It has been a busy week both for the St .Louis Cardinals and those of us who cover them. This post is an attempt to pull together some of my thoughts and organize them a bit.
Yesterday, I received a note from a long-time reader suggesting that someone needs to step up and give credit to the Cardinals “front office and management for giving the team a chance to win. They truly stood up.”
I have dissected the Matt Holliday trade, trying to define how the success of the deal could be quantified. At the time of the Mark DeRosa acquisition, I gave ownership kudos for backing up their infamous “dry powder” comments from the off-season.
Yet I haven’t really said much about the events of the last week in a comprehensive manner.
Let’s start with the Chris Duncan for Julio Lugo trade. It was unfortunate that the behind-the-scenes unhappiness of Duncan’s father became public. While pitching coach Dave Duncan usually gets praise from this corner for being a straight shooter, his comments critical of the front office would have been better left unsaid.
If Chris Duncan is truly healthy, his poor results on the field dictated something needed to be done. A fresh start with an American League club where he can both compete for time at first base and designated hitter may be best for him over the long haul. Instead, had Duncan remained around following the arrival of Matt Holliday, his opportunity for at-bats would have evaporated, anyway.
The acquisition of Lugo with little to no salary commitment for the next two months plus the entire 2010 season was a nice return for Duncan in my opinion, despite what Papa had to say. In the upcoming days, I am hoping to see more of the Lugo at second, Brendan Ryan at shortstop combo.
Jess Todd being selected by Cleveland as the player to be named later in the DeRosa trade was a tough pill to swallow, coming on top of losing Chris Perez in the same deal.
Stepping back however, the Cardinals believed that Todd, their Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, was better suited to a relief role than starting. Given their obvious need at the back end of the big league rotation, they would not have made the change with Todd had they not believed it was best.
Of all the commodities that make up a baseball team, arguably right-handed relievers may be the most plentiful. That is not to say that Perez and Todd may not be fine major leaguers for a long time, but they are more replaceable than most.
That brings me to the Holliday trade. My initial reaction was negative, as losing six years of Brett Wallace for two guaranteed months of Holliday alone seemed imbalanced – even before adding Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson to the Oakland A’s take.
Again looking at the bigger picture, the Cardinals did what they felt they needed to do to win this year. That could be expanded to include future years if DeRosa and Holliday can be re-signed.
At this point, anyone questioning the commitment of Cardinals ownership would seem to be on very shaky ground.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss has consistently bashed those who follow the Cardinals minor league system, coining the derogative term “Hyperventilating Prospect Geek Fraternity” to describe them.
For awhile, that bothered me until I reminded myself that Strauss isn’t making this stuff up. He may very well be reflecting a strong line of feeling emanating from those with whom he deals regularly.
Real tension remains in the organization, but how much is too much? By definition, when one faction is missioned with “winning now” while another is to build for the future, tradeoffs have to be made.
Perhaps one such “HPGF” member is Erik Manning, well-known from his past work at Future Redbirds. Blogging for FanGraphs, Manning expresses disappointment over the recent trades, saying they “gutted” and “razed” St. Louis’ farm system.
I can understand where he is coming from, though as noted above, I am going to let the season play out before second-guessing such an aggressive set of moves clearly intended to win now.
What bothered me, and apparently Rob Neyer of ESPN, too, is Manning’s use of the trades to attack Tony La Russa.
Manning asserts the deals were made to “assuage” the manager. Apparently, he feels that because La Russa made public comments about liking Holliday as a player, it translates into ownership rolling over for him.
The reason Manning states is to convince La Russa into staying in St. Louis beyond this season. Never once was it noted that the Cardinals are a better team right now as a result. Never once was it suggested that a more competitive team is what Albert Pujols has said will be his biggest factor in deciding whether to re-sign with the Cardinals.
I just don’t buy Erik’s line of thinking.
Commitments to win come at a cost. We all understand that. If Manning sees the price to have been too high from his vantage point as a prospect-watcher, I can accept that, too.
But dredging up La Russa’s past squabbles with Scott Rolen and Adam Kennedy seem to be a huge stretch. Does anyone really believe that the trades this July would have been unnecessary if Rolen and Kennedy were still Cardinals?
Further, blaming La Russa for Rolen’s issues with the Cardinals organization is a gross oversimplification. The genesis of Rolen’s problems was with the medical advice and treatment prescribed by the club’s physicians. The other issues were a by-product of Rolen’s unhappiness.
Who knows all the details behind Kennedy’s problems? Not being in the clubhouse every day or in many cases never, means we may be tempted to try to draw firm conclusions from snippets of data. Team chemistry cannot be measured by WAR or UZR.
But anyway, what does it matter? Rolen and Kennedy are irrelevant to Holliday and DeRosa, irrelevant to here and now.
As Neyer concludes, “What I’m saying is that La Russa, after 2,516 wins, may have earned the benefit of the doubt on personnel matters.”
Manning closes with a stern warning: “I can only fear what will happen to the Cardinals if they keep him (La Russa) around longer.”
Who knows? They might even win another World Series.