Many in Cardinal Nation railed against the marginalization and eventual trade of Brendan Ryan. No doubt this was a personnel (personal?) move, not a baseball one. After all, no sane baseball organization would find it fundamentally sound to preach “pitch to contact” to its staff then trade away the best defensive shortstop in the league, right?
But that is exactly what happened, and not because a better shortstop was biding his time in the minors waiting for his opportunity or because the Cards had a new defensive whiz for second base. No, the Cardinals had already acquired their new starting shortstop in Ryan Theriot, and they are keeping Skip Schumaker at second. Theriot and Schumaker are, in many ways, mirror images of each other. They both have the stats to be OK leadoff options. Theriot has a little more speed; Schumaker has a little more pop. And both are considered tough-minded, focused, hard-working gamers.
That’s where Ryan fell short. He was flaky. He talked too much. He was often tardy, whether it would be to practice in Spring Training or the now-famous incident with Chris Carpenter in the middle of a big game in Cincinnati. The Cards were able to win the NL Central in 2009 with him as their starting shortstop, so the “clubhouse cancer” branding can be thrown out the window. But by all accounts, Ryan had become persona non grata with the St. Louis Cardinals—skill set and low salary be damned. The team was simply tired of his act, so they moved him for next to nothing…which is a nicer way of saying they dumped him.
And that’s where they may be disingenuous. David Freese remains penciled in as the starting third baseman and will be given every opportunity to prove himself worthy of the role in 2011. Why does he get yet another chance, while Ryan was shipped to Seattle for a virtually unknown prospect?
Freese has a past that is easily more checkered than Ryan’s. Before the 2009 season, Freese wrecked his car on the way to a fundraiser. The accident injured Freese’s ankle, which would eventually need surgery. Initially some eyebrows were raised when Freese failed to notify the team immediately (his agent called them a couple of days later), but the front office brushed that off as a rookie mistake. Fair enough. Then in December of 2009, Freese was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Freese was given the benefit of doubt, went through counseling, and remained the heir apparent to the starting job at third for the 2010 season. But only a couple of months in, Freese injured his other ankle during a game. Injuries happen, right? And this was only a bruise, nothing serious. That is until he dropped a weight on his foot while rehabbing, which led to another surgery and ended his season.
So on one hand we have Ryan, the starting shortstop for two seasons (plus significant time in two more). He has never proven to be much with the bat, but he is near the top of the league defensively. And his personality was just too much for the team to handle, so they willingly accepted a downgrade in the field to unload him and his goofy, distracting presence.
On the other hand we have Freese, who has survived the last two seasons on potential alone. When healthy he plays well, though not well enough to survive the stellar 2009 platoon of Joe Thurston and Brian Barden. In 2010 no one stood in his way and he only managed to stay on the field for 70 games. Freese has had multiple ankle surgeries; is it too soon to attach the “injury-prone” label? What about dropping a weight on his foot; is that just bad luck or a lapse in concentration/attention? And yes, everyone makes mistakes, but the DWI is still a serious lapse in judgment…more so than being a minute or two late to take the field, one would think.
The team has done little to address depth issues like they had at third base in 2010. If Freese is unable to contribute a full season yet again and Ryan makes noise as the Seattle Mariners’ starting shortstop in 2011, the Cardinals will need to seriously reevaluate what they believe to be a detrimental presence in the clubhouse.