St. Louis Cardinals Face Franchise-Defining Offseason

Adam BernacchioAnalyst IIIOctober 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Manager Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during a pregame news conference before taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Every year, whether a team won 90-plus games, like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or a team’s season ended in April, like the Washington Nationals, every team faces major offseason decisions.

Some decisions are solely made for the next season, and some decisions can shape the course of the franchise for a years to come.  Decisions can be made by trades, arbitration, and, of course, free agency.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, they face an offseason of free agency that will define the course of their franchise for years to come.

The Cardinals have a myriad of impending free agents including Matt Holliday, Joel Pineiro, Mark DeRosa, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus, John Smoltz, Khalil Greene, and Todd Wellemeyer.

However, the most important free agent for the Cardinals is manager Tony LaRussa.  LaRussa’s contract is up at the end of the month, and if LaRussa doesn’t come back, it could set the Cardinals’ franchise back for years to come.

LaRussa gives the Cardinals credibility, and credibility usually means winning.  When players come to play for LaRussa, they know they are in a winning environment.  Top players always want to play for him (unless your name is Scott Rolen).

Just think about the course of events if LaRussa leaves.

If LaRussa leaves, then pitching coach Dave Duncan leaves.  Duncan is just as important to the Cardinals’ success as LaRussa.  Duncan, time and time again, is able to take mediocre pitchers and turn them into winners.

Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Mike Moore, Dennis Eckersley, Jeff Suppan, and Chris Carpenter all had their careers turned around by Duncan.

That allows the Cardinals to spend their resources on offensive players such as Larry Walker, Jim Edmonds, Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Albert Pujols.

Speaking of Pujols...

If LaRussa leaves at the end of the month, it could very possibly mean Pujols could leave after the 2010 season.  Pujols is a free agent at the end of the 2010 season, and I would say, right now, there is an 85 percent chance he stays with the Cardinals.

If LaRussa leaves, then I would say that percentage goes down to 25.  Pujols has only played for LaRussa in his career, and has said that all he wants is for the Cardinals to put a competitive team on the field year after year.  Pujols knows every year his teams have a chance of competing with LaRussa at the helm.

Do you think he is going to take a hometown discount playing for Eric Wedge (I am just throwing his name out there.  He is not rumored to be going to the Cardinals if LaRussa leaves.), or some other second-rate manager?

That is why LaRussa coming back is so important.  Him leaving sets off a chain of events that could set the Cardinals into rebuilding mode after the 2010 season.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., GM John Mozeliak, and LaRussa met for two hours yesterday reviewing the season.

It will be interesting to see what happens with LaRussa.  If I were a betting man, I would put my money on LaRussa coming back and signing a new deal with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals just wouldn’t be the same without him.

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