Reyes Given Eleventh-Hour Reprieve as Reliever

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:

  1. Reyes hates the bullpen
  2. Tony hates Reyes
  3. As is typical, Tony puts Reyes in a situation where Reyes is least likely to be successful.
  4. Reyes struggles
  5. 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?

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4 Responses to Reyes Given Eleventh-Hour Reprieve as Reliever

  1. The Rube!! says:

    As was asked over on Beemsville, has Tony Larussa “Jumped the Shark?” I’m as big a Cards fan as there is and appreciate what Larussa has done for the Cards. However, at what point does Larussa’s alchol induced decisions begin to offend the front office enough to get rid of him. For cripes sake the cards let the best GM in the business go, along with perhaps the best defensive third baseman in the game (rifts between Rolen and Larussa are well documented), but Larussa remains. Don’t ask The Rube who he thinks is the right man for the job as I have no idea. However, does anyone in the immediate Gubb area (St. Louis) still believe Larussa is as good as we can get?

  2. Grubb says:

    I think “jumped the shark” is a great phrase for describing La Russa, because it is analogous to watching a TV show that has outrun its course.

    After 13 years, I’m ready for a new pilot. Something where I haven’t seen the plot or heard all the jokes before.

    But yes, there are still many people in The Lou to whom Tony is immune to criticism. I tend to agree with you, the success of the Cardinals was more the result of great moves by Jocketty and the new group of owners to willingness to spend some serious money. People around here whine about the owners being tightfisted, but the Cardinals were consistently in the top 10 in payroll this decade, despite being like 23rd in market size. I believe in 2004 they had the 4th highest payroll in all of baseball. They’re still light years behind the Yankees and Red Sox, but so is everyone.

    I think Tony La Russa was more along for the ride than most people probably do. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in St. Louis. He’s had a heck of a lot more talent that Joe Torre did here when he was manager and Auggie Busch’s sons were truly exhibiting what is means to be cheap. And La Russa had tons of talent in Oakland too. He should have a pretty damn good record with the teams he’s managed. I think one could argue that he should have more than two World Series rings given the talent he’s had in his career. And let’s face it, there was a lot of good fortune involved in the Cardinals winning the 2006 series.

    But to get to the point, I just think if your goal this season is to try and infuse an extremely old team with some youth – which has to be done by the way, you can’t have a 10 year veteran at every position or your payroll is the Yankees’ – you couldn’t pick a worse manager to oversee the operation.

    He would rather go dumpster diving for the next Jeff Weaver (even though more often than not you turn up a Kip Wells or Sidney Ponson) than try to develop a talented but inexperienced guy like Reyes. Put it this way, wouldn’t it be nice to have Dan Haren instead of Mulder? Why did we need to make that trade again?

  3. The Rube says:

    The Haren for Mulder deal was a huge disappointment for me. If The Rube isn’t mistaken Zito was also there for the taking, although ultimately he got a Egantic contract, he’s obviously been more valuable and durable thatn Mulder. Again, I don’t know who I’d pick to manage this team right now, but Larussa isn’t it.

  4. Grubb says:

    Zito has at least not been on the disabled list and has pitched the last couple years. So in that respect, he’d be better than Mulder. But I don’t think Zito’s been worth near the ridiculous amount of money he got from the Giants.

    Speaking of the Giants, don’t forget we also went after Jason Schmidt, and he’s pretty much stunk relative to his huge contract. Then there was A.J. Burnett, who we went after and he signed with Toronto. He’s been okay when healthy, but not worth the gazillions I would say.

    Look at Kyle Lohse. He wanted like 4-5 years for 40-50 million. For what? 9-12 with a 4.76 ERA last year?

    As expensive as even average pitching is nowadays, and given the fact that most pitchers seem to get hurt and miss a season or two to surgery at some point in their career, it only makes sense for an organization to put an emphasis on developing its own young pitchers.

    And we’ve got the worst manager in baseball for doing that. He’d rather trade away young pitchers for old broken down geezers or let them rot in AAA. He and Duncan have to be cattle-prodded (i.e. Wainwright) into grooming and developing a young pitcher.

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