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Edmonds faces transition Edmonds faces transition

By Joe Strauss

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

05/11/2006

 

Although perhaps not the outfielder he once was, Jim Edmonds still has range and savvy.

(By Huy Richard Mach/P-D)

 

His position is listed as center field, but within the Cardinals' clubhouse Jim Edmonds' home is the Corner, an unofficial sanctuary for veterans where outsiders tread at their own risk.

 

The Corner once belonged to Mark McGwire. Edmonds was deeded the space plus an adjacent locker in old Busch Stadium in 2002, his third year with the club. The neighborhood has since housed graybeards Tino Martinez, Reggie Sanders and Ray Lankford. Scott Rolen and Scott Spiezio now reside in his ZIP code.

 

If Edmonds is the Corner's unofficial mayor, the remainder of his term is uncertain. His perceived responsibilities with the club have changed as well.

 

Except for remarkably well-preserved outfielder So Taguchi, Edmonds is the oldest position player on the roster now that Sanders, Cal Eldred and Admin Walker have moved on. He also gained seniority within the clubhouse after Matt Morris' defection to the San Francisco Giants in December.

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"It's a different feeling without guys like Admin (Walker) and Reggie around. There are a lot of different faces here - a lot of good guys - but there's been a lot of turnover. That's just the way the game is now. But to be here the whole time watching it is a little weird," Edmonds said.

 

"I've tried to be a little bit more vocal and more supportive of the younger guys. I've always tried to do it, but I've tried to push maybe more than in the past."

 

The push includes himself.

 

Edmonds enters tonight's series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks hitting .243 with four home runs and a credible 23 RBIs within a mixed start. He committed two errors in a game April 13 for the first time in his career and was double-switched from two games in the same week. His right shoulder already has required a cortisone injection and will likely need surgery after the season, when several sets of questions potentially await.

 

"I'm not where I want to be yet," Edmonds said. "It's been OK. There have been times when the results weren't what they could have been, so the numbers are what they are."

 

Edmonds has scalded balls into outs, including two would-be home runs lost in a pitcher's wind in Chicago. His 26 strikeouts in 103 at-bats are actually below his career ratio. Yet his slugging and on-base percentages lag behind the team average. Career circumstances add weight to all numbers, plus and minus.

 

Edmonds has finished fourth and fifth in balloting for NL MVP. A four-time All-Star, he has won eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger. But next month he turns 36 - advanced age for a center fielder - and he is dealing with a shoulder condition that will be with him the rest of the season. Unless they do something in the interim, the Cardinals will then decide whether to assume Edmonds' $10 million option for 2007 or pay the all-Busch Stadium center fielder $3 million to go away.

 

Edmonds insists the topic doesn't consume him. He is financially set and speaks of buying real estate in St. Louis whether or not he returns next season.

 

"It's not something I've given a lot of thought to recently," Edmonds said of his contract status. "I might think about it here and there, but not for a long time. It's one of the things people tell you: 'Don't worry about what you can't control.' This falls in the category of something out of my control."

 

The club informally approached him early last season, and then the matter dropped. Edmonds apparently expressed little interest in rolling over his $10 million salary into a contract extension.

 

General manager Walt Jocketty does not discuss contract matters publicly but said last season that no decision would be made about Edmonds' status until the club was at least well into this season.

 

"I understand their thinking. It's a lot of money, and I'm sure they want to make sure I can play," said Edmonds, a native of Southern California. "But I'm not going to play just to play. I'm not going to embarrass myself. But I'm also not going to take anything. If it comes to that - if it's not the right situation - then I'll spend time with my kids or go to the beach."

 

At spring training, a member of the club's ownership group paused at Edmonds' locker at Roger Dean Stadium to assure him his option would be assumed. Speculation swirled that the matter would be addressed before the Cardinals opened negotiations with any of its pending free-agent pitchers.

 

So far, nothing has happened.

 

"It's the season," Edmonds said. "I'm thinking more about the next game and trying to help the team than anything else. It'll probably still be there when all this is over."

 

Edmonds has spoken bluntly about retirement in recent seasons. Last year he speculated that 2007 could be his last tour, that he would prefer to finish his career with the birds on the bat, then move on.

 

Edmonds since has become a father again. He endured a difficult 2005 in which he batted .263, 28 points below his career average, and hit 13 fewer home runs than his 42 in 2004. Baseball people frequently draw conclusions about players at Edmonds' age when their statistics begin to ebb. Publicly, at least, the Cardinals have yet to go there.

 

"He might have lost a half-step in the outfield, but I believe he's probably gained a half-step through experience," manager Tony La Russa said before correcting his first reply. "Actually, I'm not sure he's lost a half-step. His talent is still obvious to anyone watching. I still see a great player."

 

For how long remains a question no one can now answer.

 

Edmonds has dealt with multiple surgeries and a major trade from the Anaheim Angels during a career in which he has 335 home runs, 1,021 RBIs and an on-base/slugging percentage well above .900. He has steeled himself for another stage of his career by anticipating nothing, the better to be pleasantly surprised.

 

"When somebody comes up and tells you something's going to happen and you don't hear another word," he said, "eventually you stop waiting for it."

 

[email protected] 314-340-8371

 

 

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/st...F6?OpenDocument

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