UCB: Cardinals Roundtable

The United Cardinals Bloggers are having their post season roundtable. Each members asks a question to the rest. IP Sports (represented by me) has asked the following question:

Is it time to let Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan walk?

Each year, more people begin to ask this question. It’s gotten to the point where other teams are waiting to announce staff changes until the Cardinals to; rumor had it the Reds were waiting to announce Dick Pole’s replacement until the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs, in case they could get Duncan. It was also rumored that they’d have no problem dismissing Dusty Baker if Tony LaRussa was available.

LaRussa is a hall of famer; Duncan is the highest paid pitching coach in baseball. Both are great for the team; both also have faults.

John (The Cardinal Virtue): I’m of the opinion that keeping LaRussa is key to keeping Pujols. I made it clear in the last question that this should be the overarching goal of the franchise. If LaRussa walks and even Duncan, the organization will NOT have the “fielding a competitive team” feel that Pujols has made it clear that he needs. Furthermore, LaRussa and Duncan have earned the right with this organization to go in their own timing.

So, to answer the passive nature of this question: Yes, it’s time to let them walk, because they should be able to go whenever they want. However, if I grasp the spirit of the question: No, keep em. Say whatever needs to be said. Give them some slack and let them work their magic. Above all, treat em like they deserve: hall of famers who know what they’re doing.

Daniel (C70 at the Bat): If the thought is should they be pushed out the door, then no, I’m not in favor of that. LaRussa and Duncan are still good at their jobs–this year, with a team expected to be third or fourth even before Troy Glaus went down is a great example of that.

Now, if they decide that their time is up and they are wanting to move into retirement? Give them a parade, a day at the ballpark, but don’t necessarily throw the checkbook at them trying to get them to change their minds.

Josh (Pitcher Hit Eighth): To me it is time to cut the cord so to speak between LaDunc. We have all seen the entire Cardinal organization move on after Walt, and I feel now is the right time to to shake things up a bit. While I agree that Tony should be given plenty of room, the FA class won’t wait for St. Louis to decide who stays and who goes…for long.

Approach them separately, however, to show that the group as a whole is more important than any individual. It sounds like a great plan, but to me the key has to be LaRussa making the first move. If he only wants to come back with the entire staff in tact, thanks but no thanks in my opinion.

This may very well be the most important off-season that any of us can remember. With that in mind, it is vital to show the best player in baseball that everything is being considered to make the team better. Even if the hard decisions are not the popular ones.

Eugene (IP Sports): I agree with this. The game has moved to a point where younger players have as much value as veterans, and Tony still relies too much on “his guys.” He’s gotten better, but we’re going to have to use more younger players to offset the cost of the Pujols and Hollidays. His doghouse is also a problem; he’s very stubborn which can cause problems, which we’ve seen with Rolen and Edmonds. Plus, Ozzie Smith would be a great coach and will have nothing to do with the organization until Tony is gone.

As for Duncan, he doesn’t do a great job developing young pitching. He’s done great with Wainwright, but what about Reyes, Perez, and the countless others.

The only guy I’d keep on the staff is Oquendo, and he’d be my choice for manager. He’s been around the organization for ever, he’d be a name that would keep Pujols here, and if we don’t do it soon, we’ll probably lose him. I’d bring in Ozzie for 1B coach; he’d be another good one for fielding. I’d see if we could get Leo Mazzone out of retirement for the pitching coach and Mike Matheny as bullpen coach; Mazzone could groom Matheny to be the next pitching coach. The other coaching options would be left to the new manager.

Trey (The Cardinal Virtue): My thought on this would be that if I thought we could keep Duncan as pitching coach, but bring-in a new manager, that would be the way I would go. I think LaRussa’s micro-managing style has maybe begun to wear a little thing, and maybe more straight-forward approach would benefit our younger players. On the other hand, how many times has he taken us to the playoffs? Quite a bunch I think, so maybe I’m crazy. Duncan to me is a slam-dunk to keep. He makes pedestrain talent look good (Pineiro, Lohse, Franklin, Weaver, etc.) and good talent great (Carp, Wainwright). Unfortunately, these two do seem to be a package deal unless maybe LaRussa decides to retire, we I say keep both in the end.

Michael (Whitey Ball): I think there is one simple way to answer this question: Who has proven to be a better manager and pitching coach (that the Cardinals could go out and get) that would replace La Russa and Duncan? I don’t see anyone that has proven to be better.

The popular answer is Oquendo, but why? Does anyone have any insight into his managing of the Puerto Rican team that gives them confidence in his abilities? We know he has not shown the greatest media abilities (see the Joel Pineiro situation). His language skills have improved, but I don’t see him spinning yarns ala Whitey Herzog.

He has been schooled by La Russa and Herzog. He’s not going to be much different than them. Why do we think he will (in his first managing job) buck the industry trends for more new age thinking (La Russa is still on the leading edge of this). Why do we want to give up one of the best third base coaches in the business (we’d have to replace him) and give him less time to spend with the infielders? (Oquendo hasn’t exactly been on the fast track to manage)

Successful managers (Joe Maddon?) are signed to their teams for long term deals or wouldn’t want to leave their current situation.

For all their foibles, we often time forget La Russa/ Duncan’s many strengths (veteran pitchers, keeping bench players active and starters fresh, protecting players, keeping everyone playing hard, respect from players, etc.). They aren’t great with bad bullpens or young pitchers (though they HAVE developed some), but they also build character in their young players (you may call it the doghouse, I call it letting them prove themselves). We seldom see a La Russa player dogging it.

La Russa may be the best manager in the business for Brendan Ryan (he’s more serious and dedicated) and Colby Rasmus seems to have checked his cockiness into a more “quite confidence” tone. You earn your loyalty with his regime and he will return it in spades.

Change for change sake is almost never a good idea. If we are going to replace them, we need a solid reason for doing so. I haven’t seen this reasoning yet, and La Russa/ Duncan have proven to be successful (even with their admitted quirks).

Nick (Pitcher Hit Eighth): As one who has been very visibly critical of every little tiny misstep Tony LaRussa has made in the past, and skeptical of Dave Duncan’s Scrap Heap Pitcher Voodoo ™ – I sincerely hope both stay.

I don’t have a lot to add to the previous responses regarding TLR and Dunc’s credentials. Most successful National League team of this decade, two World Series appearances with one victory, numerous Division championships – why are people clamoring for their departure?

As a fan, you don’t have to agree with the decisions Tony makes (to keep Joe Thurston on the roster) or the personal emotion Duncan allows to enter the discussion (obviously the Cardinals weren’t the worst part of the Chris equation, if Boston outrighted him soon after the trade). But how can you argue with their results?

Regarding the rest of the comments/question – of course the Reds are going to hold up everything to see if TLR and Dunc are available. With Jocketty running the ship over there, Cincy will always have a place for the Friends of Walt (also ™). That doesn’t mean the rest of the league is holding their breath that these guys are actually leaving St Louis anytime soon. Not to mention that LaRussa, in my opinion, seems to lean more toward retirement and/or front office employment versus having to put his stamp on another team.

I used to be a huge “Oquendo should replace TLR” honk – you know, one of those “manager in waiting” arrangements. I believe it was John Marecek who set me straight with his opinion, and I’m paraphrasing, “Oquendo must manage elsewhere and have success before he can manage the Cards.” Think about it. The Cardinals have enjoyed many successful seasons under the LaRussa regime. The franchise, if it wasn’t there prior to TLR, has certainly reached a status in MLB that puts it at the top of the list when it comes to managerial jobs, in my opinion. This is not a club that should be hiring “that well-revered hitting coach” or “the home-grown third base coach without managerial experience” to be the skipper. What happens if he fails? Everyone has anointed Oquendo as the next in charge, but what if he’s a terrible manager? The WBC stint was not enough to prove he can run a big league club. Let him go run the Nationals for a while, observe him motivating and being successful other than wins and losses (because he has terrible players, see: Acta, Manny), and then bring him home to Busch III and make another Cardinal legacy of him.

I’ve strayed a bit from the original question, but I think my opinion can be deduced – let Tony and Dunc win some more flags (and hopefully another ring or two?) before we rush them out of town. They’ve done a lot for this club, and I think both still have plenty to offer.

Michael (Stan Musial’s Stance): I just wanted to echo what Nick said above. LaRussa and Duncan have brought a lot of success and winning baseball to St Louis. They’ve earned the right to stay until they decide to walk away.

I’m not in a rush to show them the door, either.

Pip (Fungoes): First, any discussion about the future of LaRuncan should be had in the context of a stat that Nick brought up on PH8 recently: Managers affect wins and losses by only +2.29 to -1.88 over 162 games (from The Hardball Times’s 2008 Baseball Annual). Now, two wins is an important margin, to be sure. But whether managers, and specifically, La Russa, exhibit some repeatable skill to affect wins and losses is debatable.

Second, it’s time for a comprehensive study of whether there is a “Duncan Effect” on pitchers, like the one that JC Bradbury did on Leo Mazzone. Until then, no one knows for certain what kind of an impact (if any) Duncan has on pitchers.

While La Russa has been relunctant to respect young players, often to the point of recalcitrancy, the fact is that the 2009 team was his second-youngest in the last eight years. His petulant remarks about Brendan Ryan and others notwithstanding, he relied on young players in 2009 (notably Ryan, Colby Rasmus and Blake Hawksworth). How much he was forced to do so is another question. Another ongoing complaint: Despite his reputation for progressive approaches, TLR has gone stale in recent years, turning away from the useful pitcher-hitting-eighth tactic to a painfully conventional use of his bullpen.

But La Russa doesn’t appear to impede the team’s chances of winning, and although very little can and should be read into the team’s failures in the postseason, one concern came up at the end of the season: The team’s lack of veteran leadership (and that’s putting it kindly). The team hasn’t had a strong clubhouse player-leader since Will Clark’s 51-game swan song in 2000. Does La Russa’s command and control approach preclude such leadership from coming forward, or is it simply a matter of the types of players the Cardinals have had?

Even with those provisos, the strain of thinking that the team shouldn’t upset the status quo makes sense, unless someone like Joe Maddon is available. Maddon’s not, obviously: The bad timing of his contract extension with the Rays and TLR’s relunctance to leave the Cardinals is like something out of When Harry Met Sally. Perhaps one day Maddon and the Cardinals will finally get together. Until then, unless their salary demands are exorbitant — and TLR had one of the highest salaries among managers in 2009 ($4 million+) — LaRuncan should stay, principally out of lack of alternatives.

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