Friday, October 29, 2010

Cardinals Stay the Course

The St. Louis Cardinals seemed like a pile of goo at the end of the 2010 season. Their long-time manager, Tony LaRussa was given 50/50 odds of taking his shtick elsewhere. There was the Colby Rasmus flap and the Pujols/Right-wing rally flap and the entire thing seemed to be muddled up into a mess. Of course, none of that would have mattered if the Cardinals had played better. But they went 28-30 down the stretch while Carpenter and Wainwright suddenly looked human. They swept the Reds to obtain first place and then tanked to allow the Reds to take the division. After all that, LaRussa seemed fed up. Conditions seemed ripe to have an event like the Denver Broncos did after a similar season under Mike Shanahan, the LaRussa of football. But here we are in October and guess what? Nothing has changed.

Tony LaRussa will be back in the dugout. Dave Duncan signed on for another two years as pitching coach. Mark McGwire signed back on for two years as batting coach. The core of Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter and Wainwright are still in place and life as we know it will roll along under the big arch. The Fan doesn't know about you, but this writer is very surprised.

There is always a couple of ways to look at things. One way to view things is that LaRussa and the gang still feel like they have the horses to compete and 2010 was just an anomaly. They very well could be right. They could feel that they are in a competitive division that doesn't have any team that looks dominant, and again they would be right. With 2011 being Pujols last year before free agency, perhaps they want one last chance as a group to see how they can do. That would make sense too. And if very well could be possible that the Cardinals brain trust didn't see anything better on the horizon than the management team they already had in place. You can't argue with that either.

But this team does need to be tweaked a bit. The Skip Schumaker experiment at second should end. Schumaker is a fun little player and should be a sort of super sub like Valverde or something. But his defense hurts and his offense didn't offset it in 2010. The Colby Rasmus thing doesn't seem tenable, does it? How about trading him to the Diamondbacks for Stephen Drew? The Cardinals could use a top notch shortstop and it always seems like Drew needs a fresh perspective. Brendan Ryan is a great fielder, but his 57 OPS+ is unacceptable. Perhaps he would get better, but Drew is as good a fielder and a much better offensive player.

The Cardinals seem set with the rest of their line up. Freese will be back to play third. Pujols, Holliday and Molina are locks. The Cardinals will have to decide who is their third outfielder (if Rasmus stays). They could use a better back up catcher too, but there are a lot of those out there. For the Cardinals, much will come down to pitching.

The rotation seems rock solid again on paper at least 1-3. The Carpenter/Wainwright struggles down the stretch are troubling, Carpenter the more so as he is no spring chicken. But Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball and you have to assume that he will be fine. Garcia had a wonderful debut season and should continue to get better. The Cardinals will have to rebuild the four and five holes in the rotation again.

The bullpen was decent, but not spectacular. McClellen had a great year, but nobody else helps you sleep better at night. One more quality arm in the bullpen would help.

This Fan is truly surprised that the core management team of the Cardinals is intact. The Fan really believed that the sour taste of last season would either cause LaRussa to walk or for the Cardinals to go in a different direction. But the team decided to stay the course. And that doesn't feel like a bad decision. This management team is among the top five in baseball, has a history of success and there is no reason to believe they can't turn a down season around in 2011. Sometimes change is good and sometimes continuity is good. Only time will tell us which one this situation should have been.


Pitchers Hit Eighth said...

Sorry, but Stephen Drew can't carry Brendan Ryan's jock at shortstop, defensively.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Point taken. But Drew isn't that far behind. Granted, Ryan's 11.7 score on defense is in less action time than Drew's 8.7 and that just adds to your point. But the larger point here is that Drew is worth a lot more as a total package than Ryan, whose offense totally negates his defense. Preventing runs is great, but you have to score them too.

Josh Borenstein said...

Going after Drew would be a good move, but I'd try to keep Rasmus if at all possible. I like Jon Jay, but center fielders like Rasmus don't grow on trees. I thought he made big strides this year. He's a streaky hitter, which for some reason put him in LaRussa's dog house.

Pitchers Hit Eighth said...

@William - no doubt you're right about the bat. My larger concern re: shortstop defense is how much Ryan's glove means to the Cards' groundball staff.