It’s certainly been a horrid season for the St. Louis Cardinals, and we’ve all been throwing blame around the horn, but who is REALLY to blame for this team’s ridiculous season?
1. John Mozeliak
Mo has to be the primary suspect. His poor evaluation of the club’s minor league system and it’s ability to adequately support the big league squad led to more than one poor decision. For one, this team never should have left Spring Training with such a young roster. Not only was the talent insufficient to compete for a contender at this level, but the collective experience level was ill-prepared to deal with the heat of an MLB pennant race or the pressure of a Tony La Russa management presence. His over-reliance on players such as Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig, David Freese, the ever-sensitive Colby Rasmus, and a host of other Memphis Mafia Hitmen has proven his undoing. But all of that pales to the decision to trade Ryan Ludwick.
In Ludwick, this offense had a well-established number five hitter, a seemingly consistent 100 RBI producer, a previous All-Star outfielder having perhaps his best defensive season, a former Silver Slugger, an adequately intimidating presence behind Matt Holliday, and possibly the most well-liked member of a club house desperately seeking positive team chemistry.
And Mo traded him away. He gave him away for a pitcher that has thus far won a single game for the Cardinals. Let’s be honest…we could have won a single game with mix-and-match starts by AAA pitchers, Jeff Suppan, the bullpen, and/or another cheap pickup. Mo sided with pitching over offense in order to give us a better chance to win one out of five days…and in doing so, he significantly reduced our chance to win EVERY day.
Never before have I seen a Cardinals team actually downgrade themselves so horribly smack dab in the middle of a pennant race.
2. Bill DeWitt
Junior has to take the lion’s share of the blame – even though Mo is the primary suspect and blame-game front man. De-Wallet has consistently pinched pennies to the point that the Cardinals could never seriously approach any position player other than Holliday in free agency. The result was a team dependent on a sub-par farm system for cheap alternatives. Bill’s cost-restrictive approach to building a baseball team positioned Mo to make the mistakes he made…most notably the depth issue and the Ludwick trade. In fact, let’s discuss Bill’s role in the Ludwick trade a bit more…
DeWitt was looking ahead to 2011. He knew the team wasn’t going to make a serious effort to retain Ludwick long-term, and he wasn’t prepared to absorb an arbitration driven salary increase for his former All-Star. As a result, he made Ludwick expendable in the middle of a pennant race. All because he refuses to significantly increase payroll…something that will likely happen after the Pujols signing anyway.
Finally, DeWitt’s choice to go more farm system heavy was the right choice – and his decision to let Jocketty go because Walt refused to buy-in was also the right choice – but in firing a World Series winning GM, DeWitt committed the same mistake his new GM made…he failed to adequately replace the talent he booted out the door. Now, he’s stuck with a GM that’s more of a follower than a leader, and an organization suitably fractured and unable to move in a single, productive direction. As a result, this 2010 team was built by guys way too restricted by Luhnow philosophies. Let me be clear…Jeff Luhnow MUST be the way he is to fulfill his job requirements…but he has WAY too much pull in the organization as well as “face time” in the media. This flawed organizational structure is on DeWitt’s head…and it’s contributed to a 2010 team too shallow and inexperienced to contend for a full season.
3. Tony La Russa
This has not been Tony’s best season. Let me be clear up front – I love Tony La Russa. I am a TLR guy, and I’ll be the first one to say that TLR’s approach does not fit well within DeWitt’s structure. But he has to share a large portion of the blame for the 2010 season. Tony’s message is not working. He’s clashing with key players, inserting himself into front office decisions and directions, and struggling desperately to make himself relevant to an organization that is trying to move on without leaving him behind. But let’s get more specific…
Tony’s desire to play the full 25 and mix-and-match a lineup card based on a grab bag of details (from pitching match-ups to umpires on duty) has crippled his players more than ever this season. His young players can’t gain any traction, his veterans can’t figure out the role they’re supposed to fill, and his bench players are just dizzy from the whole mess. He needs to set his eight guys and play them more often than not.
Second, Tony’s disdain for player meetings as well as player-driven direction and personality is killing his team. Players don’t seem to have any place to contribute to the personality of the club. With this team, that can’t happen. The result is a flat, robotic team with low intensity and little to no hope. We’ve seen this before…players who are so “professional” and focused on not getting “too high or too low” that they slip quietly out of contention and/or playoff contests. Tony has to let his team loose a bit. Set his lineup and tell them to get after it.
Finally, Tony’s fingerprints on games is destroying any momentum the team gets – in game or in season. Sure, he’s played the same “hot hand” lineup until they lose at times…but it’s WHEN they lose that he has to stick with a lineup that works. No lineup is going to win every game, but making reactionary changes immediately demands the start of a new streak of winning baseball rather than a continuance of what’s been working. But it’s not just about game to game streaks…it’s about in game decisions. Take today’s game as a perfect example. Skip leads off with a double after 18 innings of 5-hit, scoreless baseball. We have a man on second, no outs, Miles up and Pujols on deck. And Tony calls for the bunt.
What kind of conservative, momentum killing crap is that?!
First, let’s assume it works…Albert gets literally nothing to hit with two bags open and one out with a man on third. And likely, Holliday gets little to hit with a base still open after Albert walks. On the flip side, you let Miles take a normal at-bat. If he makes an out, Skip likely stays on second with Albert and Matt coming up. If he doesn’t, even better, and the lineup keeps rolling.
The result? Miles ends up in a 2 strike hole and hits a dribbler up the middle. Skip…so focused on moving up because of the bunt attempts called for by TLR…gets caught in a run-down. One out with Albert and Matt coming up. Sure, Matt hit a homer…but there was NO reason for Miles to be bunting in the first inning. You don’t construct your lineup so the top of the order can resort to bunting in the first inning with a man in scoring position and no outs.
Oh, and just to be consistent, Tony’s role in the Ludwick trade: He flat out big timed Mo into trading Ludwick because Tony wanted another pitcher. TLR is not a GM for a reason. Stay the hell out of it. Parcels once said he wanted to shop for the groceries if he was going to be cooking the meal…except that TLR isn’t cooking the meal…he’s serving it. Stay the hell out of the kitchen.
4. The Players
A quick note about the team: These guys have just not gotten it done. Brendan jacked with his swing early on after having wrist surgery and put himself, and this team, in a tremendous hole. Colby keeps whining and bitching to the point that I just wish his mother would give him a spanking and tell his father to piss off and stay out of it. Felipe Lopez is all flair and little reliability. And on and on and on…
Overall, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but it’s clear something has to change…and it has to start at the top.