Organizational Rankings: #10 – St. Louis

Now that we’re on to the top ten, we begin to nitpick a little bit. The previous 20 organizations all have one pretty significant issue, but now we’re starting to try to separate the good from the great. These distinctions are a bit tougher.

St. Louis is a good example of this. There are a lot of of things to like about the Cardinals; they have the best player in baseball, some all-stars around him, and a couple very good young players that they can build around. They’re the best team in the NL Central, and are a legitimate contender for the 2010 World Series. The fan base is strong, and the team makes enough money to sustain payrolls high enough to contend regularly.

But, there are cracks in the armor, most notably in the people management side of things. To say that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan don’t always get along with the front office is something of an understatement. Reports surfaced during the 2009 season of a near mutiny on the coaching staff when the organization decided to get rid of Duncan’s son. Walt Jocketty left town to get away from a power struggle in the front office, and while that has been mostly settled, there are still potential issues there.

How long the manager and coach will remain in place is a near annual story. The Cardinals have put a lot of faith in Dave Duncan‘s ability to fix pitchers and turn them into valuable pieces, and it’s paid off for years, but how long he’ll be in the Cardinals organization is an open question. Can St. Louis continue to strike gold by teaching cast-offs a two-seamer and turning them into all-stars without Duncan? Maybe, but I don’t know that it’s a good bet.

These seem like minor issues, I know, and in the grand scheme of things, they may be, but while the Cardinals have a good team, the friction between the front office and coaching staff threatens the formula that they’ve built their roster around. The Cardinals should win in 2010, but if they don’t, things could go very, very badly in St. Louis. It probably won’t, but the potential soap opera disaster is there, and that’s enough to drag the Cardinals down to the bottom of the really good organizations in baseball.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


34 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #10 – St. Louis”

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  1. Ben George says:

    are the Cards #10 or #9? If they are #9, who was #10 after the Angels at #11?

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  2. bsbalbrian says:

    Kind of a weak argument considering the error suggesting Jocketty left town on his own accord. Jocketty was let go by ownership, partly because of his relationship with Jeffrey Luhnow and their inability to reconcile a strategy on building the farm system. Duncan’s objections to trading his son are in the past, La Russa is a HOF manager, and Mozeliak may not be a headline grabbing GM, but he’s built a fairly solid team for $90 million.

    I think what we’re seeing here is what turns many people off from using sabermetrics and valuing prospects — we’ve undervalued the ability to win consistently. And the Cardinals have done that.

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    • Steven says:

      I don’t think anyone’s undervalued it. But the remaining teams are also able to win consistently, now and in the future. These last ten teams all have a very high bar set for them.

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  3. MDB says:

    Jocketty didn’t leave town on his own accord, he was fired. Walt didn’t get along with Jeff Luhnow the VP of scouting whom team owner Bill Dewitt is fond of.

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    • Scott says:

      Yeah, Jocketty got run out of town. People in St. Louis and the team got tired of his passive attitude towards team building. Jocketty had no choice in the matter.

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  4. Ted says:

    10th because of the manager and pitching coach? Wow, considering the talent and the division they play in, i would say the prospects for winning in the future is higher then 10th in the majors.

    Just crazy

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    • Ted says:

      Before anyone asks, I would say the Cardinals now and into the future have a better chance to win a World Series then:
      Seattle and Texas

      And a very good argument could be made that they should be above:
      the Rockies, Braves, and Twins

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      • Greg says:

        Here’s hoping Seattle and Texas pop up in spots 8 and 9. Otherwise, from here on in there’s going to be at least one “THIS team is weaker than Seattle and Texas!?” comment on each post.

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      • DL80 says:

        I could be wrong, but with huge parts of their future payroll tied up in (or about to be) 2 players, that is going to cut down on St. Louis’ flexibility a lot.

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      • Omar says:

        I would agree, I feel that Seattle, Texas, Colorado, Atlanta, and Minnesota should all make up the bottom half of the top five…they’re great organizations, but aside from Minnesota their current major league talent can’t even come close to matching Carpenter/Wainwright/Pujols/Holliday in the top tier not to mention players like Colby Rasmus coming up. Granted, St. Louis’ farm is somewhat underwhelming and their FO isn’t headed by someone as savvy as Jack Z or Jon Daniels…but they have the best player in the game one of the best 1/2 at the top of their rotation, an elite outfielder, an exciting young CF, and the capacity to support a large payroll. They should be in the playoffs for years to come.

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      • PeteJohn says:

        Omar

        …and Mozeliak isn’t really a slouch. He’s bought into what Luhnow has been trying to do with the minor leagues and drafts and the Cards have filled in several spots with internal options who’ve done fairly well (Rasmus and Ryan come to mind). I think they really sold the farm to pay for Holliday in both financial considerations and traded prospects, and the DeRosa trade was foolish, but I also don’t see Mozeliak getting just taken time and again, a la Ed Wade or GMDM.

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      • Omar says:

        The Holliday trade I don’t see the huge issue in, they have Albert Pujols…ownership will do what it needs to do to keep him. That being said with Pujols at first and Wallace’s deficiencies at third base there’s really no good spot to put him. They had a fairly weak hitting outfield, and needed an upgrade. Holliday provided a pretty damn good one, Brett Wallace didn’t really have a place in the team’s future so they got one of the best outfielders in baseball for him. Doesn’t seem like such a bad move to me.

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  5. Dave Cameron says:

    Please keep in mind that the text of these posts is not the only thing that goes into this. If I wrote out every last reason why a team ranked where they did, it would be 5,000 words. The Cardinals are not 10th just due to the management issues. As always, present talent and future talent were large factors as well. I just chose to write about the management issues, because it was the most interesting and helps explain why the Cardinals didn’t score particularly well for me in that one area.

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    • Omar says:

      I get that, Dave, and I wouldn’t mind reading something more in depth. No football, the hot stove fizzled weeks ago, and s/t gets boring. Especially for the top 10 teams. The bottom 20, like you said, has a glob of teams that are kind of fungible to some extent, whereas neither of these teams has a glaring weakness and they’re all in pretty good shape for now and the next few years. I feel that insight into these teams would be beneficial for fans. That being said, as to the Cardinals’ ‘management issues’ are a valid concern, IMO, but are we ranking their ability to win in the next few years or are we trying to decide what kind of shape they’ll be in for the next decade? If it’s the latter, you’re absolutely right, out of the top ten teams the Cardinals have the most long term issues…but if were ranking their chances to contend in the next two to four years…I’ve gotta believe that they have a better shot at winning a WS than the Rockies, Braves, Mariners, and Rangers.

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    • snapper says:

      Yeah, people need to be a little less literal. I assumed the putrid farm system weighed a lot more heavily.

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      • Omar says:

        Less literal? According to his first article he’s ranking teams with the likelihood of winning a WS in the next three to four years. If you’re telling me that the Mariners, Braves, Rangers, or Rockies are more likely to win a WS in the next three to four I’m not buying it. Were trying to enjoy the exercise that Dave’s attempting to do, but some of us have questions and would like to better understand his reasoning for the slottings. I don’t feel as if that’s unreasonable at all.

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    • Ted says:

      I thought these rankings were based on chances to win a championship this year and into the future. So I would just like a better explanation for a team with such major league talent and playing in a weak division barely making the top 1/3 of teams in baseball.

      It almost sounds to me like the mistake a lot of keeper league owners make: over valuing minor league / young unproven talent as compared to current talent.
      The Cardinals do not have a strong minor league system, but the Cardinals have shown that they can grown talent and get guys worthy of plugging in the major league team to contribute on a yearly basis. (Molina, Rasmus, Skip, Motte) But yet a team that has proved nothing like Texas or Seattle is seen as a better bet this year and beyond. that is just crazy to me because it is way more likely that a solid club like the Cardinals or Angels finds a way to win before those two clubs do. (Just as an example)

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    • WY says:

      As a few other readers have pointed out, I think some of the information about the front-office goings-on is either off-base (e.g., the Jocketty remark, which is simply wrong) or outdated (e.g., the Chris Duncan trade). You may have chosen to focus on management issues, but it would have been good to consult someone more familiar with the team.

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  6. Ivdown says:

    I see that the Phillies are next in the series, and it just makes me laugh that you would put the Mariners as high as you are going to place them.

    One season of overachieving with no offense and barely what could qualify as a farm system and the Mariners are one of the 8 best franchises in baseball….mhmmm. Even with 2 of the top pitchers in baseball, this team still has NO power, and will have to get incredible defense AGAIN along with phenomenal pitching.

    It still baffles me that you can be so openly biased with rankings, and put so much stock in GMs and ownership (and divorces that have not caused any damage to the actual MLB team yet…and none to the farm system minus a single player) and not in recent success and current players. Completely baffles me.

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    • Reuben says:

      Recent player performance is important. Recent team performance is not.

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      • Ivdown says:

        When the team is exactly the same minus a few players, team performance definitely does matter.

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      • Reuben says:

        were the players’ performances in line with their underlying stats?
        did the other teams in the division change significantly?
        is age a factor?
        were they unusually healthy or unusually injured?

        so many reasons why a team(even roughly the same team)’s performance might drastically change year to year.

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  7. Reuben says:

    I understand the 10th ranking completely. Don’t the Cards seem a little like the Mets in their top-heaviness? They’ve got Holliday, Pujols, Rasmus, Wainwright, Carpenter, and Molina. That’s very good, but then what? Lugo, Lopez, Schumaker, Freese, Ludwick, Penny, and Lohse. Their bullpen is full of ?’s too. A significant injury or two could have the Cards far below the Brewers, Reds, and Cubs.

    And as pointed above, they traded away basically their one good prospect.

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    • WY says:

      Brendan Ryan is one of the top defensive shortstops in the league and merits a mention among the second-tier of above-average players.

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  8. johndango says:

    Lol. I actually went back and tried to find the Mariners post after this because I thought I had missed it. Must be the pessimist in me.

    I sincerely hope they earn the ranking that Fangraphs is gonna give them and I hope that Fangraphs ranks them near the top.

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  9. DizzyDean17 says:

    Ranking the Cards 10th best is like saying the Yanks have the 10th most storied franchise in MLB. A sane mind puts them either first or second. Shame on this author who has them 10th. Maybe you’d be better at picking horses at Santa Anita, but I doubt that too.

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  10. Todd Doug says:

    Part of the reason for this (in my opinion) low ranking seems to be the fact La Russa and Duncan might leave. It’s true that, every year, it is a story, but I have a hard time believing that La Russa or Duncan will leave, considering the talent that Cardinals have in the rotation and the line-up. It’s only because La Russa is a bit of a drama queen and only signs one year contracts that it’s even mentioned. I’d be shocked if he left, especially if they lock up Pujols long-term. The minor league talent is thin, true, but Rasmus and Ryan are there, providing cheap talent, and David Freese could be another who provides better-than-replacement production at a league minimum price. And then there’s McClellan, Motte, Boggs, Garcia, et al, on the pitching side. The system is maligned, but I think it’s better than people give it credit for.

    I think the Cardinals should have been behind (in no particular order) the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Tampa. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think the Cardinals should be this far away from the top 5.

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    • Samuel Lingle says:

      I really don’t believe that LaRussa will ever leave while Albert Pujols is a Cardinals, unless some sort of health problem forces him to step down. I suppose it’d be possible if the Cardinals won a World Series or something and he wanted to step down on a high note, but even then I find it unlikely considering he’d probably want to have a chance to win another.

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