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Mailbag: Looking at baseball business

Mailbag: Looking at the business of baseball

JUPITER, Fla. -- Normally, pondering the same question twice in a row is a bit taboo in the mailbag, but one of last week's answers received a lot of e-mails -- some puzzled, some downright angry. So we'll start this week's edition with a closer look at the business aspect of when to call up a top prospect. Then we'll get on to new business.

As always, if you have a question, use the link below to submit it -- and please be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown. If you send a regular e-mail, rather than using the form, be certain to use the word "mailbag" in the subject header -- otherwise your mail may be directed to the spam folder or possibly be ignored in an unbecoming manner. Also, please understand that literally hundreds of e-mails arrive every week, so they can't all be used in the mailbag or receive personal responses.

Based on everything I hear, Colby Rasmus is a keeper. Not everyone that has a great Spring Training has a good season. If he is what makes us a great team -- speed, power and probably the only good leadoff hitter we have -- then I think he should be our center fielder, and let's not worry about the future on the business side, because the Cardinals can make enough from attendance, shirts and other revenue sources to pay him more if he is worth it.
-- Jeff W., Paducah, Ky.

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When I wrote about the "business side" in last week's mailbag, the point wasn't so much about salary. Instead, the central points are how long:

A) the team has control of the player, and

B) the player's salary is determined by something other than the free market

These things both are unquestionably important. The first is obvious -- the longer he's under the team's control, the better, right? The second is less obvious, but still essential. The team has a budget. Every dollar it's spending on Rasmus is a dollar not spent somewhere else, like the pitching staff or the middle infield or retaining Albert Pujols beyond 2011 or whatever.

So let's look at the situation:

Rasmus cannot be a free agent until the winter after he has six full years of Major League service. So if he's on the big league roster every single day from the start of the 2008 season on, then he is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2013 season. If, however, he comes up after even a couple of weeks, then he cannot be a free agent until the end of the 2014 season. Given how much better Rasmus is likely to be in 2014 than he is in 2008, this is relevant. Would you trade one month of a developing rookie for one full year of a star player in his prime? I absolutely would. This is the bigger issue, by far.

The smaller issue is that until Rasmus has roughly 2 1/2 years of Major League service time, he is not eligible for arbitration. So if he comes up, say, Aug. 1, then he will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2011 season. If he's up before July 1, then he would be arbitration eligible after the 2010 season.

It's not about whether ownership spends more or less money, per se. But the team does have a budget. And if it has to pay Rasmus, say, an arbitration-determined $7 million in 2011, as opposed to a pre-arbitration $1 million, that's money that could be spent on another player.

All of this, meanwhile, must be viewed in the context of the 2008 team, which frankly isn't looking like a great team. If this team looked like a 95-win team, the imperative would be greater to get the best players on the field, regardless.

But if this is more like a 75- or 80-win team, then the extra win or two gained by Rasmus being on the field -- if in fact he would be worth that much, which is uncertain -- surely is not justified. It's more important to think about future seasons.

Have a question about the Cardinals?
Jenifer LangoschE-mail your query to MLB.com Cardinals beat reporter Jenifer Langosch for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
First Name, Last Initial:

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Question:

I see that Mike Matheny is back with the Cardinals this season as a special instructor. Is this by invitation or is there a chance he could be seasoning as a manager down the road? He has an awesome understanding for the game, and I personally really missed him when he left. I think he would be a great addition to any coaching staff. Any thoughts?
-- Steve T., Maquoketa, Iowa

I honestly can say that I've never come across a player as universally revered by his teammates as Matheny. It's pretty remarkable how everyone I've ever come across who knows him, just gushes about him.

However, it will be a while before Matheny coaches full-time. He's still got kids at home, as young as 7 years old. And his top priority is to be a dad. Once the kids have moved on, then Matheny likely will entertain the possibility of coaching as a job.

What do you think of Chris Perez? Any chances he eventually takes Jason Isringhausen's spot as closer this season?
-- Zvulun Z., Los Angeles

To answer the second question first, no. The only way Isringhausen won't close for the Cardinals for the remainder of this year is if he's hurt or traded.

However, Perez is a very interesting prospect. His arm is absolutely remarkable, but his command still is shaky. There's some chance he'll be called up next year and begin his apprenticeship. But he won't be closing games in St. Louis until next season, at the earliest.

With Juan Encarnacion's prognosis for full recovery appearing slim, I'm curious to know whether the Cardinals are obligated to carry him on the 40-man roster (and 60-day DL) for the duration of his contract.
-- Randall L., Corinth, Texas

The team is not necessarily obligated, but it's certainly the right thing to do. Once the season starts, the Cardinals can place him on the 60-day disabled list, which means he doesn't take up a spot on the 40-man.

I'm so glad to see the "Whatever happened to ..." category back again. Today I was just thinking the Cards need a young third-base prospect when I almost remembered a name. I didn't remember John Gall until this evening. Whatever happened to him?
-- Jay H., Belleville, Ill.

Gall was one of my favorite guys, a bright and thoughtful fellow from Stanford. And it takes a sharp memory to recall that once upon a time, he did play a little third base.

He's now in the Marlins organization, a non-roster invitee with little chance of making the Opening Day roster. He had a nice season at Triple-A Albuquerque and did get a cup of coffee with the Marlins in '07. Remarkably, Gall got his 1,000th Minor League hit last year.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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