The Nationals firing Lilliquist doesn’t fix their fundamental problem

MLB

Lilliquist pic

The Washington Nationals firing of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist will elicit analysis, qualifications and questions. Most will point to the Nationals’ other flaws and wonder why the pitching coach is the fall guy just before going into a detailed examination as to why the pitching coach should be the fall guy based on their own philosophical bent.

Regardless, there are several justifications to fire a pitching coach, most of which outsiders – including the media and people from other organizations – cannot possibly know if they are valid in this case. In the end, general manager Mike Rizzo has every right to make a change at any level in his organization. If, as he said when the announcement was made, there were flaws and preparation issues and he wanted to bring a new message to the pitchers, then fine.

However, it’s rarely that simple in any case and particularly complicated with the Nationals.

With the hiring of minor-league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart to replace Lilliquist, the easy answer is to have someone more in line with what the front office wants. It’s difficult to understand what the preparation issues were given that the entire pitching staff is comprised of veterans who have their own routines and know their jobs. Their starting pitching has generally been good. The bullpen hasn’t, but that points to decisions Lilliquist did not make. Mistakes and misuse of the pitching staff fall on manager Dave Martinez, and Martinez is going from inexperienced in 2018 to overmatched in 2019 with the same on-field mediocrity. Are they going to point to Trevor Rosenthal as a reason to fire Lilliquist? By that logic, Rizzo needs to go as well.

What’s often missed in today’s world where large factions of baseball observers and analysts function under the impression that an organization is tantamount to any company where there are executives, managers, supervisors and midlevel workers with duties clear and orders adhered to via clearly delineated lines is that it’s not like that in sports. The players pick and choose what they’ll listen to and if they tacitly decide to tune out a manager, a pitching coach or hitting coach, it’s not the players who will go.

To compound that reality, the Nationals are not a young team where the pitchers have little choice but to listen to the pitching coach and follow organizational edicts. What is Lilliquist, Menhart or anyone else past or present going to say to Max Scherzer if Scherzer doesn’t agree or doesn’t want to hear their recommendations? They’re all veterans. They do what they want.

If it’s a change for its own sake, that’s a reason to do it. To think that it will solve what ails the Nationals – and has ailed the Nationals for eight years – is farcical.

There is a new practice of hiring pure outsiders with new theories, deep analytics, recommendations specifically tailored to the individual rather than an overriding philosophy for all. It might be a trend or it might be the new template. Pitching coaches who pitched in the majors or at least in the minors could go the way of the former player advancing to GM. It doesn’t happen anymore. Whether the change is more about controlling the message than it is about what works and what doesn’t is irrelevant. This is how it is.

Often, a pitching coach’s role is to stand there looking contemplative, go to the mound and say some stuff to the struggling pitcher or to give him a breather, and to try to put organizational edicts into action. Like the puppet managers who proliferate baseball today, many old-school pitching coaches with a track record do not want to stay within those increasingly constraining lines.

Had Lilliquist been an aide-de-camp of Martinez, this could be viewed as a clear shot at the manager telling him that he’s next if the team doesn’t turn around in the next month, but the days of the manager-pitching coach being Siamese twins a la Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are over. The front office hires the pitching coach and the manager has limited – if any – say about it. There’s a good chance that Martinez was informed after the decision was made and nothing he said or did would change it.

This is a continuing issue with the Nationals. Since 2012, they have had the most talent in baseball. They spend money like a big market club, make savvy acquisitions and develop young players. But they have yet to advance beyond the Division Series in the years they made the playoffs and have had several seasons in which they were preseason favorites and disappointed terribly as also-rans.

Harping on the Stephen Strasburg shutdown in 2012 might seem passé, but it is a flashpoint as to what has ailed this organization and robbed them of at least two championships they should have won led by Strasburg and Bryce Harper. With Harper gone and a young core led by Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Trea Turner, they should be preparing for the next run. Instead, they’re firing the pitching coach in a largely inconsequential maneuver to serve as a distraction for what truly ails them: a fissure in understanding the importance of the manager and a reluctance to pay that manager and give him at least some say in how the team is handled.

They’re fortunate in one respect: the entire National League East is a wrestling match of flaws and mediocrity. This has allowed them to remain relatively close to the top of the division despite their 13-17 start.

Even if they manage to float to the top in this battle of attrition and make the postseason, what reason is there to believe that 2019 will be any different from the other seasons in which they made the playoffs and were bounced in the first round? It does not necessarily need to be another 82-win season to be categorized as a(nother) failure.

Barring a fundamental change in how they treat their on-field staff, what’s the difference who the manager or pitching coach is? They’re not hiring Joe Girardi to manage the team because he’d want to be paid and would want some influence in running the team. Ownership doesn’t want the former and the baseball ops doesn’t want the latter. Firing the pitching coach is cosmetic and does nothing to repair what ails this team and has ailed them for nearly a decade.

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Kyle Lohse—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Kyle Lohse

Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

Vital Statistics: Age—34; Height—6’2”; Weight—210 lbs; Bats—Right; Throws—Right

Transactions: June 1996—Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 29th round of the MLB Draft

May 21, 1999—Traded by the Chicago Cubs with RHP Jason Ryan to the Minnesota Twins for RHP Rick Aguilera and LHP Scott Downs

July 31, 2006—Traded by the Twins to the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Zach Ward

July 30, 2007—Traded by the Reds to the Philadelphia Phillies for LHP Matt Maloney

March 13, 2008—Signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals

Agent: Scott Boras

Might he return to the Cardinals? Yes

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers

Positives: With the Cardinals, when he’s been healthy, he’s been a very good starter. He’s learned to pound the strike zone, keep the ball down and in the ballpark, and use his defense. Lohse had what amount to a career year in 2012, in part, because of a friendly BAbip of .267. That number was in line with another solid year he had in 2011 of .272. His advanced statistics of hits-per 9 innings; strikeouts-per 9 innings; walks and home runs-per 9 innings were the best of his career in 2012, but he’s been solid with those numbers his entire career. He’s consistent at home and on the road and against righties and lefties.

Negatives: He’s represented by Boras and in 2011-2012 he’s gone 30-11. Boras is going to ask for a lot of money, years, and benefits. Lohse turned his career around with the Cardinals under the tutelage of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan; he maintained and got even better under Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist, but the lingering questions remain as to whether he can transition to another locale and stay this productive. He’s had injuries sabotaging his seasons and is 34-years-old.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $50 million with a partial no-trade clause

What he’ll get: 3-years, $35 million with a vesting option for 2016 at $15 million and a $2.5 million buyout

Teams that might give it to him: Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Royals, Angels, Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers

The Orioles need a starting pitcher to give them 32 starts and 200 innings with the stuff to keep the ball in the ballpark. They have money to spend, and are an agreeable location to play and win after their 93-win 2012.

The Red Sox are desperate for starting pitching and have money to burn. The Blue Jays also have money, are trying to win, and are seeking another starter. The Tigers won’t want to overpay to keep Anibal Sanchez and Lohse is cheaper and shorter-term. I wrote yesterday that rather than trade one of their young bats for a starting pitcher, the Royals should delve into the free agent market and Lohse is a reasonable target. The Angels might be desperate if they can’t keep Zack Greinke and Lohse falls into a “next level” category in terms of knowing what to expect, price, and availability. The Nationals might be in on Greinke; have the prospects to trade for James Shields; or could jump in on Lohse as a fallback. They have a sound relationship with Boras and tons of cash.

I mention the Marlins because with everyone in baseball angry at what they did in their gutting trade with the Blue Jays, it’s possible that Jeffrey Loria might want to placate the critics by doing something like signing Lohse. I doubt it will happen, but no one saw that trade coming either.

The Cardinals will make an offer to Lohse and it probably won’t be high enough in dollars or years, but if his market crashes, he could end up going back to St. Louis. The Brewers have money, talent and want to win; the Dodgers can’t be discounted for any free agent and need an arm.

Would I sign Lohse? Not for what Boras is going to want. If he’s on the outside looking in and I could get him for two years with a reasonable option based on performance, I’d sign him.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they acquiesce to Boras’s demands that will reach $45-55 million, they will. I’d keep him out of the American League.

Analysis: If there’s a bigger “we don’t know” in baseball’s free agency this side of Josh Hamilton, it’s Lohse. Which Lohse would a team other than the Cardinals be getting? Would it be the homer-prone mediocrity he was with the Phillies and Reds? The pretty good mid-rotation starter he was at times with the Twins or the highly hittable arm he was at the end of his Twins tenure? The All-Star, innings-eating winner he was for long spurts with the Cardinals or the shaky and injured pitcher?

In my mind, I keep seeing flashes of Cardinals pitchers of the past who’ve fallen apart after they left the winning organization, friendly confines of Busch Stadium, the supportive fans, and baseball-loving atmosphere from a bygone era. The vision tells me to shy away from Lohse.

One example in particular is Lohse’s former teammate Joel Pineiro. Like Lohse, Pineiro’s career was floundering before he got to St. Louis and was willing to listen to Duncan and alter his mechanics, mental and physical approach and become something different from what he was in order to save his career. He rejuvenated and reinvented himself to garner a 2-year, $16 million contract from the Angels when he should’ve stayed with the Cardinals. He started off well in Anaheim, they altered his mechanics from what had been undone and rebuilt by Duncan, and he suffered injuries to his oblique and shoulder. Pineiro pitched in 5 minor league games for the Orioles in 2012 and, barring another comeback, appears to be finished at 34.

It’s a cautionary tale for a club thinking of believing the Cardinals Lohse is the Lohse they’ll get.

Prediction: Lohse will sign a 3-year deal with the Nationals.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Compromised Cardinals

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By themselves, the departures of such important cogs in the Cardinals run of success would be manageable. But any team losing a Hall of Fame manager, a Hall of Fame pitching coach and a the best hitter of this generation is going to have a hard time replacing one of those people. The Cardinals have to replace three.

One is doable. Two is tough. Three might be impossible.

Tony LaRussa’s retirement was surprising yet understandable.

Albert Pujols’s departure for Anaheim was a punch in the stomach.

Dave Duncan’s leave of absence is family-related and sad.

Can Mike Matheny step into LaRussa’s role having never managed before in his life?

Will the offense withstand Pujols’s defection?

And will Derek Lilliquist successfully forge the bonds, concoct the strategies and tweak the mechanics of his pitchers as Duncan could and did?

Of the three, the most dramatic and stunning loss is the easiest to navigate.

As great as Pujols was, the money the team is saving in not having to pay a player listed at 32 (but suspected to be older) $250+ million is a long-term benefit. They didn’t force him out. He left. They’re cheaper and more flexible with Lance Berkman shifting to first base and the two-year contract given to Carlos Beltran. Their pitching is going to be their strength with the return of Adam Wainwright to an already solid starting rotation.

Once they come to grips with Pujols’s absence—this should happen in spring training—they’ll be fine.

But what of the dugout?

Matheny’s leadership and toughness are known, but he’s never managed before. In a veteran-laden clubhouse overseeing the World Series champions, he and the Cardinals walk into 2012 with a bulls-eye over the head of the redbird on their jerseys. Matheny is going to make mistakes as another former catcher who became a manager without any experience, Joe Girardi, did. In his first stop with the Marlins, Girardi bickered with ownership and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year—an award that was due more to the perception that the 2006 Marlins were supposed to lose 100 games and didn’t than anything Girardi contributed. Girardi endured a rough transition managing former teammates and contemporaries with the Yankees in 2008. It took him three years to find his stride as a manager.

It’s not easy to do and with these wholesale alterations, we’re not talking about the same car with a different driver—the entire Cardinals cast is different.

Duncan is the biggest loss. The one thing that was going to truly help Matheny was Duncan’s decision to return. The rapport with pitchers, ability to spot flaws and, most importantly, know how to fix them was what made Duncan the best pitching coach in baseball.

Presumably Lilliquist learned a great deal from Duncan and oversaw a large part of the day-to-day implementation of his strategies, but being an assistant is different from being the one responsible for everything.

Now Lilliquist is responsible for everything.

I’m not an advocate of standing pat. I think it breeds complacency. But there’s a difference between trading one good player for another, bringing in a new manager and/or pitching coach and doing all three not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of necessity.

The landscape is entirely different and drastic changes of this kind are rarely smooth.

All of this leads to warning signs that can’t be ignored and potentially big trouble for the Cardinals.

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