As spring training draws to a close, one of the more interesting roster decisions to come out of Camp Cardinal involves pitchers Anthony Reyes and Brad Thompson.
This is nothing new for Reyes, who is no doubt accustomed to being treated as a human yo-yo for the purposes of placating the inner child of manager Tony La Russa. Reyes has spent much of past few seasons bobbing up and down from St. Louis to AAA Memphis.
It appeared that despite a relatively strong spring a and a lack of healthy starting arms, Reyes was headed back to the minors. However, not too long after those reports surfaced, it was announced that Reyes had in fact made the team as a reliever, and Brad Thompson had won the job as the Cardinals fifth starter to begin the 2008 campaign.
Reyes and Thompson did have comparable numbers. Reyes posted 2-1 record with 3.32 ERA in 19 innings with a 13 strikeouts against only three walks. Thompson did slightly better, going 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA in 16-1/3 innings with a team-high 14 strikeouts versus four walks.
Even so, this still seems backward. The guy that has spent his whole career as a starter (Reyes) is the reliever, and the guy that has spent the vast majority of his time in the majors as a reliever is the starter (Thompson).
Then again, our “lead-off” hitter does bat ninth, so maybe it makes perfect sense.
Actually, it does if you have a keen understanding of the thought process of Tony La Russa. Granted, I’m no mind reader, but after 12 years of observing the oft-misunderstood Cardinals manager, my speculation is that the decision to put Reyes in the bullpen and Thompson in the rotation was based on one or more of the following factors:
- Reyes hates the bullpen
- Tony hates Reyes
- As is typical, Tony puts Reyes in a situation where Reyes is least likely to be successful.
- Reyes struggles
- Tony can justify shipping him off to AAA again, which Reyes had temporarily thwarted by pitching relatively well this spring.
The next day, the real reason for Reyes the reliever came to light. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak had all but ordered La Russa to keep Reyes on the major league roster. The reasoning makes sense. If Reyes can continue his good spring at the big-league level – even as a reliever – his trade value will be that much more than if he was floundering in AAA.
Unfortunately, trade value is all the Cardinals can hope to get from Reyes. Why? Refer to No. 2 in the list above.
One of my main gripes with La Russa is that he seems to develop a dislike for a player every once in a while. Once that happens, there is rarely any going back, no matter how talented the player or how much improvement he shows.
This seems the case with Reyes, who has the talent to be the No. 2 pitcher on the staff right now behind Wainwright. Obviously, Reyes has seen more struggle than success in his career, as his 2-14 record from last year would indicate.
However, it’s not that cut and dry. Reyes was among the worst in all of baseball in receiving run support last season. There were easily four or five games where he deserved to be the winner and would have if the Cardinals could have scored more than one measly run. Five more wins puts Reyes record in line with supposed savior Kyle Lohse (9-12 in 2007).
And then there are those occasions in the past, such as Game 1 of the 2006 World Series, where Reyes shows the kind of dominating pitcher he could be.
Not helping matters is the fact that Reyes has also been handled (some would say mishandled) about as inconsistently as possible. Often times, Reyes would be the one to miss a start because of an off day. Then suddenly La Russa would require him to pitch on three days of rest. Reyes also does not fit the efficient “pitch to contact” mold that La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan talk about incessantly.
If Duncan and La Russa have a less than stellar reputation for handling young hurlers, Anthony Reyes would serve as a prime example of why that might be.
Here’s a thought that’s so unconventional that I’m surprised La Russa doesn’t go for it, despite his loathing of Reyes. Both Thompson and converted reliever Todd Wellemeyer typically pitch well for about 3-4 innings. However, rarely do they pitch deep into games.
Why not have Reyes as the fourth starter, and have a Wellemeyer/Thompson combo as the fifth starter? That way you have a better chance of getting five or six quality innings both days. An otherwise soon-to-be-weary bullpen would be saved.
We could even give it a cute “celebrity” name like Wellempson or Thellemeyer.
I think Reyes would benefit greatly if the Cardinals just put him out there every five days for at least half a season and left him alone to sink or swim. If he thrives, you’ve got another quality relatively young starter. If he fails, at least you know you gave him a legitimate shot and you can move on. It’s not like Reyes would be taking the spot of a potential Cy Young Award candidate.
Duncan is quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying, “Until he recognizes there are certain things you have to be able to do up here … there are certain things he has to do with his physical abilities to consistently be a successful major-league pitcher at this level.”
And just what would those “things” be, oh exalted one? Would staying healthy be among the list of desirable qualities? Maybe coming to spring training in shape and posting a 2-1 record with a 3.32 ERA would count for something? Showing improvement as camp progresses (Reyes has yielded no runs in his last two outings spanning 10 innings), would this qualify? Not being a converted reliever that was released by the Kansas City Royals à la Wellemeyer?
Perhaps Reyes should take a different approach, because clearly none of the above has worked so far. Maybe he should try changing his identity so that La Russa doesn’t know who he is, since he clearly has some sort of personal contempt for the young pitcher. Maybe a Dennis Eckersley-style handlebar mustache would help him get in good graces. He could also age himself seven or eight years. That would likely help. How about having a couple arm surgeries? Like the Samuel Adams commercial says, “Always a good decision.”
However, if Reyes truly wanted to maximize his value to the Cardinals, what he should have done was not simply pitch at all the last two or three seasons. Just look at guys like Mark Mulder and Matt Clement. Why, it’s simply a given that these guys will come back and be quality starters based on…
Fantasy? Astrology? Good old-fashioned delusion? Somebody, please help me finish that sentence. Neither has pitched a substantial amount since 2005. For the record, the current year is 2008.
Just wanted to make sure that was clear to everyone. If you went by La Russa’s haircut as opposed to say…a calendar, you might get the impression that it was 1988.
In any event, “not pitching” is in high demand at Camp La Russa, whose supposed youth movement closely resembles the migration of a glacier.
It takes several eons, and for every excruciating two steps forward, there is an accompanying step back.
Frankly, I don’t want to even hear the name “Mulder” anymore. Until he actually comes back, makes a start against a major-league team, and doesn’t get hammered for 9 runs in 2-1/3 innings, I’m going to assume they’re talking about actor David Duchovny (pronounced [Dutch-oven-ee]). After all, the Cardinals’ Mulder has the same number of wins (zero) since 2005 as the former X-Files star has hit movies (also zero).
And honestly, is any Cardinal fan that has been paying attention the past few years really surprised to hear Matt Clement won’t be available for at least the first month of the season, if not more? It would be more shocking to find out that your governor has used your tax dollars to buy hookers and blow.
Add in fellow damaged goods Chris Carpenter and Joel Pinero to the mix, and that makes Reyes the 10th starter in the Cardinals rotation. No matter which way you slice it, things look bad for Reyes. He’s behind two relievers and four other guys that aren’t even pitching.
Unless – and just bear with me now because I know this is going to sound crazy – none of the injured arms come back, or maybe some come back only to take routine beatings. Maybe guys that we thought were solid locks like Wellemeyer, Thompson, Lohse, and Looper all hover around an ERA of 5.00. Again, I know this all sounds ridiculous, some might say unthinkable.
And maybe Reyes pitches out of the bullpen and continues the fine work he started in spring, looking more like the 2006 World Series Game 1 winner and less like the 2-14 pitcher from last year.
La Russa would have to give him a real chance then, right?