Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Baseballs Most Interesting Potential Free Agent

Given the popularity of the subject lately in Chicago I felt like I might as well add my two cents in too. After this season there will be two free agents that come in a package and are considered by many to be among the best at what they do. These two men are St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa and his pitching coach Dave Duncan.

LaRussa's contract is up after this season and many people suspect that he will start to look elsewhere for employment. That is aided by the fact that his long time pitching coach and friend Dave Duncan isn't happy at all with the Cardinals organization after they traded his son Chris to the Red Sox. An article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch recently detailed Duncan's frustration with how the media was out to get Chris and how the Cardinals organization isn't talking to him as much when it comes to the minor leagues and such.

Now as somebody who works with his father I can understand why Dave liked being in the same dugout as Chris. The problem was Chris was horrible at baseball and didn't have a spot on the team with Matt Holliday coming in. If Dave can't understand that and would rather play the role of bitter father, then he shouldn't have been with his son to begin with.

Lets say both leave the Cardinals this offseason, would I even want them on the Cubs? The knee-jerk response if to send them a private plane and get them here. I would knee-jerk the other way though. I don't want LaRussa and Duncan on the Cubs because I can't think of a worse environment for them.

In St. Louis LaRussa is pretty much a god. Most of the fans love him and his attitude towards playing the guys who give the most effort. The media loves him too, and that love more or less gives him a free pass for any mistake he makes. Nobody in the St. Louis media has ever grilled LaRussa on his involvement in steroids, nobody calls him out on the way he intimidates the media when given a tough question. He blasted the media and fans for their treatment of Chris Duncan, he attacked a columnist after another writer in his paper wrote an article that wasn't too his liking. All these are things that wouldn't work with the Chicago media.

This is a media that is after Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano at all times. Columnists criticize the organization, manager, and players seven days a week. The media in St. Louis might be there to push the Cardinal line and talk positive about the team, but the Chicago media is the exact opposite. LaRussa would be under pressure every game for the Cubs like he never has been before. Fans would turn on him quickly if the team got off to a slow start, the media would be on him non-stop, and I didn't even mention how the Cubs roster is full of anti-LaRussa players.

My problems with adding Duncan are mostly separate from those with LaRussa. My first question would be, does Duncan demand his son get a roster spot if he coaches the team. That would be a deal breaker right there. Duncan's two-seam fastball style concerns me as well given the Cubs current pitching staff. Odds are him and Carlos Zambrano would be an excellent match, I have no doubt about that. Big Z is already a great sinkerball pitcher and giving him full time instruction from Duncan would make it that much better.

The rest of the staff might not be so welcoming to Duncan though. Duncan has never really worked well with left-handed starters (see Mark Mulder) and the Cubs have a staff full of them. Ted Lilly is a fly ball pitcher who uses lots of different breaking balls to set up his straight fastball. It works for Ted, and I don't want Duncan screwing with that. Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall are similar to Ted as far as their use of breaking balls. Both will be spot starters at worst for the Cubs, and one may have to start full time next season. Rich Harden isn't a lefty, but he is a flyball pitcher and if the Cubs resign him I don't see him becoming a sinkerball pitch to contact guy. Duncan just doesn't fit that well with the Cubs current staff, and given his thin skin when it comes to his son being criticized, imagine what happens under the Wrigley microscope.

Both Duncan and LaRussa are great coaches, and both have worked more miracles with baseball teams and players than I could even being to list. The thing is their miracles have happened in small markets where the pressure if off and the media is on their side. Just ask Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker if that is the case in Chicago. The Cubs job is pressure packed, and it isn't for everybody. I'll take my chances with the Cubs current combo of Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild (who has done a great job by the way) one more season rather than roll the dice with two sensitive guys who have never dealt with a big city media machine on a day to day basis.

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