All the hot stove season has finally started. Now is the season for the couch chair GM’s to make their proposals and start trying to piece together who they think will be the best possible team for the 2011 season. This will be my first installment of how I feel the St. Louis Cardinals should attack the offseason. Part 1, Middle Infield.
In House General Manager John Mozeliak has said that he is more inclined to get an upgrade at shortstop than second base. Quite frankly, this is baffling. Skip Schumaker’s best attribute is his gritty play. Unfortunately, their is no stat that measure’s a players grit. I disagree with with wanting to move Brendan Ryan, one season removed from posting a 2.7 WAR from FanGraphs or 3.4 WAR if you are a baseball-reference guy. He did this in 129 games. If you were to extrapolate this over a 155 games (about what a fulltime player would go through), that is 3.3 WAR (FanGraphs) and 4.1 WAR (B-R). However, poor Brendan Ryan had a dismal season with the bat in 2010. Conversely, he was the best defensive shortstop in 2010 (11.5 UZR!!). It should be mentioned that Ryan had offseason wrist surgery right around the beginning of spring training. If you were to normalize his 2009 season and 2010 season, your looking at a solid(albeit unspectacular) .260/.310/.385 sort of player. The real benefit to playing Ryan is naturally his stellar defense with a team that features Jaime Garcia (56% ground ball rate), Jake Westbrook (career 59% ground ball rate), Chris Carpenter (never had a season with St. Louis with a ground ball rate under 51%), and Adam Wainwright (perhaps the only pitcher on the staff who could be called a “strike-out pitcher”-career 49% ground ball rate). If I could get my pick, Ryan would open the season as the starting shortstop.
Not every team is as fortunate to have their own black hole. The Cardinals are lucky, they have two of them (I’m referring to second base and third base but 3B is a topic for another day). Skip Schumaker was abysmal last season. Skip is the owner of -13.2 UZR at 2B. That is Adam Dunn territory right there. He didn’t do much with the bat either (.265/.328/.338) but was a .300 hitter the past 3 seasons so I tend to think this season was a bit of an aberration with the bat. This still doesn’t excuse his terrible defense at second base. Skip was one of few players with a negative WAR last season at -.2. Last season, when he was a .300 hitter, he still had abysmal defense and posted a near replacement level 1.5 WAR in 586 PA’s. His best asset to the team would be as the first man off the bench and as 4th/5th outfielder-the role he belongs in. Unfortunately, he is one of the popular kids in the playground and has Tony La Russa’s seal of approval. Obviously he won’t come out and say the skip-experiment at second base was a failure but that is what has transpired. He must be replaced. II-the farm. The Cardinals farm features some pretty unspectacular options. The only half hearted reasonable options are Dan Descalso who projects to be at best an average second baseman defensively with “doubles-power” at the position. His ceiling reminds me of a David Eckstein type. The other is the gifted Tyler Greene. Greene features plus tools almost across the board but can’t put everything together. Now is do or die time for Greene. He is out of options and this could be his last chance to make something out of his talents.
II A- the Free Agents. This years middle infield free agent class is a very underwhelming group. The only options that are even somewhat enticing are as follows: 3b/ss Miguel Tejada, Swiss Army Knife Bill Hall, and 3b/ss/2b Juan Uribe. This is the cream of the crop. I feel if we are to upgrade the middle infield, it must come through trade. However, the idea of having an insurance policy such as Bill Hall and Juan Uribe fills the cardinals needs very well. They had a thin bench and it became exposed with Ryan’s down year, Schumaker’s being Schumakerness, and Freese’s injury. Unfortunately, both of these guys will probably be looking for more of a full-time role and I just don’t think they will find that in St. Louis.
II-B Non Tender- This person has got me very intrigued. Shortstop JJ Hardy seems to be flying under the radar. Overall, he had another down season with injuries but had a very productive second half of the season. He quietly hit .304/.363/.442 in 56 games after the allstar break (this was probably a bit inflated by his .340 BABIP). He might be nontendered by the Twins because of his $5MM dollar salary, which he would probably receive a raise on. If JJ were to come into the fold at about a 1yr/$3MM dollar investment, I say go for it. Honorable mention: SS Jason Bartlett.Although a career .300 hitter, Schumaker slipped in 2010 with the bat, and the glove.
III- trades Jose Reyes leads my wish list for Christmas. He has the high salary($11MM) but might be just the investment the Cardinals could be looking to make. The Mets are basically in a rebuild mode and should be looking to move some players. Thats not to say they will be just handing their talented players out like candy on Halloween, however. If we were to examine the New York Mets needs, we might be able to find a potential match. They could be in the market for some bullpen help, an outfielder, and a second baseman. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are also in the market for a second baseman but lets pretend for now that they don’t intend to give Descalso or Greene a chance for that role and will use them as trading chips. The Cardinals farm system as a whole, well, it isn’t the most stellar group. However, the feature one of the strongest relief cores out their with Adam Reifer, Casey Mulligan, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas. All of whom could be helping the Cardinals in 2011 at some point. At the major league level, they have flamethrowers Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs. Perhaps a package of Motte, Mulligan, and the met’s choice of Jon Jay or Allen Craig. Would it work? Maybe.
The Cardinals middle infield was a very underwhelming group and their are some pretty underwhelming solutions. However, an upgrade can be done in a variety of methods.