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Is There Anything to be Learned from St. Louis?

October 29, 2011

St. Louis won the World Series last night. I can’t say I was particularly thrilled with the outcome, but neither of the two participants were ones that would get me excited. This Series was strangely full of many mistakes from terrible fielding to even more terrible managing. I saw more intentional walks and pitching changes than I had ever hoped to watch in seven games of baseball so while the Series was riveting – and Game Six may very well have been one of the best postseason games I’ve seen – at the same time, I am alright bidding adieu to this sloppy brand of mystifying baseball we have seen and wait for the spring.

Over at River Avenue Blues the Yankees’ blog from the YES Network, they had a post titled “Learning from the Rangers. The good read, highlighted four things that the Yankees could learn from the Rangers, though in some ways they apply to any and all teams, i) don’t take catching depth for granted, ii) turn a reliever into a starter, iii) find undervalued assets overseas, iv) let the kid who can hit, catch. This was written prior to Texas losing the World Series, yet if I were to construct a team, frankly I’d much more want to mirror Texas’ approach than St. Louis’, yet St. Louis are your 2011 Champions (small sample sizes be damned!).

Is there anything we can learn from this Cardinals team? Their successes in building the club were quite simple, they took a gamble on Lance Berkman that paid off in a very big way. Berkman put up 5.0 WAR in 2011, backed by a .301/.412/.547 slash line (very close – though better – to his career mark of .296/.409/.545) as his 31 homers complimented the offensive juggernauts of Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols. I don’t see this as a lesson really. Every team takes calculated risks on guys coming off down years hoping to buy low. The A’s did it with Brandon McCarthy and it paid off, they did it with Rich Harden and it was more neutral. If there’s a lesson here, I guess it is to take calculated risks on players coming off down years (though in Berkman’s case he had had two straight down years).

St. Louis’ other offseason signings all fall into the didn’t really make much of a difference category (Miguel Batista, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto and Brian Tallet with a few others), but re-upping Jake Westbrook at a below average rate was an important move. Westbrook gave the Cardinals depth that was all the more needed when Adam Wainwright went down. Lesson learned? You can never have enough starting pitching. The A’s know this perhaps better than the Cardinals do.

The big in-season move from St. Louis was clearly the trade of center fielder Colby Rasmus who had fallen out of favor with manager Tony LaRussa to the Toronto Blue Jays – the full deal being, Rasmus, Trever Miller, Tallet, and P.J. Walters Canada-bound in exchange for Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson, Marc Rzepczynski and three players to be named later and/or cash. The trade was  a big deal, first a lot of moving pieces but second, Rasmus is a guy with huge upside – at the time of the July 27th trade he had put up 1.3 WAR though was coming off a 2010 campaign where he had put up 4.3. The Cardinals wanted to rid of their middling relievers and add some better bullpen arms and a starter and did so as Dotel, Jackson and Rzepcynski all played significant roles. I don’t know if there is a lesson to be learned here. The Cards took a big gamble, in this case it paid off, the A’s haven’t been afraid of dealing young players though, the option that Nick Swisher accepted today with the New York Yankees after all is from a contract he signed as an Oakland Athletic on May 11th, 2007 and a year later the A’s traded him to the White Sox for Fautino De Los Santos, Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney – all three of whom were contributors for Oakland in 2011. However there is a big noted difference in that situation the A’s were a) in the offseason and b) had just come off a 76-86 campaign, a better example may be the three- team trade of Carlos Pena – a player with very big upside, that brought back Ted Lilly and two other players who would not make an impact but were considered prospects (Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin). You just can’t make any determination that it is a sound move however or some sort of winning formula or lesson.

Ultimately, the 2011 Cardinals taught us very little about building a championship club other than getting hot at a good time really works wonders.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2011 3:26 am

    The lesson I take from both teams is that it’s good to have the best player in the league on your team.

    If you want to build a championship team without that, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a model.

    • October 30, 2011 3:36 am

      Ken – Who on Texas did you feel was the best in the league?

      • Ken Arneson permalink
        October 30, 2011 1:50 pm

        Josh Hamilton. Well, obviously he wasn’t the best player in the league this year, but he was last year, and if you want to predict who that player is going to be going forward for the next few years, he’s who’d I’d bet on.

      • October 31, 2011 1:00 am

        I figured you meant Hamilton, wasn’t sure if you were going to argue for C.J. Wilson somehow (yikes). That’s been the case, that teams have really been fronted by one or two superstar players lately. Last team that sort of won it with a bunch of lower key guys its hard to say (some may argue the Giants but Tim Lincecum is to me a bonafide superstar).

      • Ken Arneson permalink
        October 31, 2011 2:16 am

        Nah, wouldn’t argue Wilson. I have, however, grown increasingly impressed with Ian Kinsler. That dude gives a tough at-bat damn near every time up.

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