Thursday, September 2, 2010

Broken Wings

  • Cardinals in freefall:

Don't you hate the unexplainable?

It's easy to look at teams like the Mariners; the Pirates; the Diamondbacks; the Cubs; even teams that are hovering around .500 like the Marlins and Mets---and diagnose what's wrong; but when a team has the firepower, the pitching, the genius manager as the Cardinals do and they're in a rapid descent into near baseball purgatory of a non-contending September, you try to find an explanation----even if there isn't one.

How was this possible? After their three-game sweep over the Reds in a contentious, fight-fueled, mouthy series in which they left Cincinnati tied for first place (and actually took the lead in the division the next day), the Cardinals have dropped a ridiculous 9 games in the standings in a little over two weeks. Granted, the Reds have gone 14-4 in that span, but the Cardinals have been awful.

Is it the bullpen? Is it that they're not hitting? Have they run into certain teams that have gotten solid performances for a game or two? Has Tony La Russa lost his magic? Or is it a combination of everything?

There's no excuse for a team with three starting pitchers who have ERAs under 3----two legitimate Cy Young Award contenders in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright; and Jaime Garcia, a Rookie of the Year candidate----to be losing so many games. They also have the best hitter in baseball (Albert Pujols); another top 10 (or 15) player in Matt Holliday; some other pieces that have produced in Colby Rasmus and the clutch Yadier Molina (who singlehandedly stops the opposition's running game); and Tony La Russa.

What's the problem?

A team that's fancies itself as a World Series contender (and they were my pick to win the NL pennant this year) cannot lose two of three to the Pirates; three of four to the Nationals; and get swept by the Astros. It can't happen.

There's no easy answer for what ails the Cardinals. For teams like the Mariners for example, you can simply say, "well, they can't hit" and understand why they're in their current predicament; or the Diamondbacks, whose bullpen is rancid, and have lost so many games because of that, you don't have to perform a "macro audit" to find out what the issues are----they're right there.

But with the Cardinals?

The inmates aren't running the asylum; they're well-run; they spend money; they have a good group of players and people; so what's the issue?

It may just be the obvious combination of running into some teams with nothing to lose (the Pirates and Nats); and others who are playing far better than they're given credit for (the Astros); and that the Cardinals' timing is a bit off. They're getting good pitching and not hitting; they're getting hitting and bad pitching; and games that they should win, they're losing because of a shaky performance from their bullpen.

This is a team that has many questions ahead of them if the season continues to spiral. La Russa won his power struggle with the stat zombie faction in the front office last year when they traded for Holliday and Mark DeRosa; they spent the cash (some say way too much of it considering the market) to keep Holliday; and they traded for Jake Westbrook mid-season this year. It failed in 2009 because of a bad break in which Holliday lost a ball in the lights against the Dodgers in the NLDS and they got swept before they knew what hit them. Now they're running out of time to make a run back into realistic playoff contention.

The next year is going to be critical for the Cardinals. La Russa is taking it year-to-year as manager; it's safe to assume that he'll be back for Pujols's last season under contract with the club in 2011; Carpenter is injury-prone and has been healthy for most of the past two seasons----at age 36, can they Cardinals reasonably expect that to continue? Kyle Lohse is making nearly $12 million for 2011 and 2012 and is a disaster----his contract is at least as terrible as that of Oliver Perez.

There are many questions along with the big one----Pujols.

Prior to the Ryan Howard contract, the Cardinals had a chance to get Pujols at a relatively reasonable rate for the Joe DiMaggio of his era. Now, it has to eat away at a player as prideful as Pujols that Howard----shielded in the Phillies lineup; playing in a bandbox; average defensively and nowhere near as great a player----is making so much money.

Pujols is going to want to get paid.

And the Cardinals may not have the money to satisfy him.

Add in the fact that Pujols is listed as 30-years-old (something I don't buy); is going to want a guaranteed contract for ten years; and is playing for a team with a limit to the money they can spend, and you start to think that Pujols might really leave the Cardinals after 2011 or they could conceivably listen to offers in a trade.

Would they dare to entertain the notion of trading him? La Russa would be dead-set against it, but considering the way he's gotten everything he's wanted in the past two years and the team is plummeting into the sea like a badly constructed North Korean missile, how much longer are GM John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt going to acquiesce to the manager's wishes when he's not getting the results on the field?

This team is in trouble now and in the future.

Big trouble.

  • Ideas come when you brainstorm:

Trying to come to a solution to fix the Mets, the easiest thing to do is to suggest a new GM, new manager, drastic trades or any permutation within those areas. When the (unlikely) idea was broached of hiring some young, smart assistant with a background in scouting and knowledge of the numbers, it was dismissed because the Mets aren't going to do that since they: A) won't hire outside the Mets family unless they do an about face of their history; and B) aren't going to give the keys to the franchise to some kid and let him do whatever he wants.

There's a basis in the reluctance to do that. For every Theo Epstein who's evolved into one of the best GMs in baseball; there's a Paul DePodesta who was a nightmare. But the mention of Epstein brought up another thought: Epstein wasn't automatically handed control of the Red Sox organization. Epstein had someone to keep an eye on him; someone who'd helped build two ballparks for two prior franchises he'd worked for; had some semblance of a personality; and oversaw what it was the 28-year-old GM did before letting him go off on his own.

Why don't the Mets look into Larry Lucchino taking over as club president?

Obviously, the hurdles are massive. Lucchino is part of John Henry's ownership group in Boston; the Mets aren't going to give him a stake in the team; but these obstacles are not insurmountable. Ownership points are bought and sold regularly. Henry owned the Marlins before switching to the Red Sox; Jeffrey Loria moved from the Expos to the Marlins; team executives can have their shares bought out if they choose to move on.

The Mets are going to be desperate once this season is mercifully over.

Why not?

Why not explore the concept of an administrator coming in and putting things in order? Lucchino has dealt with meddling owners before with the Orioles and Peter Angelos and, despite the criticism he receives, Jeff Wilpon is nowhere near as reviled as Angelos. People forget now that Epstein and Lucchino's falling out (in a different power struggle compared to the factional, theoretical, strategic one with the Cardinals) stemmed from Epstein's somewhat immature, "I don't hafta listen to you anymore!!" tantrum a year after the Red Sox had won the World Series. Epstein stormed out on the Red Sox and later returned. Now, it's Lucchino who's been marginalized because of Epstein's success.

It's a natural progression.

Would Lucchino be interested in such a thought? Taking over the Mets? Being in the same city with the Yankees, whom he dubbed "The Evil Empire"? His ego would love the thought of getting the credit for turning around a team that truly isn't more than a tweak here and there away from returning to legitimate contending status.

Again, why not?

  • Viewer Mail 9.2.2010:

Fragile Freddy writes RE Aroldis Chapman, Stephen Strasburg and other phenoms:

While Chapman looks very good don't forget that Daisuke, Irabu, and others have exploded on their debut only to fade quickly.

I'm surprised to see a guy who reasonably recommended caution re: Strasburg gush so enthusiastically after one appearance by Aroldis.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan also writes RE Aroldis Chapman:

Maybe the Yankees and other big market teams didn't open their wallets for Chapman precisely because of Irabu, Contreras, Dice K, etc. He was a gamble, but good for the Reds for taking the risk.

These are fair points.

That said, you can't compare the flair Chapman showed with Hideki Irabu, who looked more like a sad sack; Daisuke Matsuzaka, with whom I was never impressed; and Strasburg, with whom I preached caution more because of the way he was anointed immediately and the amount of money spent on him as an amateur and how he was viewed as an organizational savior. Chapman is Cuban and the Cubans have more of a freewheeling way of letting their pitchers develop mechanically and physically. Pitch counts? We don't need no stinkin' pitch counts!

My question is more in line with how could these teams look at a player like Irabu, Kei Igawa and Matsuzaka and decide the amount of money was more worthwhile to spend on them when Chapman's stuff is better and he comes from a land where he's more likely to be durable. It's not about a baseline decision to sign a player or not sign a player; it's about individual judgment independent of what's happened before.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Jeff Francoeur:

Whether he be a Met, Ranger or Brave, Frenchie will always be one of those loud-mouthed, illogical, uninformed right-wing Christians.

For that, he gets no sympathy from me.

I never heard Frenchy talk about Jesus. Yeah, it's annoying when you hear athletes go on about their faith; many times it's for affect rather than any real belief; but I couldn't care less about that if he hit 25 homers and showed a bit more patience at the plate; then again, most fans would cheer for Ted Bundy if he got a big hit in the ninth inning.

As long as they don't come up with the nonsense, "He meant it that way" when they make an error, I'm not bothered.

Maury writes RE Dixie Walker:

Dixie Walker was not a star pitcher or even a mediocre one. He was an outfielder and "The People's Cherce" for Brooklyn Dodgers fans.

Maury's referring to my posting Do The Right Thing from last week.

The writer of the Wall Street Journal editorial about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey said that Walker was a pitcher and I didn't correct the error; technically it wasn't my mistake, but that's no defense for me not pointing it out in my posting on the subject.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'll be on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz later today. It should be up in the afternoon. Maybe I'll let him bypass the Mets today without wondering why.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Jeff said...

Watching the Cardinals the last two weeks has hurt... physically. They make me keel over in pain.

The Reds are much more exciting to watch. And they look like they actually care, which is the complete opposite of the Redbirds right now.

She-Fan said...

I'm very surprised by the Cardinals' descent this season. I thought they were a lock in that division, but maybe they thought so too and got complacent?

Mike - Bklyn Trolley Blogger said...

A Team Pesident for the Mets? Now where did I hear that before?

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