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going going . . . . .gone?

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wells' unexpected line of zeroes provided a nice little tonic at the end of a day of bad news . . . . emphasis on "little." i'm not trying to deny him due credit for a good game --- it's nice to see him show everybody that he does have some skill --- but it ain't much consolation on a day when the ETA for chris carpenter's return shifted from late 2007 to 2008 or beyond. even la russa, notoriously tight-lipped about injury matters, let it slip that more surgery might be in the offing --- and if tony's talking about it, it's probably 90 percent certain to happen. will carroll described the situation as "bleak" at Baseball Prospectus yesterday; another injury know-it-all, rick wilton, suggested somewhat more hopefully at Hardball Times that it might just be scar tissue. i'm dubious of the latter, because i've never heard that scar tissue causes the kind of swelling carp is experiencing. tightness, yes; discomfort, yes; major swelling, no. maybe i'm wrong; i hope i am. if that's the case, please correct me in the comments thread.

i can't think of a precedent for this situation in the years i've been following the cardinals --- a career-threatening injury to a transcendent player. well, there was the kile death, but that one goes in a special category. if carpenter's injury should prove to be career-ending or even merely career-diminishing, it would be both a greater, and a lesser, blow than the loss of kile. it would be lesser in the sense that the personal tragedy of kile's death rendered the loss of his talent almost meaningless; a serious injury to carp would be a drag, but it wouldn't be a tragedy. however, if we limit the discussion strictly to talent, the loss of carpenter would be the greater one. carp is the only st louis pitcher aside from bob gibson to win a cy young award; he ranks first on the franchise's all-time leaderboard in won-loss percentage, first in k/bb ratio, second in whip, second in strikeouts per 9 innings, and 6th in era+. he has a postseason record of 5-1, an era of 2.53; that the cardinals beat the mets without a win from him is well-nigh miraculous.

if he can't return from this injury to pitch at that level, it'll probably be a long time before we see another cardinal hurler attain it. . . . . . but maybe it's not hopeless. john smoltz had a rash of shoulder injuries in his late 20s and underwent TJ surgery on his elbow at age 32. he returned to the mound at age 34, and in the seven years since that operation he has gone 39-21 as a starter with a 3.20 era --- and saved 154 games to boot. he's made four all-star teams and twice finished in the top 10 in the cy young voting. in other words, he picked up right where he left off. so even if carpenter has to go under the knife again, the possibility might still exist --- theoretically, anyway --- that he can reclaim his place among the league's elite pitchers.

if it's arthritis --- well, thanks for the memories, big guy.

on to other matters. bernie ripped la russa in his column today. a lot of you won't like what he wrote; indeed, some of you don't like anything bernie writes. he may even be less popular than the targets of his criticism today, la russa and juan encarnacion. but i urge you to give this column some consideration; don't knee-jerk hate it just because you don't like the writer. and don't read it as a blanket condemnation of la russa, because it isn't. the point of the column is not to dismiss tlr's long list of contributions to the franchise, nor to deny his many strengths as a baseball manager. bernie's asking, with justification, to what degree this team's lax play results from the manager's own malaise. tony has been, to put it mildly, a tad moody this year; "distracted" is probably a better term. you can understand why, i suppose --- the dui, the injury to carpenter, the death of hancock, the lousy play of the team. but let's not make excuses for the man; he never tolerates excuses from his own players, after all. it has been a tough season, but la russa has made it tougher on himself by picking fight after fight --- and not only with the media. how many of his own players has he exchanged sharp words with in the press over the past 12 months? a quick list off the top of my head: pujols (the little all-star flap), edmonds, rolen, reyes, wainwright, preston wilson . . . . who'm i leaving out? and those are only the clashes that took place in public. tony always seems to initiate them; he has manifested the air of a man harboring deep frustrations, which bubble to the surface unpredictably and in a fashion that makes no sense to anyone else. they're stupid little spats, the kind of crap that happens in an unworkable marriage (or in the bad moments of a workable one) --- almost always over meaningless bullshit. people often manifest this kind of behavior when they feel they've lost an important battle; they look for proxy fights, ones they can win --- because they're powerless to win the one that really matters.

in my opinion, the fight that really matters to tlr --- the one he has already lost --- is the battle over the future of the organization. he wants to stick with the tried-and-true formula --- sign or trade for established veterans, and work in a few kids around the margins --- but the organization wants to emphasize player development. it's no secret that tony's pissed off about that; it has been reported both locally and nationally. i think he's misplacing his anger, directing it at players and reporters.

if my armchair psychoanalysis is even close to being right, then tony's got to go. of course, if it's right then he probably will go voluntarily --- but if he doesn't, he should be shown the door. the field manager has to be committed to the organizational philosophy; if he's not, no good can result. if he were fired, it wouldn't mean that tony was a bad manager in the past; it would mean he's not the right one going forward.

think of it this way: almost every cardinal fan considered it unthinkable that the team would let edmonds depart after last season; it's now pretty clear that he was the centerfielder of the past, not the future. likewise, the contract extension that locked up carpenter through age 36 was universally applauded hereabouts, based on his past performance. but past performance doesn't guarantee . . . . well, you know the line. tony was the right manager; that doesn't mean he is the right manager anymore.

alrighty, then --- goodbye to the manager and the ace pitcher. is that any way way to start things off the day after a shutout win? let's end this post where it began, on a small happy note: BP's kevin goldstein likes bryan anderson a lot. he rates the cardinal farmhand as the 2d-best catching prospect in baseball:

Anderson had a very good year in 2006, batting .302/.377/.417 in his Midwest League full-season debut, but nobody saw him as the kind of talent that would be ready for a two-level jump to the Texas League. As it turned out, not only was he ready, but he's now ranked second in the circuit's batting race. Defensively, Anderson is neither plus nor deficient in any area, but it's his bat that'll keep getting him promoted. That said, Anderson's primary value as a hitter comes from his batting average. He's an aggressive, contact-oriented hitter who attacks balls early, with a slicing swing that isn't designed much for power or power potential. Anderson is a very good prospect doing very well while being young for the level, but it's easier to see him developing into that rare catcher who fits in the number two spot of a lineup than his developing into a true impact hitter.