The St. Louis Cardinals' Seven Off-Season Priorities
The Cardinals have officially closed the books on the summer of 2009 with an epic bed-shitting that featured a Bartman level left field folly, petty bitching about rally towels in LA before the Cardinals decided to hand out the same rally towels in St. Louis, a complete abortion from a Cy Young candidate, a team nickname change to the LOBsters and the end of the most prolific fornicator in the franchises history.
Looking back is for old people and Jon Gosselin's parents... so let's look head to the seven things the St. Louis Cardinals must absolutely do this off-season to make sure they can, you know, actually win a playoff game.
Feel free to add to this this list in the comment section below.
Re-sign Tony LaRussa
The winningest active manager and steward of the Cardinals since 1996, Tony LaRussa is a free agent. When he originally signed his latest two-year pact back in 2007, he wanted to see signs the Cardinals were committed to winning now. His good friend and Cardinals GM at the time Walt Jocketty had just been fired and many believed this contract would serve as a test balloon to see how the franchise would progress.
The Cardinals impressed LaRussa by bringing in both Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday mid-season while dealing his biggest headache Chris Duncan. LaRussa has steadfastly claimed to have not thought of his contract status and will take care of it this off-season.
Hard to remember back now, but the Cardinals would not have even been in the position to get Holliday or DeRosa if TLR hadn't done a pretty masterful job of getting the most out of his line-ups the first half of 2009. Or 10 games over .500 with a weak squad in 2008.
The coach certainly has his detractors in St. Louis- and getting clearly out-managed by Joe Torre in the NLDS this year didn't help that—BUT, he's also one of the best two or three managers currently in baseball and the options to replace LaRussa are slim, if not non-existent .
Odds of happening? one- to-one
Keep Matt Holliday
Matt Holliday cost a shitload to get. Matt Holliday will cost a shitload to keep.
In July, the Cardinals gambled and sent over top prospect Brett Wallace to the A's with two other serviceable players for the then underachieving Holliday. As soon—literally—as he showed up on the Cardinals roster he absolutely started crushing the holy hell out of baseballs. And he didn't stop...
Until the postseason. He did have the Cardinals only HR in the 2009 NLDS, but let's talk turkey here: he pretty much bent over the Cardinals and made them pay with that Game 2 error. The question is: will he kiss and make us feel better about the situation or will he go after our nether regions again?
Only Scott Boras knows which way he's leaning. Personally? I think an early season highlight will be when Holliday comes back as some other teams big off-season pickup and Cardinal fans boo a guy lustily for the first time since Tino Martinez. I hope I'm wrong. I do. But the Cardinals haven't been prone to huge long term contracts for guys not named Pujols this decade.
Perhaps the standing ovation Busch Stadium gave him after "The Drop" helped. Perhaps it didn't. Time will tell.
Find Plan B for Closer
Ryan Franklin was an All-Star in 2009. He was also one of the worst closers in all of the NL in 2009. Part Mariano, part Lidge; all ulcer.
Franklin still had a chance to close out the Dodgers after Holliday's "The Drop." But he didn't. In fact his save percentage was less than 50 for the last two months of the season. That being said, it's hard to discount how good Franklin was the first half of 2009. So which is the real Franklin? Is it somewhere in between?
And if it is somewhere in between, is that good enough to close for a Championship contender? My gut is telling me no.
Now that doesn't mean the Cardinals shouldn't give him a chance to prove he can do it again. In fact, he definitely should get the first crack at it in 2010. But the team should also have Plan B ready to roll as soon as Franklin starts to regress into the mess he was finishing up 2009.
This doesn't have to be an outside option. Both Jason Motte and Blake Hawksworth could be candidates. It may also be worth a look-see from a cheap free agent. But whatever the Cardinals do, they can't be caught with their pants down having only Franklin as an option to close.
Fix Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter in the game of baseball. He has no competitors.
So when Albert ends the year with 86 ABs without a HR, it begs to ask the question: is he OK? Albert, the proud player he is will tell us that it's nothing more than him grinding too hard or that he wasn't seeing the ball as well as he should have or something similarly vague and non-worrisome. We will feel much better upon hearing these platitudes.
The more cynical Cardinal fans will question the veracity of these quotes, noting that Pujols has still yet to get a surgery on his elbow that he's "managed" in lieu of the knife for multiple years.
Truth is we won't know what the deal with El Hombre is until the beginning of 2010... but that doesn't mean the Cardinals should wait until spring training to get him right. Perhaps a more detailed plan on how to rest Albert during the long season is in order. Maybe actually considering the surgery is an option. Put every single option for this franchises marquis star on the table and get to work ASAP on making sure No. 5 is where he needs to be come next year.
Remember the Troy Glaus debacle? I do.
Extend David Duncan
Dave Duncan, the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, is better at his job than every single one of you are at yours.
Dave Duncan is also a very big baby.
While most pitching coaches would be basking in the glory of having two pitchers in the top-three of Cy Young voting in one season, all Dave Duncan seems to care about is how his son was "mistreated" by the Cardinals after being traded for Julio Lugo. So mad the elder Duncan was, he took a day off during the season to let the Cardinals know just how unhappy he was.
Obviously time and a truck load of cash will heal many wounds... but Duncan is a odd bird. A southern man that doesn't give a rats ass what you or anyone thinks. Few people, if anyone, know what he's thinking.
There is an option on his contract for 2010, but it'd be wise of the Cardinals to take care of Dunc in a way that lets him know that their aren't any hard feelings and let him get back to work with the staff in the proper mind.
Mark DeRosa is a good player, a great teammate and the owner of a unbelievable piece of skirt. But Mark DeRosa is about to get way, way too much money for what he is- a solid player.
DeRo came to STL in the midst of a torrid 2009 for the Cleveland Indians, smacking over 13 HRs and 50 RBI before July. Buoyed by the Cardinals actually making a move and simultaneously sticking it to the Cubs, Cardinal fans were a little reticent to give Mark too much shit over the remainder of 2009. But a paltry .238 average and a meager 28 RBI in his time with the Birds on Bat leaves the Cardinals in a bind. Yes, DeRosa has a nagging wrist injury that hampered his production. But was this enough to explain away his poor second half AND give him a new multi-year deal?
The Cardinals are going to need to find dollars for Holliday. And the loss of Troy Glaus' $12 million salary and not extending DeRosa for seven million would help. Especially since David Freese and Joe Thurston (yes, seriously) can give you the same production for an eighth of the cost.
I hate to see his wife leave St. Louis, but the Cardinals can't just sign names to sign names. Sometimes the cheaper approach is better.
Feed The Beast
Let 2009 serve this team as a reminder that the chances each player has to climb the summit are fleeting and valuable.
The Cubs, Astros and Brewers will all be back and challenging for the NL Central title in 2010. The time is now where the Cardinals can start using every available asset and resource to prepare to defend their division title. Cardinal fans are highly disappointed as of publish time for this piece. But by the time April rolls around- they'll be back in red, rocking Busch Stadium, looking for even more than they did last April.
Feed the beast. Keep improving. And always remember that as bad as we all feel now—at least we're not Cub fans.
Holy Christ would that ever suck.