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Gritless Veterans

It's been an odd day for La Russa watchers-- Kennedy and Looper gone, this quote in the paper:

Added La Russa: "When I look at what we're going to do in spring training, the smartest thing to do is have a competition at second base. Adam was not really enthused about doing that at the end of the year. He wanted to come in and be the second baseman. I don't think we can do that."

That, combined with the Looper non-signing, is the money quote of the off-season. It's La Russa setting the tone, as he's so fond of doing: this team is a Hungry team. This team is going to Have a Competition. This change in tone has been in motion since the end of 2006, and given La Russa's need to do this sort of thing--and his reputation for being unbendably canted toward veterans--it's a worthwhile one. But the ejection of Kennedy and the rejection of Looper seem to be the most direct moves in this direction in some time. They say that La Russa (and presumably Mozeliak) does not think the team is a veteran away--that if they're going to win, it's going to be because someone stepped up and outplayed Adam Kennedy or Braden Looper.

To which I have to say: Well, all right. There are worse scenarios than holding a competition at second base; the real problem is not that Kennedy is gone, it's that Kennedy was the main competitor in the competition. Going into a season with so little upside locked into a position wasn't, and now isn't, a good idea; Kennedy would have had to continue his two-front rennaissance, as a marginal offensive player and fantastic defensive player, just to tread water at the position. Now he'll be doing that someplace else.

But Kennedy's status as presumptive front-runner until yesterday only underlines the mediocrity he wasn't enthused about competing against. There's perennial underwhelmer Jarrett Hoffpauir, whose primary claim to the position is being almost-adequate with the bat and very difficult to strike out; Joe Thurston, who hit over .300 in Pawtucket and has plus speed as a differentiating characteristic but will be hard-pressed to hit .280 in the majors unless he learns something from Jarrett Hoffpauir; Skip Schumaker, who is a centerfielder; and Brian Barden and Brendan Ryan, whose cases depend on a presumed defensive bump after they move across second base. Not a Ryan Ludwick in the bunch, or even a Scott Seabol.

In general I think La Russa's player personality needs--one has to be ready to compete, in the victor/spoils sense, and ready to take that indescribable it that drives a player out of town every year or two--should, and too often don't, take a back-seat to the needs of the team. Anthony Reyes is a prime suspect in this regard, and in the interest of full disclosure I felt (apparently wrongly) that his alienation of Scott Rolen was a bad baseball move.

But for better or worse the Cardinals don't have anyone who's markedly better than the field right now, as far as 2009 prospects go, and they didn't yesterday, either. And if dumping Kennedy is what La Russa thinks will lead to somebody stepping forward I can see Mozeliak, hands tied by payroll, rolling the dice on it.