on the fence

There are plenty of things I'm on the fence about after the magnificent ending to the 2011 season. World Series champs again, and it feels sooooo much better than it did in 2006 (in my opinion anyway, I think most would agree). But something happened after that that was at least a little bittersweet. Tony Larussa retired after an era in Cardinals baseball had become obvious that it was complete.

I joined VEB back during the end of spring training 2008 (or was that 2007?). Anyway, it was right before the season started. I remember Hardcore Legend once describing to me why people did not like Larussa as much as I would have thought at the time. I tended to disagree, still thinking Larussa was some kind of genius mastermind. I think VEB in general was saying it was all smoke and mirrors, and that he was not actually that good of a manager (of course there were a few exceptions). At the time I did have some inkling what they were talking about, but did not think about it much (and in the past, not at all). In fact I thought it was a little suspect, considering Tony's track record, especially since winning in 2006 with a not so great team... and somehow righting the ship in 2007 so that the team still did have a chance (which was on Ankiel's shoulders too much.... I'm still rather disappointed about how the HGH thing played out. it's times like that where I can hate sports journalism, or whatever it was).

But going forward, after I had time to absorb why many criticized Larussa, reading game threads and comments, I started to realize what they were talking about. Tony seemed to be getting a little worse with age, to put it lightly. Did we ever see Adam Kennedy deployed as he was in 2008? To me it almost seemed sarcastic or a joke to play someone like Adam Kennedy in the outfield 10 times, 6 of them starts? What was going on there? AK would be one of the lesser talked about people who either disgruntled TLR or vice versa: Tony totally getting under your nerves and your goat.

So I'm on the fence about Larussa retiring. I will kind of miss the weirdness and balancing act. He was certainly not a bad manager; in fact he excelled in many areas and is obviously effective enough. But we will not miss the bizarre bullpen choices and deployment, nor will we miss infielders playing the outfield (ok, trying Tyler Greene out in center field maybe wasn't the worst idea). But enough about Tony Larussa. His era in Cardinals baseball is over and will be remembered well.

I'm also on the fence about Rafael Furcal and Nick Punto. That combo sounds very nice as the Cardinals middle infield. In 2010, Furcal was worth 4.2 WAR in 428 plate appearances. This is a premium player with injuries or limitations... not unlike Lance Berkman was before 2011. While having an off year this season, he still showed signs of regression back to his younger self and was a key component to the Cardinals 2011 season. Punto also was important, especially towards the end of the season after overcoming many injuries. Nick "The Shredder" Punto accumulated 1.8 WAR in only 166 plate appearances. The pointman just loved to hit as a Cardinal, displaying his best offensive performance ever (123 wRC+!). 

But the main issue is obvious: Both are older and missed significant playing time. This is not necessarily a bad thing... them missing playing time would allow more playing time for Tyler Greene and other young infielders (comparatively). But the issue is contracts: how much do you pay someone who will be considered a starter but is really more of a platoon player? I think we have to let one of them walk.... my guess is that it would be Furcal, since he will command a larger contract. I'm most comfortable with this scenario. Punto should cost significantly less, and plays even better defense, not to mention it would be very interesting to see if Nick Punto can maintain anything remotely close to a .319 BABIP/.350 wOBA.

And of course, many of us are on the fence about the Albert Pujols contract. Just how many years will he get? If it's a lot how much will he get at the end of the contract? How does having Lance Berkman and Allen Craig on the roster effect all this? It's hard to tell how this will play out... without Albert right field has a better defender in Allen Craig, but a worse defender at first with Berkman (but probably not that much worse). With Albert is still my preference. But how much will that preference cost?

There some things I'm not on the fence about. I think the starting rotation is set, and Mozeliak won't be considering that unless there is some kind of ancillary move involved that involves more positions. Also I don't think I'm on the fence about Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot. There just isn't much room on the roster for both... and in my opinion the team would be better served cutting ties with them. If they keep one, I'm a little confused as to which would be better. Theriot is better at playing second base, but does it matter at this point? I guess it'll depend on if Punto re-signs.

As for the bullpen, it is likely to continue to be a work in progress. I'm not totally convinced Motte should be the de facto closer yet, but I would be far from opposed to that. I don't know what to think of Boggs, but he is cost controlled and I am not ready to write him off yet. Hopefully Mozeliak will show what he can really do now in roster construction. Which will depend on who they hire as manager....

That too I can't decide on. My choice picks of who has been mentioned are Maloney, Matheny, or longtime favorite Oquendo seems to be fine options. Tough choice and big shoes to fill.  Sometimes its really nice just to be a fan.

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