Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why Tony LaRussa Should Probably Go

It's not for the reason you think. Yes, the latest multi-game losing streak has been especially humiliating--getting swept by the atrocious Cubs, then losing two ignominious games against an equally atrocious Phillies team (and at home, no less). But LaRussa can't do any more than he is already doing with the talent (or lack thereof) on this year's team, and that falls directly on ownership.

I suspect that Cardinals ownership is planning on a youth-movement rebuilding effort after this year. The Cards were close to winning it all for the past three years, so it looks by all accounts that their plan was to stand pat, let Walt tweak a few positions, and rake in the money from the new stadium.

Okay, that didn't work. The pitching staff is not just bad; it's bad on an epic scale. As far as the offense goes, Pujols is the only one you can count on, and now he's starting to break down physically from the pressure of trying to win every game single-handedly (because he knows he's not getting any help).

So the next step is to clean house in the off-season and rebuild with young players, and this is where LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan no longer fit in. The team has at least two or three pitching prospects in Memphis who could throw a better gopher ball than the lifeless corpse of Jeff Weaver, but LaRussa prefers veteran players. What's he going to do if the only veterans on the team are Albert, Scott Rolen and Chris Carpenter?

It's obvious that this course of action is long overdue. Management is on record as unwilling to increase payroll any further, and there's no way--without a salary cap--that the Cardinals' performance can be improved by adding talented veterans. They just cost too much. Look at the Mets. They've loaded up on talented veterans, but their payroll exploded as well. And in the end, it won't make any difference for them, either, because there are about six AL teams (at least) who could beat anyone the NL throws at them in the World Series.

The Cardinals couldn't very well have a fire sale when they are sitting in first place; that's understandable. But if they fade and don't make the playoffs or lose to the Mets in the NLCS, I think the next step would be to jettison just about everyone for young players and talented prospects. I would listen to trade talks for everyone except Pujols. Yes, I would send Scott Rolen off if the price was right. He's not been the same since his injury last year, and there is clearly a lot of young infield talent to be had.

Jim Edmonds is almost a St. Louis icon, but he may not have much trade value past this year. Everyone else is expendable, including Eckstein and Molina. Isringhausen still has some trade value due to the dearth of closers available, and you might get some minor league talent for Marquis.

The big question is whether Jocketty can put together a young team with raw talent and potential. We have seen his skill in adding veterans, but the money for that just is not available, at least in the sense of Bill DeWitt writing the check (he obviously prefers adding baseball revenue to his Mammon-like bank account instead). The next question is whether LaRussa and Duncan can get results from a young and inexperienced team. This has been the biggest criticism of both men in their coaching careers: great with veterans; no patience for young players. Why else would they pitch Jeff Weaver over Adam Wainwright?

I don't want the Cardinals to become the Florida Marlins; on the other hand, Florida has won two World Series since the Cardinals last won theirs in 1982. They have the lowest payroll in baseball, about $15 million, but they're only seven games below .500 with first-time manager Joe Girardi. That's only 8.5 games behind the Cardinals, whose payroll exceeds $90 million.

The Cardinals aren't going to win the World Series this year or next with this group. Adding veterans is a financial impossibility. They have to go with a youth movement and rebuild from the ground up. And I don't think that Tony LaRussa is the right man for that job. If he doesn't either, I hope he decides to resign after the season and leave on his own terms. At this point, moving on might be the best decision for everyone.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Top Ten Reasons the Cardinals Got Swept by the Cubs

10. Team was confused--thought they were playing the Chicago White Sox again.

9. Running away with the NL Central Division title the past few years just got boring.

8. Albert Pujols feigning injury and slump to conceal his superhuman identity, ala "Clark Kent."

7. George W. Bush's "loser stink" rubbed off on close friend and Cards owner Bill DeWitt.

6. Not paying attention to game--watching "Blade" marathon on Spike TV in dugout.

5. LaRussa wanted to spare Izzy the mental anguish of four blown saves.

4. So Taguchi took team out for tainted sushi at Benihana.

3. The Curse of Ernie Broglio.

2. Pitchers blew out arms trying to win "super-size prize" at the baseball toss game at Six Flags Great America.

1. Tony LaRussa rehearsing for annual post-season choke and collapse.