In a move that has to increase the likelihood that manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan will return in 2011, ESPN radio has announced that Jeff Luhnow has been relieved of much of his responsibility with the team's minor league system.
Luhnow, who heads the faction of the St. Louis front office that has a contentious relationship with La Russa and Duncan -- not to mention former General Manager Walt Jocketty -- is no longer in charge of the Cardinals' farm system and minor league development. His job will be to focus on the draft where he can spend more high picks on guys like Tyler Greene and Peter Kozma.
As i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I just couldn't see La Russa coming back without a shift in front office power. According to reports this spring, La Russa and Duncan had a heated confrontation with minor league coaches about how players were to be developed and prepared. Loyal to Luhnow, word as of a couple weeks ago that the minor league coaches hadn't communicated with the major league coaching staff since then.
Of course, there is no guarantee that this will be enough to bring La Russa back. But it sure can't hurt. And, if Cardinals fans hope that Albert Pujols will sign a contract extension, getting La Russa to stick around for a few more years could be an important piece of that puzzle.
Pujols has left no doubt that he wants to play for La Russa.
But this move isn't just a move to appease the manager and pitching coach. Luhnow has failed to produce the steady stream of major league impact players to which the Cardinals pinned their future. The players that have made the leap to the majors have in most cases been deeply flawed -- they lack a major component, be it heart, the ability to play defense, a second major league quality pitch or the ability to hit well enough to justify a roster spot.
As i said when Jocketty was fired and Luhnow ascended, stat combers have a role in projecting player development. But there are a lot of things that don't show up on a stat sheet -- like how much a player applies himself, how smart he is or how he fits into the clubhouse. And I think, at the very least, some serious consideration should be given to the opinions of a pair of guys who have about 80 years of major league experience between them.