Cardinals, Reds Now Left to Look to 2012

Remember a couple of months ago when all the baseball world was cooing over the new hotness that was the Cardinals/Reds rivalry? It was Chris Carpenter-is-a-whiner this, Johnny Cueto-is-a-scumbag-who-should-have-been-banned-from-the-game-for-ending-Jason LaRue's-career that. Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman took shots at Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan. Cards manager Tony LaRussa fired back. Reds closer Francisco Cordero hit Albert Pujols and pointed angrily at the St. Louis dugout.

Hell, there even shingles jokes by a Cincinnati roofing company, because nothing says baseball rivalry like making fun of somebody else's extremely painful medical malady.

After the Reds swept St. Louis in mid-may to take the NL Central lead, everybody on both sides was bracing for a season-long slugfest that would send the victor into the playoffs and the loser into a winter humiliation.

A couple months later, and the Reds visited St. Louis in the first series of September. The Reds won Friday night, battering Carpenter and the St. Louis pitching staff for 11 runs. The Cards came back behind Jaime Garcia on Saturday to even the series. Then, with the season on the brink for St. Louis, the Reds managed a 3-2 victory in the 10th inning on Sunday to take the Series and leave the Cardinals 9.5 out with 22 games remaining.

And nobody cared.

Milwaukee is running away with the damn thing (or "Damn Thang" in Jason Whitlock parlance), and the fans of Ohio and Missouri were far more interested in college football this weekend than anything to do with baseball.

#thenewrivalry my behind.

So while Reds and Cards finish out the string and get ready to root for whoever plays Milwaukee in the NLDS, the question now is what's next for these two franchises.

For Cincinnati, it's fairly simple. The core of their team is intact for next year in beyond with Jay Bruce signed through 2017, Joey Votto through 2013, Brandon Phillips through next season and Cueto through 2015.

Of course, GM Walt Jocketty still has work to do on the back end of the rotation, some bullpen help, and ditch out on the Jonny Gomes experiment. They should make a point of re-signing catcher Ramon Hernandez, and they'll need to replace Scott Rolen at third (that shoulder isn't getting better), but that's the normal re-tooling a team does between every year.

The Cardinals, however, could be looking at the final days of a 16-year era. Consider:

* La Russa is 66-years-old and on a one-year contract. That, and you never got the sense he's been satisfied with GM John Mozeliak, who took over for Jocketty (who worked with La Russa in Oakland and brought him to St. Louis) after a messy internal power struggle after the 2007 season.

* Duncan is 65-years-old and on long-term leave from the club to be with his wife after she underwent what is being described as major surgery. When you are 65 and something like that happens, it has to at least cross your mind that maybe it's time to stop living the game and turn your full focus to family.

* Albert Pujols is a free agent who, despite a season that could see him fall out of the top five in MVP voting for only the second time in his 10-year career (you read that right), is still perhaps the greatest player to hit free agency in his prime — ever.

* Lance Berkman is a free agent. I had all kinds of bad vibes about the Berkman signing when it went down, and I was 100% wrong. He's been great for the club, and losing him would suck.

* Chris Carpenter is 36-years-old with a $15 million club option for 2012. They have no choice but to pick it up, but the end of the line is coming for the Carp era one way or another in the next few years.

* Adam Wainwright is coming off Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. Sure people come back from TJ surgery all the time, but it's also not uncommon for them to take a year after they come back to playing to actually get back to how good they were before they got hurt.

* On top of that, three-time all-star catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent after next season, the staff will still include Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse, there's no established closer (still), no shortstop (Ryan Theriot a catastrophic bust defensively), and the club's biggest bargaining chip, outfielder Colby Rasmus, was given up for Edwin Jackson (free agent) and some bullpen arms for a pennant race that they're not even in. (Don't be fooled by last week's sweep of the Brewers at Busch. They're not coming back.) (#reversejinx #reversejinx)

The best case for St. Louis is they re-sign Pujols, Berkman and Jackson, La Russa and Duncan come back, Molina signs a long-term deal, Wainwright comes back Wainwright, Jason Motte finally matures into the closer, and they finally get somebody who can play shortstop. I'd also like to see them add Mark Buehrle, who is from the area and has always professed a desire to pitch for the Cardinals.

The worst case is Duncan retires, La Russa jumps to the White Sox (where he managerial career began), Pujols goes to Chicago (Cubs or Sox), and Berkman bolts, leaving Matt Holliday all alone on the "I can carry this team for a week by myself" front.

How will things turn out? It all depends on Pujols. If he re-signs, I'm guessing La Russa/Duncan keep it going (or just La Russa if Duncan still decides to hang it up), and Molina definitely re-signs (Molina and Pujols are great friends). I think Berkman would take less to stay, and St. Louis would be more appealing to prospective free agents.

But if Pujols bolts, so does La Russa. And although Mozeliak would theoretically have a ton of money left over to splurge on the rest of the roster (Milwaukee's Prince Fielder perhaps?), there is no way to put a positive spin on losing one of the greatest hitters of all time from your team.

So we end this season right where we began — what's Albert going to do? If he goes, the modern era of Cardinals relevance might just well go with him.

Comments and Conversation

September 7, 2011


I’m a long-time Cardinals fan, now living in St. Louis where I get to watch every game (on TV at least). I’ve always been a fan of Lance Berkman and have been delighted he’s been with the ‘Redbirds’ this season. I’d dearly love to see him come back to the Cardinals. Naturally, I hope Pujols & Molina resign as Cardinals and that Tony still manages. Wouldn’t be the same without any of them!

September 26, 2011


Wow. Resigned berkman, extended carp, 1 game out of a wildcard berth, reds rumored to be willing to trade votto….the scenario feels much more optimistic now.

November 6, 2011


All wrong. World champs.
this Guy is an idiot

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