Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is up to his old tricks in Cincinnati, adding one tough-minded veteran after another to blend in with the younger players.
His successor in St. Louis, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, is forging a somewhat different path – graduating one younger player after another into his supportin cast.
Each executive is taking the proper approach for his franchise. That is why these rivals are (literally) battling for the National League Central title.
Fans love comparing the moves Jocketty and Mozeliak make, but their mandates are so different.
The Reds have plenty of promising talent and more on the way, with young pitcher Homer Bailey coming back from an injury, hard-throwing Cuban import Aroldis Chapman getting ready for prime time and Juan Francisco preparing to become an everyday offensive force.
But this team still must learn how to win, as you saw this week. Guys like Brandon Phillips and Johnny Cueto could gain a lot from vets like Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, former Cards who have starred in postseason play.
This was a tough series for Dusty Baker’s crew. Its lack of big-game maturity bit the team big time in this series.
Expect the Reds to learn from this unpleasant experience, with help from old warriors like Rolen, Edmonds and former Cardinal Russ Springer.
The Reds have staying power. They are going to win a lot of games. And they will be a lot better prepared the next time they have play a really emotional series.
Conversely, the Cards have a strong playoff-tested nucleus with the likes of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.
But even the best teams need constant refreshing, due to injuries, slumps and the like. The organizational pipeline has opened wide on Mozeliak’s watch, allowing the Cards to sustain a self-renewing talent base.
Young players graduating to the Cards have an opportunity to earn roles bit by bit, learning from the veterans in place. One by one, home-grown players have assumed bigger roles.
It pained Mozeliak to trade veteran outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Mozeliak was instrumental in rescuing him from minor league purgatory and getting his career back on track.
But Colby Rasmus seemed ready to join the offensive nucleus and Jon Jay hit his way into a regular role, too. Dealing Ludwick allowed Mozeliak to add pitcher Jake Westbrook to the rotation this summer and create significant payroll flexibility for next year.
And look what happened Wednesday afternoon: Jay started the decisive four-run rally by stroking still another double and Rasmus finished it with a grand slam – besting veteran Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo with arguably the best at bat of his young career.
This is precisely what Bill DeWitt envisioned for the Cards after promoting new-age thinker Jeff Luhnow to player development czar. Jocketty didn’t share DeWitt’s vision, which is why he ended up relocating to Cincinnati.
The Cards’ upgraded player development has allowed the Cards to fill needs that arise. Today, for instance, the team promoted slugging catcher Steven Hill from Class AA Springfield to fill in while Jason LaRue recovers from Cueto’s tacky Kung Fu attack.
Rookie reliever Fernando Salas has bolstered a depleted bullpen. Rookie Allen Craig has delivered a couple of big games in right field in Ludwick’s absence.
Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Nick Stavinoha, Tyler Greene, Blake Hawksworth . . . the Cards have gotten a LOT of help from home-grown talent this year.
Mozeliak will keep the Cards on their current course, keeping his seasoned team fresh and within budget.
Expect Jocketty to stick to his plan, too, adding additional veterans (perhaps Jason Isringhausen next?) so that younger players aren’t asked to do too much.
Both GMs are providing the leadership their organizations need. So you can expect this rivalry to last a long, long time.