There is no off season for the Cardinals General Manager, who is widely considered as one of the best GMs in all of baseball and he'll have to be, with the immense challenges facing him this winter.
Jocketty, was named the Executive of the Year by the Sporting News after the 2004 season in which the Cardinals were crowned the National League Champions and made their first appearance in the World Series since 1987. The Executive of the Year award is Walt's second such honor, also given the award in 2000 by both the Sporting News and Baseball America.
In preparation for the 2005, 100 win season and National League Central Division Championship Crown, team, Jocketty once again re-vamped the team's 40 man roster, signing free agent shortstop and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and trading for All Star pitcher Mark Mulder from the Oakland A's.
Those were the big moves that made the headlines in the off season, but it was the little moves that paid off and contributed to the Cardinals second consecutive 100 win season. It was the first time the Cardinals had back to back 100 win seasons, since the Cardinals winning 100+ games from 1942 through 1944, under the tutorage of Manager, Bill Southworth, who, by the way, should be in the Hall of Fame.
The little deals that were made under the radar screen last winter turned into major deals for the club by the end of the season and they may have been Jocketty's best work.
The little deals included, players; Abraham Nunez, So Taguchi, John Rodriguez, John Mabry and pitchers; Al Reyes, Randy Flores and Brad Thompson all who made significant contributions to the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals. If you would have asked almost anybody at the beginning of spring training, they would have told you that most of these guys would spend most of the 2005 season at Memphis, AAA.
As the World Series gets underway in Chicago, a couple of hundred miles down I-55 in St. Louis, Jocketty is already in meetings and discussing the makeup of the team for the 2006 season.
The big question among fans is, can he work his magic one more time and this time, will it be enough to take the Cardinals all the way.
It is not going to be an easy job.
Looking up and down the 40 man roster focusing on starting pitchers today, Chris Carpenter, is signed for the 2006 season, with the club holding options on Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan. Jason Marquis is arbitration-eligible, but there is some doubt among insiders, that he will return to St. Louis, and then there is perennial free-agent, Matt Morris.
Trust me the Cardinals are going to exercise the option on Mulder, that being a given, the Cards will have to decide what they are going to do with, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis.
Of the two, the Cardinals will most likely attempt to sign Morris. He has always been a Cardinal and his 101-62 record with a 3.61 ERA over 237 games with St. Louis, is something that is hard to ignore. Of course it takes two to sign a contract. (I'm practically a lawyer)
Morris is quoted as saying "I'd love to come back, but it's a business decision, so we'll see what will happen." (means no home team discount)
"A lot will depend on what's Matt's opportunity," manager Tony La Russa said.
You have to think, if the decision is going to be made, based on it being a business decision, than Morris has likely played his last game in St. Louis.
My take is the Cardinals will be reluctant to pay Morris the $9 to $11 million dollars he may be able to command in what has been described as a shallow pool of free-agent pitchers.
Morris had an incentive laden contract this season that could have paid him as much as $7 million dollars. According to a report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Morris earned $6.25 million.
The other option, Jason Marquis, who spends more time in the doghouse than I do, will most likely be playing somewhere else next season. Marquis was very despondent about what he considered a demotion during the postseason, when he was moved to the bullpen. He'll likely be moved in a trade before spring training for an outfielder.
Of course you can understand his frustration about not being able to start. Sadly his comments about his resentment about the move, were made public, causing some hard feelings in the clubhouse.
The comments promted a meeting with Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, but one has to wonder why didn't the manager meet with Marquis before announcing that he was going to be moving him to the bullpen.
It is doubtful in my opinion that the Cardinals would go to arbitration with Jason Marquis. He is not always receptive to suggestions by the coaching staff and his 13-14, 4.13 ERA record in 05, was a significant fall from his 15-7, 3.71 ERA the previous season and his strike out totals were down from 138 in 04 to 100 in 05 and he gave up more home runs (29) and earned runs scored (95) than any of the other starters.
The Cardinals hold an option for $4 million, on Jeff Suppan and it is highly unlikely that they wouldn't exercise that option. Suppan finished the season with a 16-10 record and a 3.57 ERA and at least to me, this is a no-brainer.
The market could gobble up both Matt Morris and Jason Marquis and to a lot of fans, that wouldn't be the end of the world. In the wings waiting for their shot at the big leagues are Cardinals' Top Prospects, Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright.
The Cardinals have some decisions to make soon about the starting rotation. Mulder, Morris, Marquis, Suppan, Reyes, and Wainwright, who will be back in Cardinal red?
You can be sure of one thing, Jocketty's phone line is busy, for him there is no off season.
Ray Mileur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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