You hear the term often in the analysis of things…a little something called “known quantity”. In this week’s stunning trade of former-All-Star, Silver Slugger, and fan-favorite Ryan Ludwick, many fans have used the term in defining the value of the outfielder, especially when comparing him to the relatively unproved platoon of Jon Jay and Allan Craig that will replace him now and likely also in 2011. That the Cardinals paid too steep a price for the talent of Jake Westbrook, acquired in the three-way deal from Cleveland that sent Ludwick to the Padres is almost a certainty, though it was a deal that John Mozeliak and company felt necessary.
Upon hearing the news, like many fans, I was heartbroken. Ryan Ludwick is as classy a player to have ever worn the birds on bat. Among the things I would consider to be known is that Ludwick was very well liked and respected in the Cardinals clubhouse. In his three and a half years with the Cardinals, his overall offensive production was second on the team only to Albert Pujols and he was perhaps the only player on the 2010 squad to consistently not strand base runners at second.
But truth be told, Ludwick’s days in a Cardinals uniform were numbered the moment Matt Holliday signed a team record $120 million contract. A third-year arbitration eligible player, it was unlikely that the team would submit to the significant raise that Ludwick would command this offseason. A decision made less taxing to organizational brass with the emergence of Jon Jay, off to a blistering hot start to his big league career and hauling in a wage more closely resembling that of your primary care physician.
And speaking of physicians, health was the caveat all along with Ludwick. At just 23 years of age, his major league debut was with the Texas Rangers back in 2002. But a freak hip injury suffered while running shortened his season and began a stretch of several years toiling between minor league teams and hospital operating rooms. The fractured hip required a metal rod be inserted to keep the crack from worsening. A detached kneecap that occurred while sliding the following year would lead to a couple more surgeries. Another injury to his wrist required a metal plate be placed in his forearm.
Any one of these injuries might have weakened a lesser man’s resolve. Yet if you did not know the tribulations of Ryan Ludwick, you would swear he played the game like a man who has never experienced the pain of injury and rehabilitation.
Therein lies the difficulty in accessing the trade of Ludwick. We love the guy. We all know what he is capable of on the field, as well as the character and integrity with which he represented the Saint Louis Cardinals organization. But even at the relatively young age of 32, it is difficult to invest long-term in a guy with so many previous trips to the DL knowing that you would not be carrying him past 2011, and knowing that looming is an enormous contract for your future Hall of Fame first baseman. These are the other known quantities.
Mozeliak essentially put the onus on the remaining offense and conceded that, if this team is to reach October baseball, it will be pitching that gets them there. Having spent the first half of the season watching half of the infield hit at a pitcher’s clip, this premise, I suppose I can endorse.
But that does not mean I have to like it.