The Jeff Suppan thing, a done deal, then, as of press-time this morning, just an almost-done deal, has brought with it a lot of mostly justifiable consternation. It isn't all Suppan's fault—he has the misfortune of being the last guy to fall onto this particular camel—but his having been released by the pitching-desparate Brewers is a real reason for fan panic. He's not very good, he hasn't been very good since he was last a Cardinal, and he's not likely to be good again. That part's his fault.
The rest of it is circumstance. Jeff Suppan happens to be the third veteran called up in the same confidence-shaking month. The way in which the Cardinals have been revamped this month is in part pragmatic. Bernie Miklasz, no La Russa apologist, does the best job yet of attempting to explain, if not justify, the team coming to the Jeff Suppan conclusion:
What about other free agents? Well, the Cardinals wanted to have someone capable of pitching right away, as opposed to signing a Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz or Braden Looper and wait while they take a month to condition their arms. The Cardinals needed an arm to fill the void quickly. Suppan could make a faster transition, given that (A) he pitched as recently as last weekend, and (B) Duncan has a working knowledge of Supp's stuff, and can immediately enter into the task of problem solving.
Suppan costs the Cardinals virtually nothing - just the pro-rated veteran minimum salary - so the dumpster-dive cost was appealing to the organization. ... obviously their anxiety level has increased in recent days, and TLR and Duncan put more muscle behind their push to do something ... they wanted a veteran and they wanted him NOW.
This is actually fair—the Cardinals' problem is over the next month, not (he said hopefully) the season, and Suppan, as poor a bet as he is, is the nearest one there is to game shape who doesn't involve the Cardinals trading any of the prospects they're trying increasingly strenuously not to play.
But the anger that seemed to accompany this signing didn't come from the actual wins and losses value of it; it came from what seems like a fundamental betrayal of one of the principles that built the most successful version of the 2010 Cardinals. Jeff Suppan's just the unfortunate symbol. In March the Cardinals felt they could trust Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, David Freese, and their trust was vindicated. But in June, already, it seems like the lesson wasn't learned.
But even as the reemergence of Suppan and Miles drives us to non-baseball distractions it's important to remember that the reason it's so annoying is not that this is all the Cardinals seem to do; it's that it's backsliding, and unexpected backsliding, from a basically enlightened start to the season. For all their stated needs for veterans—NOW—the Cardinals entered a season reliant on Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, David Freese. And that's why the idea that—straw men coming—Aaron Miles is the right bloody shirt on which to base an ouster of Tony La Russa, or the reason the Cardinals will fall flat in the playoffs, is so preposterous.
This isn't going to be the end of the Cardinals, and it's not the end of a team that's still impressively young. They can't continue to give away runs by utilizing their bench assets so poorly, but that's mostly Miles's and Stavinoha's territory unless Penny returns and Ottavino's on a better run than Suppan. But this is a young team getting old, not an old team getting older; let's not declare Tony La Russa permanently uncomfortable with the social networking demographic until he's successfully kicked them off the team.