What Do Lance Berkman and Carlos Pena Say About the Cardinals and Cubs Organizations?

Here’s something I posted about this morning on Facebook and Twitter (which reminds me, you should Like BN on Facebook and Follow BN on Twitter, or else you might miss this kind of thing), but I wanted to give it a little more attention.

This offseason, there was a pool of free agent first basemen/corner outfield types from which a number of teams were choosing. Two such teams were the Chicago Cubs – who needed a first basemen – and the St. Louis Cardinals – who needed a corner outfielder. The Cubs chose Carlos Pena, and the Cardinals chose Lance Berkman.

The Pena signing was, for the most part, met with applause. Not a glitzy signing, but one that made sense for the Cubs. Pena was coming off a down year due to injury, but it was his first really bad year in the last five.

The Berkman signing, on the other hand, was met with ridicule. Berkman was also coming off a down year due to injury, but, at three years older than Pena, the idea that Berkman could play regularly in the outfield at this point in his career was ludicrous.

Well, the gist of what I posted this morning: Lance Berkman has 8 homers, 22 RBI, and a league-leading 1.263 OPS. Pena, on the other hand, has no homers, just 5 RBI, and a hilariously awful .464 OPS.

The Cubs are paying Pena $10 million. The Cards got Berkman for $8 million. Yikes.

Still, as I said, when the signings happened, most thought the Pena deal was decent, and the Berkman deal stupid. So the fact that they’ve played out as they have is just luck, isn’t it? So far, the Berkman deal has just happened to go right, and the Pena deal has just happened to go wrong.

But this is emblematic of a larger issue we’ve all seen brewing between the Cubs and Cardinals over the last decade. Specifically, how many decisions have to “go wrong” for one organization, and how many have to “go right” for another organization, before attributing it to luck is a purely self-deluding exercise?

I submit that, whatever the number is, we passed it several years ago.

Now, obviously it’s early. Pena could end up righting the ship, and Berkman’s knee could explode while running down a fly ball. But no one can argue that, to this point, one signing looks like pure genius, and the other looks like pure idiocy.

And, unfortunately, that sounds about right. I joke about the Cardinal “voodoo magic,” but it’s probably unfair to a well-run organization to do so. And if the Cardinals have voodoo magic, what do the Cubs have? The reverse Midas touch?

Don’t worry, I’m not developing some kind of newfound admiration for the Cardinals’ organization. I still hate them with the passion of million lost lovers. In fact, I hate them all the more because their organizational successes serve only to magnify the Cubs’ organizational shortcomings.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

21 responses to “What Do Lance Berkman and Carlos Pena Say About the Cardinals and Cubs Organizations?”

  1. TWC

    Yeah, well, Theriot’s still an asshole.

    FWIW, I think the “reverse Midas touch” is the LaRussa reach around. And that dude has short arms.

  2. veryzer

    I think you may have pimped this idea on Sons Of Ivy too. Now there’s a great Cubs baseball site.

  3. Butcher

    Or maybe the Cardinals simply have better drugs than the Cubs.

  4. Raymond Robert Koenig

    I said it then and I’ll say it now. When it became apparent that the Cubs were going to sign a FA 1B, Berkman was the obvious choice. Why? All the candidates were coming off down seasons and there would be a risk the downslide would continue, but Berkman was familiar with the NL Central and his asking price was lower than Pena’s. Why Hendry chose Pena instead, I’ll never understand.

  5. Brian Elsen

    I’m personally glad the Cubs didn’t sign Berkman. He has been a douche about the Cubs in the past. He is not afraid to speak his mind about how he dislikes the team, traditions, and Wrigley Field. Sure, he is putting up good numbers, but I don’t want to see a guy on the team that has openly talked shit about them in the past.

    Pena is going to heat up eventually. In fact this whole team is going to get back on track sooner than later. Wells and Cashner really corkscrewed the team into the ground with their injuries, they’ll come back and everyone (especially James Russell) can take a huge sigh of relief. The offense needs to spark up though… so many opportunities to put up huge numbers.

  6. Joe

    Hey, it could always be worse…

    I mean, at least we signed Byrd last year instead of acquiring 2 years of this guy to play center again
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/JPWall.jpg

    Where we could have always been stuck just playing out the contract with this guy as well
    http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago_sports_mob/bradley.jpg

    And of course this guy was scheduled to be under control for 2011 too
    http://www.timesunion.com/mediaManager/?controllerName=image&action=get&id=943932&width=628&height=471

    As was this guy
    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5256/5554395457_c8e7769622_z.jpg

    Oh, and with Hendry still having a job, we could have always re-upped with this guy
    http://i1.mailcdn.com/912/367912,h=425,pd=1,w=620.jpg

    Yet now we instead have this guy!
    http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/teamphotos/mlb/20100725/Cardinals_Cubs_Baseball.sff_184319_game.jpg

    along with this amazing guy
    http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/original700/starlin-castro-carlos-gomez-2011-4-9-22-11-36.jpg

    plus this guy!
    http://i.usatoday.net/sports/gallery/2011/04/12/s110412_08tag-pg-horizontal.JPG

    and this guy as well!!!
    http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/bo_knows_samarzija_sucks.jpg.jpeg

    oh wait…

  7. Cardfan

    I’ll let you in on the secret that will come as no surprise – you need a strong GM. I give alot of credit to Walt Jocketty for where the Cardinals are now. He kept StL a very desirable place to play and they have fielded winners. Success breeds more success and, even with a step down in GMs, they are still able to carry the day. You all know that it wasn’t Dusty Baker that loaded the bus with gas and drove it to the division title last year for the Reds.

    I laugh that your organization tolerates the failures of Hendry year in and year out. Every year you keep him around is two future years of lost opportunity IMO.