We’ve been down this road before with Tony La Russa. The Cardinals manager, now in his 16th season with the club, has made no secret during his tenure in St. Louis that he prefers veteran players.
To cite a couple of the more drastic examples, La Russa chose Bobby Bonilla in the twilight of his career over rookie phenom Albert Pujols to make the Cardinals’ 2001 opening day roster, and allowed an injury riddled and over-the-hill Jason Isringhausen close games in 2006 over a lights-out rookie reliever by the name of Adam Wainwright. I hate to be the guy to say “luckily” injuries occurred and forced La Russa to go with young talent over “his guy” because no one wants to see people get hurt, but there’s really no other way to say it.
The Cardinals would not have won the 2006 World Series with Isringhausen as the team’s closer. The team might have missed the playoffs altogether.
Jason Isringhausen – 3.55 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4-8 Record, 10 Blown Saves
Adam Wainwright – 3.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2-1 Record, 0 Blown Saves
Wainwright also had a better strikeout ratio and 16 fewer walks than Isringhausen despite tossing 17 more innings. The numbers weren’t even close. But La Russa just had to stay with his guy.
That brings us to the decision La Russa will be facing within the next 7-10 days. Two relievers he chose to have on his opening day roster in 2011 are set to come off the disabled list, Brian Tallet and Bryan Augenstein. Filling their roster spots over the past 10 days have been Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas… and all those two have done, albeit a small sample size, is get people out, period.
Let’s start with Salas. The 25 year old actually got called up at the end of last year, pitched just over 30 innings for the Redbirds, and put together a respectable audition. He had a 3.52 ERA with a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and his 1.40 WHIP was comparable to most of the other relievers on St. Louis’ 2010 pitching staff. Then he put together a ridiculous spring, allowing no runs on three hits for the entire month of February. Tony La Russa said it was tough to exclude him from the roster, but said he needed a pitcher that could give him more than 1 inning of relief. In 4 appearances since being called up, he’s allowed just 1 run, and put together an impressive 3 inning appearance (yes, 3 innings, Tony!) against the Nationals… allowing 0 runs on 1 hit while striking out three.
Eduardo Sanchez is just 22 years old… and has arguably been the Cardinals’ most impressive reliever early in the 2011 season. Five appearances, 7 innings, no runs, 3 total base runners. Enough said.
By Comparison, let’s put their numbers side-by-side with Tallet and Augenstein.
Spoiler Alert: Brian Tallet is going to get his roster spot back. It’s not as if he doesn’t deserve it; as you can see, he has put up respectable numbers in the early going this season. But two factors will get him his spot back without question: 1) he’s a 33 year old veteran, and 2) he’s a lefty.
Augenstein is more of a question mark. He’s only 24, and it wouldn’t hurt him to go back to AAA, build up confidence, and fine tune his game before returning to the big leagues. But there must have been a reason that La Russa placed this young pitcher on the roster coming out of spring, so you never know what the skipper will decide.
If La Russa has any guts at all, he’d bring back Brian Tallet, keep Salas and Sanchez, and Ryan Franklin would be optioned for assignment. There’s no reason to believe the 38 year old reliever is going to turn things around. His ERA nearly double from 2009 to 2010. His strikeout total went down… while his homerun total went up. And in the meantime, he’s continuing to cost the team game after game. He’s already blown 4 saves, all directly leading to Cardinal losses, and he failed to hold a 3-3 tie in Saturday’s game against the Reds, allowing the winning run to score. So in 8 appearances, he has been directly responsible for 5 losses while saving just 1 game against Pittsburgh, the perennial doormat of the division. His 7.88 ERA is atrocious, and he has as many wins as you and I do.
But Franklin does have one thing going for him: He’s one of “Tony’s guys.” Just like Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan, Jason Isringhausen, and a slew of others before him.
So the big question remains: “When the pitching staff gets back to full health, will Tony do the right thing?”
History would suggest the answer is no.