Home MLB Rounding the Bases: A busy first week of the offseason

Rounding the Bases: A busy first week of the offseason

by Matt Smith

It’s been just over a week since the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series and much has happened in the intervening period.

It can be difficult to keep up with all of the MLB news over the offseason.  This ‘Rounding the Bases’ feature aims to make the task easier by collecting and commenting on all the major stories over the winter months. 

Sometimes it will be an overall round-up article; sometimes it will be a brief piece on a breaking news story: whichever seems to work best along the way.

La Russa retires

The first major news story of the offseason was the somewhat surprising decision by Tony La Russa to retire mere days after leading the Cardinals to their World Series triumph.

La Russa’s contract was up this offseason and there had been various rumours about his future, but St. Louis’s miraculous late-season surge made many believe that he would want to carry on. 

In among the stories celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25 years at the helm of Manchester United, it was stated that he may have retired had his team beaten Barcelona at Wembley in May and won another Champions League trophy.  Barca’s humbling of Fergie’s team means that we’ll never know for sure whether that was true, but there has to be an appeal when you’ve managed at the elite level for so long in going out on your own terms as a winner.

That’s how La Russa’s Hall-of-Fame managerial career has come to an end, although he made the decision back in August when the Cardinals looked like being out of contention.  Perhaps this was a case of the baseball gods taking matters into their own hands and giving him a fitting send-off.

La Russa’s retirement will probably scupper my hopes of anyone creating the new IBBM pitching role that his management in the World Series suggested he might take up.  The Rangers’ Ron Washington showed a fondness for the intentional free-pass, so maybe he will pick up the IBBM baton. 

More managerial vacancies

If he does, he may do so without pitching coach Mike Maddux being alongside him.  During the MLB International broadcast of the World Series, Rick Sutcliffe stated that he thought Maddux could get a shot at taking on a managerial post this offseason.  La Russa’s departure has created an additional opening alongside the Red Sox’s vacancy and another option was added to the list when the new Front Office at the Chicago Cubs elbowed Mike Quade out of the ivy-covered door at Wrigley. 

Every manager is at the mercy of the roster he has to work with and Quade was certainly up against it with the shower he had at his disposal in Chi-town.  However, there was something about Quade that didn’t convince me that he was the man the Cubs needed.  From the outside I never quite felt that he had the authority to lead the club; that the players didn’t really see him as a Major League manager. 

That might be inaccurate – or if it is accurate it might still be unfair on him – but I had a feeling that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be looking for someone else as soon as they were on board.  Who that someone is will be an interesting story to follow in the near future, particularly as the rumours suggest the Cubs’ shortlist will include some of the same names that the Red Sox are considering.

Confirmed changes

One vacancy that has been filled this week is in Washington, where interim manager Davey Johnson was confirmed in post on a full-time basis.  These are exciting times in the capital and Johnson is a good choice to take this team forward as the organization’s young talent matures and, potentially, another big free agent comes on board this offseason.

Alongside the interlinked Front Office changes in Chicago, Boston and San Diego, the Los Angeles Angels appointed Jerry Dipoto as their new General Manager. The Baltimore Orioles’ search appears to be coming to an end with Dan Duquette reportedly on the verge of becoming their new General Manager.  Reports suggest that a significant number of potential candidates distanced themselves from the Orioles job, which if true is a sad indictment on how far that once great organization has fallen.

CC and Cashman continue in New York

There are no such problems in the Bronx.  As expected, Brian Cashman signed a new three-year contract to remain as the Yankees’ General Manager and CC Sabathia signed a new deal to remain with the team as their ace starting pitcher.  In Sabathia’s case, the process, if not the result, was a bit of a surprise.  Most people expected him to use his opt-out clause to test the free agent, before ultimately re-signing with the Yankees.

Instead, Sabathia and the Yankees came to an agreement to avoid the opt-out and add another year on to the four he had remaining on his original contract.  That leaves him with a 5 year/$122M contract (approximately £76.112m, or close to £293k per week), with a $25m option for 2017 or a $5m buyout. So, CC didn’t exactly lose out financially by spurning the chance to become a free agent again.

Trading starts early

Elsewhere, the first main trade of the offseason involved the Cleveland Indians acquiring veteran starting pitcher Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves.  The Indians have clearly been encouraged by their positive 2011 season and wanted to add some pitching depth early to get their offseason plans off to a good start.  Lowe showed some worrying signs that he may not have much left to offer as a starter in the Majors, so this is a gamble by the Tribe, albeit one predominantly funded by Atlanta, who will cover $10m of his $15m salary for the 2012 season.

Thome returns (again)

One person who won’t be with Lowe in Cleveland is Jim Thome. The veteran slugger enjoyed a late-season reunion with the Indians in 2011 and it must have encouraged him to dismiss the old adage of never going back to a former club.  Thome has returned to Philadelphia to be a potent bench-bat and an occasional first baseman as Ryan Howard recovers from his achilles injury. 

After La Russa ended his memorable career with a World Series this year, what chance is there that Jim Thome will end his by finally capturing a World Series ring with the Phillies in 2012?

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Mark Baker November 8, 2011 - 10:54 pm

Do you think that La Russa was waiting for the WS win before retiring, or do you think he was planning on hanging up his cap at the end of the season no matter what the result?

Matt Smith November 9, 2011 - 7:55 pm

Hi Mark. Well, La Russa has claimed that he made the decision back in August, but I guess we’ll never know for sure. If they had lost the World Series he may have decided to come back for another try, rather than end on that note. What we do know is that it worked out perfectly for him, whether through luck or judgement.


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