Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cardinals Fire GM Walt Jocketty

Jocketty got a raw deal
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What exactly does a GM have to do these days to keep his job?

Walt Jocketty spent 13 seasons at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals. In that time, they racked up seven playoff appearances, three National League pennants and a World Championship (an unlikely one, but still, the flag looks the same). Their seven-year run of winning seasons was snapped this year, due in no small part to injuries to Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, and 2007 marked just the fourth losing season in Jocketty's tenure.

Jocketty was let go due to non-baseball reasons, but sometimes the baseball reasons need to win out. His track record at the major league level includes some outstanding moves:

• He picked up Rolen for a young Placido Polanco back in 2002. Rolen was a star at the time having a down year, with Dallas Green killing him in the press at every opportunity; Rolen hit 15 homers in two-plus months with the Cardinals, finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2004 as he had his best year and the Cardinals won the pennant, and had another excellent year in 2006 before injuries wrecked his season this year. Polanco became a great hitter for average starting in 2005, but the value Rolen provided in the short term made this a slam-dunk for the Cardinals.

• He acquired Edmonds for Kent Bottenfield and then-prospect Adam Kennedy. Bottenfield was out of the majors for good inside of 15 months and Kennedy eventually developed into a fringy regular, but Edmonds became a star, hitting 172 homers with a .410 OBP over the next five years, with great defense in center.

• He picked up a broken-down Carpenter after the 2002 season, and while Carpenter needed another shoulder surgery before he was able to pitch for the Cards, he turned in three fantastic years, winning a Cy Young Award and coming in third the following year. While Jocketty eventually gave Carpenter a huge contract extension, the cost of the initial pickup was minimal; Carpenter came to St. Louis because the Cards offered him a spot on the 40-man roster and Toronto wouldn't.

• He traded an underachieving and soon-to-be-free-agent J.D. Drew to Atlanta for Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright. Marquis gave the Cardinals two solid years before one awful one, while Wainwright became the closer on the 2006 championship club before becoming an above-average starter this year. Drew spent one year with the Braves before leaving as a free agent.

If Jocketty has had a major failing, it's that the Cardinals' farm system was not especially productive during his tenure, but that area of the business was taken away from him over the last two years, and the team's drafts in that time have not been particularly strong. And that leads into the real reason for the friction that led to Jocketty's departure: the rise of Jeff Luhnow, hired by owner Bill DeWitt and handed increasing amounts of responsibility within baseball operations, to the detriment of several of Jocketty's longtime lieutenants. This situation, where the general manager did not have full authority over his team's scouting and player developments, appears to be unique within the game, and it's all the more unusual given Jocketty's track record and reputation.

St. Louis is now in a difficult spot. If it's true that Luhnow -- who apparently won't be a candidate for the GM position -- is untouchable due to his relationship with the team's primary owner, many GM candidates with backgrounds in either scouting or player development will balk at the position because of how limited their control will be. They may be forced to fill the position from within (John Mozeliak, their former scouting director and now the interim GM, would be a solid choice), or to accept a candidate whose interest in being GM supersedes his concern at the lack of control. Jocketty, meanwhile, should have his pick of positions, as many teams would be thrilled to obtain a GM with his reputation and track record, and you can bet that one of his first questions for a prospective employer will be, "Can I pick my own scouting director?"

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