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03/11/09 9:45 AM ET

La Russa talks about 2009 season

Cardinals manager has lofty expectations for upcoming year

From October to February, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is a man of many interests. He's an avid concertgoer, an animal lover and an active supporter of his beloved Animal Rescue Foundation. Come mid-February, though, La Russa is all baseball. Entering his 31st season as a Major League manager, La Russa's obsessive devotion to winning is the same as it ever was.

Still, La Russa recently took a few minutes to check in with MLB.com about how the spring has gone, how the upcoming season shapes up, the development of some key players and issues in camp.

MLB.com: What's your opinion of the level and quality of play thus far this spring?

La Russa: I think because the club works so hard, most days here we've been competitive. It's what you would expect. Once you get into games, there are going to be some areas that come out that show you where you need to keep working. That's what we were just talking about with the coaches. It's not the same program every year, because you may have a younger this or an older that. But I think it's an impressive group. I'm impressed with them.

MLB.com: What needs to be tightened up or solved or accomplished over the remaining three-plus weeks of camp?

La Russa: The whole game -- better at-bats, sharper defense, better pitching -- the whole game.

MLB.com: How much can you tell about a club at this point in the spring?

La Russa: I can tell that, in my opinion, if we catch reasonable health, the worst we should be is pretty good -- which is a good place to start.

MLB.com: What is your view of where Skip Schumaker is in his transition?

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La Russa: The answer is, you don't judge now. You evaluate the quality of the work, and you keep trying to give him a lot of reps. And then later on you start making some judgments.

MLB.com: Do you have any read at this point on what you have in the bullpen?

La Russa: Well, we haven't seen Dennys Reyes. We like [Trever] Miller. The other left-handers have been a little inconsistent. The right-handers are getting better. I think Chris Perez's delivery is more consistent. I think Jason [Motte] is in shape. It's still too early in the spring, but there isn't anything right now that says, 'Oh boy, we've got no chance.'

MLB.com: Is the issue of who will close taking shape yet?

La Russa: It's not taking shape because I'm not paying attention to it. I'm just paying attention to each guy, trying to evaluate what they are. It takes shape later on.

MLB.com: What have you seen from your starting rotation so far?

La Russa: [Adam] Wainwright needs to have it all come together better. [Kyle] Lohse, overall, good. [Todd] Wellemeyer, overall, good. [Chris] Carpenter, overall, good. [Joel] Pineiro, overall, good. So right now the guy that's lagging a little bit is Adam.

MLB.com: What kind of defensive team do you think you're going to have? Defense was a major asset of the 2008 team.

La Russa: The only place that you could question right now is second base. The third baseman is holding it right now for Troy [Glaus]. So second base is where you [have an issue]. At shortstop, [we had] Izturis, and Khalil [Greene] is playing the game well.

MLB.com: What was your take on what did and didn't happen, as far as roster moves, this winter? It was obviously a topic of a great deal of discussion in St. Louis.

La Russa: Our organization, our ownership and our front office, came out at the end of the season and said that we have resources and we're going to be aggressive. When they said it -- because they said it to the coaches, too -- they meant it. That was the first of October. And then you start getting into October, November, December, and the reality of what the economics are for the country, the fans and our club started being driven home, they started saying, 'Whoa, we can't do this.'

My attitude is that they made an honest attempt to evaluate how much we can spend. We're going to spend a lot of money on our roster, so I would never -- I know clubs are spending under $90 million, under 80, under 70, under 60. And we're going to spend 90-some million. Am I going to say, 'Gee whiz, our guys are cheap?' No. And I also know that they're looking at stuff where I don't understand or have the information, and I trust them.

I think we've tried, and there's a lot of uncertainty out there. [The fans] may be disgruntled because they were all excited about doing something. But the one thing they should be encouraged about, in my opinion, is that we're not putting ourselves into some kind of dire economic situation where if we have a little bump, and we're going to have to pay some bad consequences. I think our guys have been very careful and very smart.

MLB.com: And how do you evaluate what the rest of the division has done?

La Russa: I think Cincinnati will be better because some of those young guys will be a year more experienced. I don't know enough about the Pirates. Houston always finds a way. They've still got a very good offensive club, and they seem to pitch. I saw Hampton the other day, and he was impressive. So I think Houston will be good. I know that Milwaukee took a couple of big starting rotation hits, but their offensive club is back and they're a year older and still in their prime -- not even approaching their prime. The Cubs, they won two years in a row and they added [Milton] Bradley. They lost [Kerry] Wood, but they got [Kevin] Gregg to go with [Carlos] Marmol. They've got a good club.

I just think the worst we can be is pretty good, and if things pull together, we could be contenders.

MLB.com: You have one year left on your contract. Do you think at all about what comes after 2009 for you?

La Russa: Frankly, I'm surprised it's a topic. Why would it be a topic? Because last year, in the first year of a two year contract, is exactly the same as this year. I didn't know if I was going to manage this year. You just watch and see if people still want you around, including the players. If the answer is yes, then you figure out if you've still got it in you.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.