La Russa still undecided on returning to Cardinals in 2011

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Tony La Russa: will he or won’t he return for another season as manager of the Cardinals?

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is about as close to the team’s thinking as a columnist can get and passes along some insight in his Sunday edition of “Bernie’s Bytes.”

First, Miklasz says that the decision to return or not to return will be up to La Russa himself.  Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt III and GM John Mozeliak are firmly in the skipper’s corner despite a disappointing 2010 finish and a highly publicized mid-season rift with star center fielder Colby Rasmus. 

If La Russa leaves, it will be because he wanted to go.  If he stays, it will be on his own terms.

By all accounts, the 65-year-old La Russa should commit for at least one more season in St. Louis.  He’ll have a roster in 2011 that includes this generation’s greatest hitter in Albert Pujols, two Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and a well-paid and highly-productive left fielder in Matt Holliday.  Oh, and let’s not forget about young left-hander Jaime Garcia, who might win the National League’s Rookie of the Year this season.

La Russa also ranks third on the list of all-time managerial wins with 2,628, behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).  It’s feasible that he will catch McGraw and move into second place all-time with just two more years on the job.  That might not be the most important thing to La Russa, but he’s certainly not immune to the lure of establishing a long-lasting legacy.

La Russa has been operating on one-year contracts for a few seasons now.  If we’re to believe the current indications, he will likely ink a similar deal before winter fully sets in.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?