The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Is the Cardinals organizational direction about one guy?


In his Thursday column entitled “St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Luhnow faces an early test”, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz notes the loss of Chris Carpenter requires the Cardinals to dip into their farm system for reinforcement.

It reflects the reality of the changes needed to remain competitive in baseball today as accurately acknowledged in this statement:

“Unless you’re demographically matched to have a New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles payroll, smart baseball people have little choice but to prioritize the player-development system,” says the article.

The column then points out that it is now time for that Cardinals’ player development system to come through in terms of results, observing the arrival of top prospect Colby Rasmus, but properly noting the jury is still out on a number of others, including relievers Chris Perez and Jason Motte.

Makes sense to me, as every organization needs to rely on their minor leaguers to plug the inevitable gaps that present themselves during the long season, but then the tone turned personal, which I was less comfortable with.

“Rather than invest in more expensive starting pitching to reinforce the rotation’s depth, (Cardinals chairman Bill) DeWitt chose to invest in Luhnow,” the column concludes.

Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow is clearly the man in charge of the draft and the farm system and therefore is accountable. Yet, I don’t see this as being as much of a black-and-white, one-man issue as the column seems to paint it.

I can understand how the performance of first-time major league starter P.J. Walters in Chicago on Friday will reflect on the player development function, but is Luhnow really the one responsible for the Cardinals not re-signing then-free agent starter Braden Looper or comparable as a veteran sixth starter and safety net for Carpenter (putting aside whether that move would have even made sense for the organization)?

That point feels out of sync with an evaluation of the farm system – unless one doubts it is ready to produce. Though it is never said directly, it feels to me like that is the message being delivered.

The ongoing concern over the level of spending the Cardinals have made or not made for veteran players seems too often to permeate and polarize these kinds of discussions. In doing so, one can be left with the feeling it is believed there can be only one possible approach, rather than the more realistic blend of the two.

As it is, the Cardinals have committed 40 percent of their 2009 25-man player payroll to the five members of the rotation – $36.5 million of roughly $90 million. Carpenter represents the biggest slice at $14 million, followed by Kyle Lohse, re-signed for four-years, $41 million last fall and Joel Pineiro, making $7.5 million in the final year of his current contract.

Since it was acknowledged that the player development direction is the right route for the Cardinals to have followed, then why question the lack of signing of a free agent veteran, especially a sixth starting pitcher to cover what is currently expected to be a six-to-eight week outage for Carpenter?

And is that really one to pin on the farm director personally, anyway?

Apparently so. The column makes this assertion:

“DeWitt was assured by (GM John) Mozeliak and Luhnow that the Cardinals had attractive options at the minor-league level.”

That is the only time the responsibility of the club’s general manager, to whom Luhnow reports, is even hinted at.

The choice of words used to reference the farm system and its products were not positive. Three different times, variants of the same term – “hyped”, “hyperventilate” and “hype” – were used, not to mention “Luhnow’s precious Fabergé Eggs”.

This can reinforce the ongoing undercurrent of a lack of confidence, perhaps echoing from somewhere within the organization. Since the general approach is agreed with, the rub would seem to be in its implementation and maybe in those implementing it.

Isn’t the real issue whether or not the right players were drafted and groomed to contribute rather than wondering whether it might be better to have Braden Looper starting instead of P.J. Walters this weekend?

The success or failure of the Cardinals farm system will reflect the efforts of the players themselves supported by several hundred hard-working professionals, scouts, coaches, instructors and the like, all pulling together to try to identify the right prospects and mold them into legitimate major leaguers.

They are the ones who deserve whatever credit might be due, yet as always, if there is heat to be taken, it will be applied to the bosses.

So be it, but why should DeWitt, Mozeliak and Luhnow be separated in their treatment? I imagine they would be the first to say the organization’s directional commitment was made as one.

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