As the surprise starts to wear off of Wednesday’s removal of Walt Jocketty from the GM position he held for 13 years, more thoughts and reflections.
First off, there’s no doubt that Walt’s tenure in St. Louis should be termed a success. I mean, there’s a new World Championship banner, which could give validation to just about anyone. Toss in two 100-win teams and seven post-season appearances in that span and his name will be in the conversation when it comes to legendary Cardinal GMs.
His ability to get the best end in a deal will be remembered, even if that trait took a damaging hit with the Mark Mulder trade. He was able to send prospects for established stars until the game caught on. Save the franchise-changing trade for Mark McGwire, his fleecing of the Angels to get Jim Edmonds for a pitcher that was coming off an obvious career plus an untested rookie is probably the high water mark of his wheeling and dealing, though the Drew/Marrero for Marquis/King/Wainwright deal has potential to be big as well. But even his lesser deals, bringing in players like Will Clark, Darryl Kile, Woody Williams and Larry Walker came up golden.
It just doesn’t seem like things have been the same since the Mulder deal and its obvious disadvantages. I’m sure that the deal will be rehashed again and again—personally, I think the debate has been done to death—but after that, whether he was gunshy or just under different ownership imperatives, Walt didn’t seem to have the same flair.
It could be that Walt was doing his own brand of Moneyball. The major lesson from that book was not necessarily that OBP, etc. is great for the game. It was that Billy Beane hunted out inefficiencies in the market and exploited them. For him, it was OBP and its obvious correlation to scoring runs. Walt may have been looking for castoffs and trying to rehabilitate them because it was a cheap source of labor in an expensive market and sometimes you get a gem.
However, going the DFA route had few successes (Jeff Weaver, after a few weeks, would probably count) and numerous other busts (Jorge Sosa, Mike Maroth). While I’m sure ownership had financial constraints on Walt, how much of the motivation for those moves was money-related and how much was trying to beat the system is really unknown.
It’s no secret that ownership wants to develop from within. You could debate that to mean the owners are cheap and want to plug in minor leaguers, no matter their success, to build profits and position for a sale. I’ve heard the “bash ownership” lines way too many times and I don’t agree with them. Sure, owners want to make a profit—it is a business, after all, and you can’t fault them that. I don’t think, though, you can say a group that has a top 10 payroll in a bottom 10 market is cheap. These owners have shown that they’d make a commitment to players they consider part of the core (Pujols, Carpenter, Rolen, even Edmonds), even when (Carpenter and Edmonds) they really didn’t have to do it at that time or in that way.
Way too much has been made about the lack of signings in the offseason. I’d rather see a smart spending of money than just spending money. People tend to forget that the Cardinals were second in the Jason Schmidt sweepstakes. If they’d spent that money, that’d added $10-$12 million to the 2007 payroll, but it wouldn’t have done anything for the season since Schmidt was hurt and finally underwent season-ending surgery. So we’d have a huge chunk of 2008 payroll tied up in two pitchers that may not throw a full season between them in him and Carpenter. Would that make ownership better?
People throw out Suppan, Meche, Lilly. Suppan was way overpaid—if he’d signed a two year deal, maybe I’d think there was something to it, but he barely earned his contract in ’07 (if he did) and the odds of him earning it over the next three years are slim. Meche’s contract was roundly panned as overpaying when KC signed him. He did have a good year, but the criticism would have been strong if the Cardinals had actually signed him. Lilly also had a good year, but was also signed to a high contract. I think he’d have been the least-offensive out of that group, but he wouldn’t have saved 2007.
Walt and Tony, for the most part, really seem to be effective at signing and using veterans, but have the reputation for not really understanding the young player. While that’s not entirely true, at least for LaRussa (who had three consective ROYs in Oakland, plus another in Pujols and who used the young pitchers to win a title last year), it does have some validity. With ownership pushing for more development in the minors and Walt apparently pushing for more free agents, it’s not surprising this came to a head.
I think we are going to miss Walt’s leadership and the relationship between GM and manager. However, I do like the owners’ ideas of building up the farm system, not only for bringing up talent but to use it in trades for established younger players.
As long as this wasn’t a retaliatory move for Walt pressing for a higher payroll or something like that, I think I can make my peace with it. I would be surprised, though, if we see a GM as successful as Walt in St. Louis for a long time.