It would be nice to spend lots of money, but is it smart?

Has anyone noticed that Washington, D.C. and St. Louis have some eerily similar discussions going on?

The last decade or more has demonstrated that bloated budgets are inefficient at best and simply untenable at worst.  While it would be nice to allocate large amounts of resources on the things we want for the next few years, those decision will come back to haunt us in the future.  We must establish a plan and maintain discipline.

That could be the mantra of the budget hawks freshly minted from the tea parties of 2009-2010, or it could be the rationale behind the Cardinals telling Albert Pujols to go find himself a better deal than the reported offer that was on the table.

Just as the Republicans wear the black eye of the Bush-era spending increases, the Cardinals must answer to Pujols – and their fans – how they signed Coors Field product Matt Holliday to a contract which paid him $16 million per year, but would be willing to let the far superior Pujols walk because he’s too expensive.

Republicans are likely fearful of the Democrats accusing them of ripping Social Security checks from the arthritic hands of World War II veterans.  The Cardinals can’t be looking forward to the sports page headlines and the talk radio chatter in St. Louis the day Pujols signs with the Seattle Mariners.

But in each case, the powers that be must recognize two realities.  First, bad decisions in the past do not justify bad decisions in the present.  Second, voters and fans are smarter than most people give them credit for.

And since the baseball problem is easier, here’s something to consider: teams lose superstars all the time and go on to have success.  Seattle lost three franchise cornerstones – Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez – in consecutive years, and actually got better each year.  Johan Santana left the Twins, and they still find their way into the playoffs with regularity.  The Marlins won the World Series in 1997, dumped almost their entire roster, and rebuilt another championship team within six years.

On the other hand, teams just as frequently make signings that seem like great ideas at the time, but turn into albatrosses as players age.  The Mets surely wish they could trade Carlos Beltran, and might try to murder Luis Castillo to get him off the roster.  Vladimir Guerrero was a great pickup for the Angels in 2003, by 2009 they couldn’t get him out the door fast enough.  And don’t you think the Cubs wish they could take a mulligan on the eight-year pact they signed with Alfonso Soriano in 2006?

Just as voters want a responsive, healthy economy, baseball fans want a winner.  The Cardinals have to know that they more likely to successfully recover within a few years after Pujols walks away than to sign him to a deal that truly works out for the team.

The budget battle in St. Louis, just as the budget battle in Washington, is best viewed through the lens of recent history.

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