Monday, December 12, 2011

When Will St. Louis be Competitive Again?

As a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals (as a kid my favorite player was the unstoppable base-stealer, Lou Brock), I was thrilled to see the Cardinals win the World Series.

It was vintage Tony LaRussa managemant, pulling all the right moves at just the right times, and, of course, David Freese had a once-in-a-lifetime Fall Classic, but, now hat LaRussa has gone to retirement and Albert Pujols is headed to the LA Angels, one wonders just how long it will be until the Cards are actually competitive again.

With LaRussa running the show, Cardinals' fans were treated to the very best in on-field management. Tony got the best out of his players and knew how to motivate even marginal guys to heights of greatness. Filling those shoes will be a difficult task for recently-named manager Mike Matheny, currently the youngest manager in the majors.

By hiring the inexperienced Matheny, St. Louis brass is signaling that the Cardinals will be in rebuilding mode, top to bottom, from the scouting staff to the minor leagues. The hiring of Matheny was a dead giveaway that the Cardinals were not serious about paying Pujols $25 million a year.

As it was, winning the 2011 World Series was a season-long struggle and a testament to LaRussa and some of the grittier guys on the team, like Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina. Getting into the playoffs is not going to be easy for the next three t four years, and that's a hopeful prognosis.

The Cards have to find a first baseman, a shortstop and will probably be looking for another catcher to give Molina some rest. Matt Holliday and Berkman may not be around much longer, especially if the team struggles. It goes even deeper: talent-wise, outside of the pitching staff (which will welcome back Adam Wainwright with open arms), the only solid position is third base, where Freese has the look of a perennial top 30 player.

Beyond that, the Cardinals will have to build from the bottom up, make smart trades and hopefully give Matheny some leeway in his managerial style, allowing him to grow into the position.

It looks like the Cardinals won't really be competitive for a few seasons, though at least they play in one of the weaker divisions - the NL Central - and can probably be better than the Cubs and Astros in 2012. Beyond that, it will take exceptional trades, coaching and a large dose of good fortune to get back to the playoffs any time before say, 2015.

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