We should know sooner rather than later if the biggest question mark of the Cardinals off-season will be a major issue or a non-issue.
Manager Tony La Russa and his coaches are expected to meet with members of the Cardinals fron office today to discuss the future. And, one way or another, I don't think it should take long to reach a conclusion. Either La Russa likes what he sees and he wants to come back for next season to try to prove the Birds playoff washout was a fluke. Or he will decided to move on down the road and the Cardinals off-season plans will largely go back to the drawing board.
La Russa is the best manager in baseball, so there is no question about his credentials. And, while he says a lot of his decision to stay or go revolves around his ability to get the players to follow him, I would argue that the players in the St. Louis clubhouse seem to be more firmly behind La Russa now than at any other time in his Cardinals career. And let's not forget the big guy, Albert Pujols, has made it perfectly clear that he wants Tony La Russa to be his manager.
If the Cardinals don't ask La Russa back, he could end up being a thorn in their side. The Reds, where former La Russa confidant and one-time Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty now reside, have been a long rumored landing spot. And let's not forget that the Astros have an opening for a manager, too.
What will happen with La Russa's coaching staff is a more complicated question. Pitching coach Dave Duncan is a big head scratcher. He's La Russa's closest lieutenant and they have never been apart. But Duncan's bitterness over the handling of his son, Chris Duncan, runs deep and it wouldn't be surprising if the Cardinals find themselves shopping for a pitching coach even if La Russa does come back.
The rest of the coaching staff seems pretty safe, with the exception of hitting coach Hal McRae. The Cardinals hitters struggle far too much against poor pitchers and seem to be so dependent on scouting reports and video tape that they are helpless against pitchers they haven't seen before. Birds batters often seem like they don't have a solid idea of what to do at the plate. They seem to be swinging from the heels trying to hit long balls when they should be moving runners around the bases and making the most out of scoring opportunities. In 2004-2005 when the Cardinals offense was at its best, the team worked starting pitchers hard and by the second and third trip through the order they had a much better chance than they did when the pitcher was fresh.
Over the last couple of years third base coach Jose Oquendo has applied for a couple of managerial jobs outside of the Cardinals organization without success. I don't see him getting one of the jobs that is presently open, either.
That being said, while I really appreciate Oquendo as a coach, I just don't know if the Cardinals think of him as a manager anymore, either. He's a low key guy and not the commanding presence La Russa is. If the skipper leaves, and I sure hope he doesn't because I want to see the Cardinals keep it together and make another run in 2010, I'd prefer to see the organization go after a Terry Pendleton sort.
The problem with that is Pendleton, the Cardinals former third baseman, has been the hitting coach in Atlanta for years and it is expected when Bobby Cox retires as Atlanta manager after next season that he will be the successor.
Hopefully, La Russa will quickly re-up. But he has been very non-committal lately in sharp contrast to the old days when he would say that he wants to come back as long as the ownership of the Cardinals would have him.