hot product that fans are willing to pay through the nose for, and they’re going to take you up on it. After that, it’s simply a matter of distribution.

*Cardinals ownership is not hurting for money. If they want to increase payroll to replace Carpenter on the roster, they certainly have the ability. Paying Carp $12.5 million – minus whatever small insurance policy the team has on The Ace – will not prevent this team from winning a championship in 2013. But as Bernie said in his piece at stltoday.com today, the team is genuinely excited about giving it a go with their low-cost, young arms.

*Everyone went into this with their eyes wide open. The Cardinals knew exactly what kind of medical risks they were taking, and Carpenter knew he could probably work a paycheck with another team for a few million more than the Cardinals offered (especially with what he knows Waino is going to get paid soon)…but both decided to re-up with each other for two more years. It didn’t work out. That’s how things go sometimes. We don’t have to like the math, but don’t hate the people involved. It is what it is and that’s all there is to it.

*And of course, the bottom line is that no one I know – not you, not me, not your brother or your sister – would give up that money. If the Cardinals were willing to pay you $12.5 million in 2013 and all you had to do was not say the word “retire” for about 7 months…you know there’s no way you would give that money up. So stop jumping on Carp for cashing his checks. The dude gave you a rib. The least you can do is honor his contract.

All that said, Carp needs to find a way to make this transition sooner rather than later. I read a report yesterday that said he’s going to take Spring Break with his family and not report to Jupiter with the team. That’s great. It’s been a tough road, the news of his injury troubles was certainly a blow to Chris over the last couple weeks, and being with family for some time away is probably the best thing for him right now.

But then he needs to get into camp.

Matheny wants him there. Waino wants him there. Mozeliak wants him there. The team wants him there. It’s a no-brainer.

I know, I know…Carp has always said he has a difficult time “leading” when he can’t get on the field and perform. He’s just uncomfortable with jawin’ at teammates from the bench when he can’t take the mound and pull his weight. I get that. But it’s time to find a way to overcome those feelings and answer the phone.

Carpenter has always provided as much or more for the team by way of presence and leadership than he did on the mound. Being with the guys, being around the guys has always made everyone who comes in contact with him better. The Cardinals know it, and that’s one of the reasons they took the gamble they did on his contract. They want number twenty-nine around for the long haul.

It’s time for Carpenter to figure out how to make the transition from player to “contributor” and show up to help his team. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a coach so he can spend time with his family. Awesome. Do that in 2014. For 2013, he’s under contract, and even if he never throws a pitch this season, Chris Carpenter being Chris Carpenter around that young pitching staff will only make this team better.

Go get some family time, Chris…and then get your hard-as-nails ass to camp.

Now let’s see what else is going on today…

It seems Lance Lynn has broken from the herd a bit. Quoted as saying, “I was an 18-game winner last year with an All-Star appearance – I have to do a lot of things to lose a spot, in my opinion,” Lynn may have just done more to signal the end of the Tony La Russa era than the entire team combined in the last year. Under TLR, comments like that were never tolerated. The future Hall of Fame manager fostered an atmosphere that saw superstars like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina claim a desire to “make the team” each Spring Training. Now, a young pitcher thrust into the rotation last season only because Chris Carpenter was unable to answer the bell, feels comfortable saying he has a spot all but locked up to the media. Quite a change from one regime to the next, especially considering – by most accounts – Matheny and the team discussed a need for Lynn to get in shape, grab hold of his career, and come into camp ready to compete for a spot in the rotation. The meeting was reportedly related to Lynn’s late-season struggles in 2012 – something the club supposedly ties to poor conditioning and in-season weight gain.

When it comes to Lynn’s quote, however, fans seem to be split. Some see it as honesty and confidence. Others see it as evidence of an attitude disconnected from the team and its manager. Let’s be clear here…Yes, Yadier Molina knows he’s going to make the Opening Day roster when he says he’s just trying to make the team. And yes, he and others say that in part to simply avoid backlash or misperception in the media. But what if Yadi – the veteran leader of this team – has learned something else, some other value to saying the “right things?” It’s quite possible that players like Molina, Carpenter, Wainwright, Pujols, etc. have found what they consider to be a tangible result of having and displaying the right attitude.

Think of it this way…Carpenter is fond of saying he “tricks” himself into thinking certain things – I have enough left in the tank, I’m okay, I can get this guy out, etc. – and that helps him be more effective and work harder. Isn’t it possible that those team veterans feel a similar way about saying the right things out loud? Could there be some tangible benefit to “tricking” yourself into acting/working as if there’s a chance you don’t make the squad each season? Is Lynn missing that by breaking the pattern?

And what about team leadership? One of my favorite stories in baseball is a report from a former Braves player who was being interviewed about the Bobby Cox era in Atlanta. The conversation turned to new and/or young players joining the Braves under such an “established” manager. How do they make that player accept the Bobby Cox way of going about your business? The player’s answer was simple. “We say ‘hey, we’ve got a certain way of doing things here, and it’s been pretty successful so far, so get in line.’”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the point is similar. The Cardinals have a way of going about their business – one that has seen them through a fairly successful run – and telling the media you’ve basically got a spot locked up in Spring Training does not jive well with that “Cardinal Way,” especially on the same day Matheny was reported as saying Lynn had “matured.”

But the bottom line for me is this: Lance Lynn isn’t “new” to camp by any means. He played under TLR. He played with Carpenter and Wainwright and Pujols and Yadi. He knows the score. So why, assuming there isn’t something more to the reported quote, would he make a comment that is so far out of line with the established leadership and team position heading into Spring Training? Either he doesn’t care, or he doesn’t get it. Either way, Matheny needs to have a conversation with Lynn sooner rather than later…followed by a conversation with Adam “I wanna’ be a shepherd for these young arms” Wainwright.

Wrap-Up!

Considering all we had to say on Carp and Lynn today, we’re going to call it quits right there. Be sure to check out the plethora of posts in the last week, including the “State of the Nation Podcast” from Sunday.

Oh! And don’t forget to pick up your copy of the UCB Annual – “An Unexpected Journey” – for 2013 on your Kindle device from Amazon for just $4.99. Simply click on the picture to the right of this post, and download it immediately!

GO CARDS!!!

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