Eckstein: Oquendo key to Pujols’ future

After Tony La Russa’s retirement announcement Monday, there were two huge questions looming over the World Series champions.

Who will succeed La Russa as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals? And what impact will the new manager have on Albert Pujols’ free agency?

David Eckstein, who played with Pujols in St. Louis from 2005 through 2007, answered both questions at once.

“Albert would stay if (Jose) Oquendo got the job,” Eckstein told on Monday.

Oquendo, 48, joined the Cardinals’ staff in 1999 as the bench coach and has been the St. Louis third base coach for the past 12 seasons. He managed the Puerto Rican team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

Oquendo spent 12 seasons as a major-league infielder, and he specializes in infield instruction. Eckstein praised Oquendo’s knowledge of the game and rapport with players.

“My initial reaction (after learning of La Russa’s retirement) was, ‘It needs to be Jose Oquendo,’” Eckstein said. “When you played for Tony, you didn’t want to disappoint him. When I was playing infield for Jose, I didn’t want to disappoint him. I know how much he has put into this. When you can get a player to play outside of himself, for someone else, that’s when you get the best out of a player.”

Eckstein believes Oquendo would have a similar managerial style to La Russa, with the possible exception of being even more aggressive on the bases. Oquendo has strong relationships with many of the current Cardinals players – including Pujols. Eckstein believes that would help Oquendo as a manager, rather than be a hindrance.

“The guys love Jose there,” said Eckstein, who was in St. Louis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 6 last Thursday. “When I was there (as a player), I could tell they were grooming him to be the next manager if he stayed around. Other teams have wanted him, but he stayed.

“When I was playing, I had a short list of who I would want to manage in this league. Joe Maddon had to become a manager. Ron Roenicke had to become a manager. Now, I feel Jose Oquendo and (Padres bench coach) Rick Renteria need to become managers.”