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Friday, August 1, 2008

Cardinals' upper management reminds me of those cheetahs on the Animal Planet.

Big deal seems unlikely as Birds protect prospects
Bernie Miklasz
Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
[More columns]
By Bernie Miklasz

Among my favorite channels is Animal Planet. I especially love those candid films, set in the wild, that give us a chance to observe the innate nature and survival instincts of assorted beasts.

The cheetah, for example, has a rough set of circumstances to deal with. That's something I learned while watching Animal Planet. To escape vicious predators, the cheetah must run fast, or climb trees, or hide in the thick brush.

The young cheetahs are really vulnerable. It is estimated that 90 percent of cheetah cubs are killed by lions, hyenas and more powerful stalkers. But at times the cheetah will be able to successfully fend off the predators. I was watching the Animal Planet one night and saw a cheetah chase off a lion. It was impressive.

OK, so what the heck does this have to do with sports?

I'll try to explain.

Cardinals' upper management reminds me of those cheetahs on the Animal Planet.

The bosses seem determined to keep the lions away.

Manager Tony La Russa and his staff and players are valiantly battling to stay in contention for a postseason spot. I would imagine that certain deals can be made to improve their chances. I mean, we've seen some big-name players get moved in recent weeks, from CC Sabathia to Rich Harden to Mark Teixeira and Pudge Rodriguez. To pull off a big deal, the Cardinals would have to sacrifice prime prospects.

Despite their spin to the contrary, team chairman Bill DeWitt and VP of player development Jeff Luhnow are resistant to trading away prospects. I know they insist otherwise, but frankly, I don't buy it.

And the likely reality is, unless Cardinals GM John Mozeliak picks up a lefthanded reliever for a nominal prospect before this afternoon's major-league trade deadline, the Cardinals will probably keep a safe distance, with DeWitt and Luhnow protecting their young cheetahs.
DeWitt and Luhnow have hidden top prospect Colby Rasmus in the thick brush, or placed him and other top prospects high up in that tree, where predators can't get to them.

This can't please La Russa.

Not that he's the enemy within, but La Russa sees all the baby cheetahs in Memphis, Springfield, Palm Beach, Quad Cities, etc. and wonders why the bosses are guarding them with such ferocity.

La Russa wants to win now. He's approaching senior-citizen age. His contract expires after 2009. And so far in 2008, La Russa has turned in one of the most resolute and impressive managing jobs of his distinguished career.

And La Russa has a feisty, undermanned team that won't curl up and fade to make it easy for Chicago, Milwaukee and other playoff hopefuls. But to complete this improbable journey, the Cardinals require some help from the outside and more than just a patch. At least some assistance appears to be arriving from the inside; Chris Carpenter's first start, Wednesday in Atlanta, was encouraging.

Do you think TLR is worrying about 2010, 2011, 2012 and how the young cheetahs will develop in St. Louis? Of course not. And why should he? TLR is on a different clock. His needs are more immediate, and pressing. His time is now. And I don't blame him; this is how La Russa is wired.

But look at it from the DeWitt-Luhnow view. They launched a major initiative to draft and develop players and have a legitimately good and deep farm system. They're only a couple of years into the project, so why plunder the system and then be left with little to build around in the not-distant future, after La Russa has moved on? Then again, we have to wonder if DeWitt and Luhnow have an inflated opinion of their prospects. I'm not sure other organizations — trade partners — are as keyed up.

If Mozeliak must pass up reasonable, non-crazy trades to protect the cheetah cubs that are tucked away in the thick brush, I just hope DeWitt and Luhnow are as smart as they think they are. I hope all of these STL prospects are as dynamic as advertised.

I don't know what the standings will look like in 2011.

I don't know if the Cardinals will have a chance to win in 2012.

But I can see the 2008 standings and I do know this: The Cardinals have a chance to win now.

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