DeWitt On Free Agency, Winning

As per his usual custom, St. Louis Cardinals Chairman of the Board Bill DeWitt Jr. delivered some thoughts on the state of the team and fielded questions both on stage from fans and then during a media session. Free agency, trades, and winning were among the topics that came up.

“Just a little preliminary, I think we had a nice offseason with the players we acquired,” began DeWitt. “Achieved most of our goals there. Always things to do with a club. If we can do more, we’ll do more. I think Mo and Girsch did a good job of targeting certain players and getting things accomplished. Excited about spring training. On the non-baseball front, being able to start Ballpark Village Phase 2 is a big deal for us, I think a big deal for the city. Should continue to enhance downtown and downtown development. I think that’s an important milestone in what we wanted to achieve when we built the new stadium. Not new anymore. And on that front we’ve made some changes and improvements this year as well.”

With various names still on the free agent market or rumored to be available by trade, DeWitt was asked if he sees the Cardinals making another deal to move from being thought of as just a contender to an actual favorite.

“That’s pretty hard to do at this point,” he responded. “I don’t really anticipate a major move between now and spring training. I think we have a strong club. It’s an improved club. We have, I think, sort of – it’s been written about the depth of our young pitching. We’ve got a lot of talent there.

“I was asked a question on the stage when you all were in here, ‘Why don’t you go out and sign Greg Holland?’ He’s a proven closer. Or get a closer. My comment was, I’m not saying were going to sign or not sign. I’m not going to get into that argument or discussion. First of all, I’m not allowed to, and secondly we’re not going to say who were interested in and who were not interested in. But, closers are not guarantees. Year to year you can see someone who has pitched well as a closer or two years in a row, and then all of sudden he gets a long term contract, doesn’t mean the contract prevented him from being a good closer. It’s a hard job. You go over the history of closers and it’s not particularly guaranteed that you’re going to get longevity which you think you get out of a starting pitcher.”

Later in the discussion, DeWitt explained the value proposition of how he looks at deals.

“Whomever you want to mention who is quote an established closer is that player going to be effective closer for us and if so for how long,” he said. “And what is your level of certainty there, and are you willing to give up resources –whether it’s players or dollars – to make that bet. We’ve got finite resources, but we have a lot of resources. I would rather give up dollars than players. But there are always opportunities to improve a club with dollars and players and you need to pick the right ones in my view and in Mo’s view and not get carried away if I have this guy he’s going to take me to the end because if there was certainty of that that would be great, but there is always risk–-high risk in many cases.”

Those answers may cause some frustration with parts of the fan base. And unlike the players or manager who readily state the goal is to win the World Series, DeWitt doesn’t usually make such bold statements.

“That’s of course the ultimate goal and our ultimate motivation,” answered DeWitt when asked to share that desire. “To try – there’s been a lot of discussion about getting players who have one year left on their contract. And, you know, do you give up a big part of your future to have a one year run. That’s never been a goal that I would have or our organization has had. We want to be competitive every year and have a shot to get into October. Have a team that we think can get to October. Once you get to October, as you’ve all seen, it’s how it plays out. It’s a different season, not necessarily the biggest contender or the team that has won the most games, is the winner.

“You could even look at our own history – 04, 05, 06. ’06 had the lesser record going in and won the World Series. ’05 won – what? – 105 games and got knocked off in the NLCS. If we can get to the playoffs, make the playoffs, that’s our goal. I think it’s a pretty good goal, and we’ve been there a lot. If you look at how many times we’ve been there and how many times we’ve won, it’s been kind of statistical. We’ve won our share. The goal is to get there, have good teams every year, and so, you know, that’s what we try to do.”

Unlike some organizations, the Cardinals have not gone into a true rebuild mode to restart a winning cycle. In fact, St. Louis benefited by Miami’s decision to go that route and picked up Marcell Ozuna via trade. But is that philosophy of scorched earth good for baseball?

“Well, I can’t speak for other clubs, and it depends on what your situation is,” said DeWitt. “If we couldn’t compete, if I felt we were going to have a losing season, and we didn’t have much of a farm system, who is to say what we would do? It’s the nature of the game, historically, that’s it’s been cyclical.

“Teams will be competitive for a number of years, and then their players get older and they’re good players get older and then they have to rebuild. In the generation of free agency where the big markets can avoid doing that, that in some ways forces other teams to rebuild earlier. I’m not going to comment – I think each team does what it feels like it should do. We have our own situation. They have their own situations.”

And the situation in St. Louis is about sticking to the formula which has provided the opportunity for success.

“We were in it until the end this year, even though we didn’t play as well along the way,” said DeWitt. “We made a good run. It’s hard. You work hard all offseason to put a club together that has a chance, and then things happen. It’s baseball. No one wins every single year. What you want is the opportunity to get there.”

And there will certainly be opportunity throughout the season to make any necessary moves as the roster in January rarely ends up being the roster in September.

photo credit: BIll Greenblatt/UPI

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