2010 Year In Review: Cardinals Third Base

There was hope the unsettled third base situation, a situation that hurt St Louis on both sides of the ball in 2009, would resolve itself in the person of David Freese. Sadly things didn’t quite work out that way.

In 2009 the Cardinals entered spring training with Troy Glaus as their third baseman. He played exactly 14 games. David Freese came up to man the position after Glaus went down with a shoulder injury, and tore up his ankle. He played 17 games. Queue the revolving door: with Brian Barden, Mark DeRosa, Joe Thurston, and Khalil Greene all taking a turn at the hot corner. Cardinal third baseman put up the worst offensive numbers of their position players (.229/.292/.369); even the pinch hitters had a better line (.221/.306/.385). Had to get better in 2010, right?

Not so much. Cardinal third sackers weren’t the weakest offensive link in 2010 – that distinction went to the shortstops. And they did out-perform the pinch-hitters (.260/.317/.338 to .229/.307./.316). But as a group they still did not bring much offense to the table, and certainly did not bring the power numbers expected from the position.

As in 2009, a number of men manned the position in 2010.

David Freese returned after his 2009 ankle injury healed, and started 66 games at third for the Cardinals. He hit the best of the third baseman, posting a .298/.362/.409 line, but was a little below average (-4 runs saved on the Dewan scale) defensively. Freese suffered a bone bruise to his right ankle in a 5 June home game against the Brewers, and it hobbled him to the point where he had to go on the DL. Then he fractured his left big toe while on the DL, and sustained a lower right leg injury during his rehab assignment. On August 3 he learned he actually had a torn tendon in the ankle and would need surgery to fix it, ending his 2010 season.

Felipe Lopez was signed to be a super utilityman but ended up starting 51 games at third. Defensively he graded out slightly better than Freese (-2 runs saved on the Dewan scale). Offensively he started off very well, posting OPS+ of 111 and 133 the first two months of the season. When pressed into service as the everyday third baseman, however, his production suffered. Lopez’s last two OPS+ numbers were under 50.

In his defense, Felipe aggravated a chronic elbow injury pitching one inning during St Louis’ 20 inning loss to the Mets. He spent some time on the DL as a result, and although he returned to full duty the elbow continued to bedevil him throughout the rest of the season. Eventually some clubhouse discord surfaced involving Lopez, and he was sent home with 2 weeks left.

The Cardinals acquired Pedro Feliz August 19 for minor leaguer David Carpenter, two weeks after Freese’s season-ending surgery was announced. It was telling the Cardinals felt they had upgraded at third by adding Feliz, who had been wholly unremarkable offensively with the Astros (.221/.243/.311 in 97 games). Feliz played some reasonable defense but continued to be a liability at the plate, posting a .208/.232/.250 line in 125 PA with the Cardinals. He started 30 games at third.

These three men accounted for 91% of the Cardinal starts at third. Tony LaRussa started 4 other players there: Daniel Descalso (9 starts), Tyler Greene (5), Aaron Miles (twice), and Allen Craig (once). Miles’ two starts were behind Adam Wainwright and Jamie Garcia; the Cardinals lost both games. One can only surmise LaRussa pulled part of his lineup out of a hat those two days, because Miles has played 24 games at third in a career spanning almost 800 games. Craig’s one start was 15 August behind Kyle Lohse, and the Cardinals lost that day too. Freese was lost for the season, Lopez in a huge funk, and the game was 4 days before Feliz was acquired; perhaps LaRussa figured what the heck. Greene started 7 games in 2009 at third, but is primarily a shortstop, and didn’t get much action at third this past season until September.

Descalso began his minor league career at third, but has mostly played second base and short during his ascent through the Cardinal system. Called up in September, he got a couple of week look in the lineup, which included those 9 starts at third. Of all the players who manned the position after Freese went down he’s the most intriguing, since he is only 24 and probably blocked at his primary positions by Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker (although the Cardinals might find a new player at second this off-season). It’s hard to evaluate his hitting over 37 PA. He had one 4-hit game against Pittsburgh, then endured a 2 for 21 funk before closing the season with 3 hits in his last 7 at bats.

Looking ahead to 2011, Lopez is gone, Feliz is a free agent, and Freese should be fully recovered. Descalso could be an option at third, but most likely will be a bench player if he makes the team. The Cardinals either have to hope Freese can stay healthy for a whole season or look to upgrade the position either through trade or free agent signing.

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