The St. Louis Cardinals are entering an important season. The 2009 season will prove as a large stepping stone for the player development philosophy, but will also prove critical for the coaching staff.
Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan are the front line coaches that are in the final years of their contracts with the club. The questions remains: Will they return for a 20th season?
I am hoping that they don't. It is nothing personal against either because they are among the best (if not the bets in Duncan's case) in the great history of baseball at their respective coaching positions (Sparky Anderson might have a small leg up on La Russa).
So, what should the Cardinals do? Stay completely in-house.
There is a rule in sports that require the interviewing of minorities for coaching jobs. That rule only comes into play when you are having an open position. Promoting from within the organization eliminates this rule, and that is what the Cardinals should do.
First on the list is hiring a manager. Where to turn? None other than the secret weapon himself: Jose Oquendo. Oquendo has been groomed as a managerial candidate by La Russa. He was around for Whiteyball, and knows what goes down in the Cardinals clubhouse.
Plus, his ability to speak fluent Spanish and English (not to mention a few Japanese words he learned when So Taguchi was in town) gives him a large leg up.
As mentioned before, he has been groomed by La Russa and will use his strategies and thinking when it comes to managing a game. Plus, being around for Whiteyball gives him a large outlook on the running game, and will use that strategy to his advantage as well.
You don't get much better than that when it comes to a manager: over-matching and over-running.
Who will take his spot as third-base coach? Ron Warner, the manager of the Springfield Cardinals.
Warner has been coveted as a Major League manager in the making. Working with Oquendo could get him to that point quickly, especially as third base coach for one of the top franchises in the game.
Warner has revitalized the Cardinals Double-A affiliate, and he is liked by many within the organization. It is this like that will make that the transition from Oquendo to Warner easier at third base, especially with the player development philosophy the Cardinals have implemented (several players on the current roster, and many within the next few years, played for Warner at Springfield).
Where to next? Pitching coach. With Duncan gone, the Cardinals need a new "King of the Hill." Promoting from within again, the Cardinals should use Major League bullpen coach Marty Mason as their next pitching coach.
Every pitcher on the team loves Mason and will listen to him, and he has learned from Duncan as well. The way he prepares the bullpen pitchers would translate well to the starting pitchers, while keeping the binder that Duncan uses.
He would keep the same philosophy as Duncan, while mixing in his own.
Now there is a hole in the bullpen. Where to? Bryan Eversgerd, the pitching coach for the Springfield Cardinals.
Eversgerd will only be entering his second season with the Cardinals this season, but he has been a pitching coach for the Cardinals with their Midwest League teams from 2004-'07. His ability to work with young pitchers will translate well to the organizational build from within philosophy.
With the Cardinals bullpen chuck full of young, talented arms, Eversgerd would be a good compliment to the coaching staff.
The first base coach, bench coach, and hitting coach will stay the same. Joe Petini, Hal McRae, and Dave McKay are not personal coaches for La Russa (though McKay has been with La Russa for almost 20 years) and are more than likely not going to follow La Russa out of St. Louis.
With those three coaches still under the fold, and the promoting from within strategy with Oquendo, Warner, Eversgerd, and Mason, this coaching staff will mesh well together and work great together. And maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals can weather the storm with La Russa leaving...and saving a chunk of money at the same time.