Jocketty and LaRussa
In an article that was co-published in a St. Louis newspaper this morning, Larry Stone gives words to the rumor that Buster Olney has been repeating on sports radio in recent days, suggesting that the Cardinals GM/Manager tandem of Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa could end up in Seattle this winter, replacing Bill Bavasi and John McLaren. As with all of Stone’s articles, it’s worth reading, even though the only connection to the story right now is Olney’s public assertions and some long running rumors about the future of the Cardinals franchise.
For those who haven’t heard, here’s the basic deal in St. Louis.
Walt Jocketty got his start in baseball under the Sandy Alderson regime with the Athletics, coming out of the same tree that would later produce Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, and the popularity of the Moneyball theories, but Jocketty is, at heart, a scout. He was hired to run the Cardinals in 1995, and a year later, brought in Tony LaRussa, whom he knew well from his days in Oakland, and the two have held their current positions ever since, achieving significant success.
Several years ago, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt initiated some organizational changes with the franchise, including bringing in Jeff Luhnow, a guy with a strong business approach but no real baseball experience, to institute some of the new wave of analysis into the Cardinals organization. They overhauled their scouting department, shifted towards an extreme emphasis on drafting college players, and Luhnow created an “advisory board” of well known statistical analysts, including fantasy guru Ron Shandler and uber-stathead Mitchel Lichtman (inventer of the UZR defensive system, which we’ve quoted here frequently), though that board is mostly now defunct. Luhnow has steadily been given more power over the past few years, and he’s often seen as a trusted advisor to Cardinals ownership.
This has, naturally, created the perception of a divide in the orgnaization. Jocketty, LaRussa, and Duncan are all old school, despite their ties to the A’s organization, and they’ve garnered significant success through traditional evaluative methods. They are among the most respected men in the game. Luhnow’s group is far more aggressive in adding new evaluative techniques to the organization and approaches the game from a very different direction than the Jocketty guys.
It’s been rumored for years that Jocketty is unhappy with the fracturing in the organizational structure, and that Bill DeWitt has been grooming Luhnow to take the GM job when it becomes available. However, Jocketty has denied these claims and is under contract through the 2008 season. He wouldn’t be the first to deny the existance of a problem that actually exists, but it’s not quite as simple as stating that he’s leaving the first chance he can get.
With LaRussa’s contract expiring, however, and the close ties between GM and manager, it has fueled plenty of speculation that the two will make themselves something of a package deal this winter, and if LaRussa leaves St. Louis, Jocketty will attempt to follow him out the door. Popular reports have tied the two to division rival Cincinatti, where a major investor in the Reds is a former part-owner of the Cardinals, and has ties to both Jocketty and LaRussa.
Among the backchatter in baseball, it’s about a 50-50 split on whether Jocketty will actually attempt to get out of his contract and leave at the end of the year, though most expect LaRussa to leave either way. And, yes, the Mariners are still considered an attractive option for a lot of people, despite the struggles of the franchise the last four years. If the Mariners made their GM and manager positions available, it’s nearly a given that the big name executives would be fighting for a chance to interview for the position.
So, yes, there might – and I stress might – be something to Olney’s assertion. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Jocketty/LaRussa tandem are in Seattle next year. However, that’s a long way from saying it will happen, or that it’s even likely to happen. As of right now, the Mariners aren’t giving any indications that Bavasi or McLaren are going to lose their jobs at years end, and a month ago it was a given that the front office had done enough to earn themselves another chance in 2008. I wouldn’t go registering LaRussa for the local chapter of PETA just yet.
There’s also the issue, of course, of whether this a move the organization should be looking to make. There’s no doubt that Jocketty and LaRussa have long track records of success, and they undeniably come with credibility and respect within the game. However, they are also undeniably traditional evaluators who would bring many of the same evaluative techniques to the organization that are presently held. They are cut from the same cloth as Woody Woodward, Pat Gillick, and Bill Bavasi, though its pretty easy to argue that they’re more adept at getting results from that approach.
If you were hoping for an organizational overhaul, however, with the franchise finally adjusting some of the philosophes that have been holding them back for years, Jocketty and LaRussa would not represent that kind of sea change. The culture shift that many of us see as imperative for the long term success of the organization would not occur in a change of power from Bavasi to Jocketty. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered, but it should certainly be a factor in the decision making.
It’s an interesting story, but remember, it’s based mostly on speculation, and at this point, it’s more smoke than fire.