Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Closing of a Window

The Cardinals are now three wins away from achieving the ultimate goal of professional sports. Just 27 innings, 81 outs, 243 strikes. Just a month and a half ago this would have been considered almost impossible. (At least Nyger Morgan thought so.) But here we are.

If the Cardinals win the World Series they will hang a flag that will fly forever. They will have capitalized on their window of opportunity, and despite losing arguably their top starter before he could throw an inning in 2011, they will have won a World Series title.

But could this be that last beam of warm light pouring through that window of opportunity? Will the window be closed when 2012 rolls around? Obviously this is a critical question for Albert Pujols will ask himself when contract negotiations pick back up in a couple of weeks.

But the Cardinals are one of the premier organizations in all of baseball! There is no way the window of opportunity can close! It will always be open, because our fanbase not only demands it, but is also by divine right entitled to it.

We shouldn't forget that St. Louis isn't a top market. In fact it ranks 24th in all of baseball. Despite that the Cardinals ranked 11th in payroll for 2011. Perhaps the Cardinals have a large enough fan base to sustain these figures. Personally, I think that they can, as long as they win.

Wins directly influence attendance, in fact there isn't a variable outside of market size more critical than wins. You can have all of the bobblehead give aways, t-shirt tuesdays, and Hispanic heritage nights that you want but in the end fan bases need a winner to fully embrace a team.

I can't blame them. Who would want to buy season tickets, so that 45 times a year you can drive home frustrated? The Cardinals have won this year, reaching the World Series is proven to boost attendance and should the Cardinals win it all, attendance will be bumped up even more.

But there is without a doubt a white elephant in the room. Albert Pujols currently isn't a Cardinal in 2012, and to be quite honest I am not sure if there is a clear winning path for the Cardinals to take.

Post steroid era, players regress once they reach their 30s. However, indications are clear that Pujols is as of now one of if not the best player in professional baseball. If the Cardinals sign him to a massive contract they can keep open the window for their aging roster to win again in 2012. But if they don't keep him, there is a possibility the window will be closed.

Of course if the Cardinals do sign him, how long before he begins to regress? How long before that hometown discount starts to look more like a home town albatross? (Well played Mauer.) (Those weren't tic-tacs Alex.) By keeping the window open for 2012, do they shut the window several years down the line?

Over the past few seasons, the Cardinals have shown no fear in mortgaging the future in order to win in the present. Repeatedly they have sold off their top pieces on the farm or high potential players for sure things that can help them win in the short run. I don't fault them, top prospects live forever in the pages of Baseball America, but Championship flags live forever in the faces of fans on poles in centerfield.

For the Royals and their fans this could be an opportunity for a reversal of roles. The Royals for several seasons have sacrificed the present to buy stock in the future. The Cardinals have done the opposite. Will the Royals "Process" create success? Will Pujols defy the odds and prove worthy of every dollar for the duartion? Will the Cardinals creatively find a way to be competitive if he doesn't?

I don't have the answers, I am simply providing a little bit of food for thought.

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