La Russa addresses Ryan, Pujols situations

La Russa addresses Ryan, Pujols situations

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Wednesday that his club's willingness to trade Brendan Ryan results not from any personality issues, but simply from a baseball decision to go with Ryan Theriot as the St. Louis shortstop for 2011.

Ryan's status was one of the main topics in La Russa's session with reporters at baseball's annual Winter Meetings. He spoke for about 20 minutes, discussing Albert Pujols, the Commissioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters and new acquisition Lance Berkman. Ryan, though, is likely the most immediate issue facing the Cardinals, and his name came up repeatedly.

The Cards added Theriot in a trade recently, relegating Ryan to either backup status or a trade to another club. While Ryan is a strong personality in the clubhouse, La Russa argued that chemistry was not driving the decision to place the shortstop on the trading block.

"He's grown up a lot," La Russa said. "He's had a lot of our players mentor him. But he's still you know, he's a very personable guy and he's got a lot of energy. He's still learning that there is a time to be expressive and animated, and there is a time to kind of make sure you breathe and back off a little bit. So I think he's made so much progress. I don't think the chemistry side is a reason.

"The reason that Ryan Theriot was traded for is we have a chance to win, and Brendan, because of his year, opened the door. I think it's irresponsible as an organization to go into the group next year if you have a chance to improve at that position and hope that Brendan got back, so now we don't have to hope. We've got Ryan, and we'll see what happens with Brendan."

La Russa asserted that he had little worry about repercussions from the club's very public acknowledgment that its former starting shortstop is on the block.

"I mean, he's available. You either see he fits your club and you offer value, so it doesn't make any difference. ... I mean, we're not going to release him.

"I always get a little bit concerned about the emphasis that fans or the media has about a player's opinion. I'll tell you, we're as concerned with each and every player, and we care for each and every player. ... [But] the organization has an obligation to make the best team. You just can't cater to one guy. I worry about that. You care about things like that, but you don't change your decision. I mean, it's up to the player to understand the organization or the team's responsibility to put together the best team. In Brendan's case, I think he'd prefer to be an everyday player, but if he's with us next year, I think he loves the Cardinals and he'll make the adjustment. Just handle it."

As for Pujols, the manager repeated his oft-stated tremendous admiration for the superstar slugger, but refused to characterize it as an essential that a deal get done with Pujols before Spring Training starts. Pujols' contract ends after the 2011 season, and the club would like to re-sign him.

"You know, there's only so much time before we start Spring Training," La Russa said. "I mean, I know Albert well enough that once he gets into Spring Training, he doesn't like distractions. I just know where the heart and heads of both the team and the player are, they want it to work out. They'll work at it, and we'll see what happens. Once we get into actually getting ready officially for 2011, Albert's the strongest between the ears that you can find, and nothing's going to get in his way.

"I just know once Spring Training starts, Albert doesn't get distracted by anything."

The manager was likewise circumspect when asked about potential changes to the baseball playoffs. That's one matter that the Commissioner's panel, of which La Russa is a member, has discussed.

"I know that officially the best comments are going to come from the Commissioner's Office," La Russa said. "So it's not official, but just an opinion, I think any opinion a fan would have is what I would say. You just compare the excitement of one game versus two out of three, which is a little different test of which team should go forward.

"At the same time, you have one game is one-and-out, and the other three you start worrying about adding games to the postseason. So that's the discussion now."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.