Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.
Rankings So Far
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
Bill DeWitt Jr’s ownership of the Cardinals has been a success, as the team has been well capitalized and fairly well run during his tenure. There have been a few hiccups, however – former GM Walt Jocketty left after the front office suffered a split over the role of Jeff Luhnow and his team of statistical analysts. The team had a lengthy courtship with Indians assistant GM Chris Antonetti, who eventually spurned them to stay in Cleveland, and DeWitt ended up turning to in house candidate John Mozeliak to run the club. While there’s enough room in the budget for the team to contend, DeWitt could serve to be a bit less hands on as an owner – you don’t like to see good baseball men leave because of internal power struggles, and that DeWitt wasn’t able to figure out how to get Jocketty and Luhnow to work together is something of a black mark on his leadership. But, overall, he provides the team with the necessary resources to win and encourages them to do so, and ownership isn’t a significant weakness in St. Louis.
Front Office:: C
Mozeliak, as a new GM taking over a franchise already in position to win, was in something of a strange circumstance. He had to add a few pieces to help push the team over the top, which is not usually the task handed to a new GM hire. Overall, Mozeliak’s pick of which players to retain and add have been a bit less than inspiring. He did a good job of picking up Kyle Lohse on the cheap last spring, but then fell into the trap of signing him to a 4 year, $44 million contract to keep him from free agency. The Joel Pineiro extension was inexplicably bad. The Adam Kennedy situation was mishandled, and the organization continues to let Tony LaRussa’s personal issues with players interfere with their roster management decisions. With Albert Pujols in his prime, the Cardinals should be focused on trying to win rings while they have the best player in baseball, but they made barely a wimper in the best buyer’s market we’ve seen in years. There are some good things going on in St. Louis’ front office, but Mozeliak has to show more as a GM if these team is going to be a perpetual contender.
Major League Talent: B-
This rank is almost all Pujols. He’s amazing, and the single reason the Cardinals are contenders. Without him, they’d be in a lot of trouble. Yes, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright are quality players, but there’s expected regression, a couple of expiring contracts, and injury concerns with the second tier talents in the organization. The team has too many outfielders but a big question mark at second base, and the starting rotation is both injury prone and thin. There’s some good young arms in the bullpen, but the manager doesn’t like arms. Overall, it’s a collection of players that are held together by the hall of fame first baseman, but could stand to be significantly better. Especially for a team that should be trying to win the whole thing.
Minor League Talent: B
Colby Rasmus is one of the best prospects in the game, and he should be ready to help the team in 2009, if they can find room for him in an already crowded outfield. Brett Wallace is a big bat, but his defense at third is up for question, and a team with Pujols on the roster won’t consider moving him to first, so he’s going to have to stick at the hot corner. The top pitching prospect is a reliever, and while he’s a good relief prospect, that’s still not an ideal situation. However, the club does have some depth with guys like Daryl Jones and David Freese, so the dropoff after the top couple of guys isn’t as severe as it is with a few other clubs we’ve looked at.
The Cardinals are an interesting organization. On one hand, they do a lot of stuff pretty well, they have the best player in baseball, they have some good young talent, and a manager with a long track record of winning baseball games. On the other hand, they simply haven’t put enough good players around Pujols in order to be a favorite to contend, the manager keeps running players out of town, the talent in the organization isn’t evenly distributed across positions, the team keeps giving too much money to mediocre pitchers, and they had to reshuffle their front office after a power struggle led to the GM leaving. Talk about a mixed bag. St. Louis needs to be maximizing their world series chances while Pujols is around, and for not being aggressive enough to do so, they’ve ended up in a spot where they are neither a top team now nor in the future. They’re going to have to commit to a direction pretty soon, or they’ll flounder as a good but not great organization that rarely plays in October.
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