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azru is time-crunched today, so i’m filling in for him. if you haven’t read the morning paper yet, la russa’s challenging the team to acquire some "impact help" this off-season. stringing together a few of his comments --- this is not one statement, but a composite of several:

"I would anticipate ownership and the front office are excited about us making a significant improvement for next season. . . . . The idea is if you have a chance to finish first, then finish first or at least contend for first . . . . it's up to the organization to prove if they want to have a fighting chance to finish first. The only way you do that is by your actions, not by the benefit of what you've done. It's always what you do next. If you lose sight of that you're making a big mistake."

he adds, toward the end of the article: "If I'm managing next year, I'm managing here" (my emphasis).

i take this last sentence as a veiled ultimatum --- if the club doesn’t spend either money or prospects to land an established star player or two, he’s liable to quit. personally, i’d rather see him quit than see the organization make a short-sighted move to appease him. as with jocketty last season, la russa’s interests seem to lie somewhat in opposition to the organization’s. la russa has no use for players who might blossom 3 or 4 years from now, because 3 or 4 years from now he probably isn’t going to be managing. players like that are worthless to him. listen to him pooh-pooh the talent in the pipeline:

"You have your prospects. And it's good to publicize how good they are. But you want to be realistic with what you have. . . . . you have to ask yourself, is there an impact guy within your system, like an Albert?

when people accuse tony of being bad with young players, it’s because of statements like this one. obviously there are no alberts within the system ---- no team has an albert in its system ---- but if we reframe the question to, "are there any potential mvp candidates within the system," i would answer that there might be. rasmus is a top 10 prospect; brett wallace is probably going to be in the top 25 or 50. daryl jones certainly has the tools of an mvp-type player, and this year he finally got the results to match. the problem is that none of these guys is going to be an mvp candidate next year --- and that’s the rub for la russa. by the time they reach their primes, he won’t be around to reap the benefits. but (as a fan) i will.

re the need for "impact" --- forgive me if i don’t see it. the cards rank 3d in scoring this season, and on a park-adjusted basis they have the best offense in the league. as i noted yesterday, they’re going to have four 25-hr men on the roster for the first time in 7 years, and for only the second time in la russa's tenure in st louis. despite the lack of lineup "protection" for pujols (something la russa has complained about all year), albert is headed for his best season since 2003. there’s plenty of impact on hand. compare the production of this year’s outfielders to the number posted by the sanders-walker-edmonds outfields of yore (current-year totals are pro-rated for 162 games):

HR RBI R AVG OBP SLG
2008 89 298 313 .288 .360 .491
2005 82 291 310 .274 .353 .475
2004 92 276 289 .274 .356 .498

they’re getting better production out of this group. here’s the same comparison for the 2bmen:

HR RBI R AVG OBP SLG
2008 6 64 67 .305 .350 .385
2005 (grud’k) 9 70 75 .279 .320 .383
2004 (womack) 7 46 100 .288 .328 .367

so much for the good old days, eh? now, obviously the cardinals can stand an upgrade at 2b --- i wouldn't expect the current crop of players to post the same numbers next year. but the position is not the offensive black hole that it has been made out to be.

i’m not arguing that the cardinals should just stand pat this winter. they clearly need an upgrade at shortstop; strauss dropped hints that troy tulowitzki might be available, and while it seems far-fetched to me that colorado is trying to shop him, he's a player who would represent both a short- and a long-term fix (he's under contract for another 4 or 5 years) and thus would meet both tony's needs and the organization's. i really think that's a longshot, but he's the type of player they should be looking for. they can use another starting pitcher in the short-term (although, as i’ve repeated long and loud, the odds are that by 2010 somebody who’s already in the organization will have matured into a reliable mid-rotation pitcher). they might need a hitter who can mash left-handers, although as i peruse the roster it seems to be they don’t lack for good right-handed bats. they need at least one reliable lh reliever, especially as long as la russa is managing. and they might need some fortification from the right side of the bullpen, especially if mcclellan gets converted into a starter next year (which i think is a good idea). i’m comfortable heading into next year with perez as the closer.

there is definitely room for improvement. but if mo and co go into the winter with the goal of making splashy "impact" moves just to pass la russa’s litmus test, i think it’ll end bad.