Enter #15, but Why?

Last week a quiet Friday was suddenly shattered – Jim Edmonds had signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals. Oh the humanity. One would have thought aliens had arrived and blown up the Arch. Theories abounded as to why the Cardinals brought their old centerfielder back. Edmonds wanted to retire as a Cardinal and the contract was a formality. Tony LaRussa was fed up with Colby Rasmus and sending him to the bench. Edmonds was irritated his number was not retired, and planned to shake John Jay down in an alley until he gave up #15.

Once the hyperbole passes it’s time for reflection. Why DID the Cardinals bring Jimmy back? I find three plausible reasons.

Late Inning Defensive Replacement. Edmonds was an above average outfielder for most of his career. He had a barely average 2007 and a bad 2008 defending the grass, but after taking 2009 off he seemed to regain his mojo in 2010. Last season in 476 innings he put up a UZR/150 of 16.3. Virtually every observer of this team worries about Lance Berkman’s defense in RF, and I’m sure his lack of playing time out there in recent seasons is something LaRussa is aware of. Reasonably I think we can expect Berkman to come out late in close games to improve the defense. Whom would you rather have out there – Edmonds or any of Jon Jay/Allen Craig/Adron Chambers? The Cardinals might have brought Edmonds back as the late game defensive specialist and spot starter for Berkman.

Colby Rasmus Mentor. Chris Reed postulated this on Saturday and I believe there’s something to it. Rasmus is a left-handed centerfielder with power. Who better to mentor him than a left-handed former centerfielder with power? Remember Edmonds and LaRussa had their disagreements towards the end of Jimmy’s first stint with the Cardinals, but if memory serves those arguments were about playing time (Edmonds wanted more and LaRussa decided on less). How to navigate LaRussa, how to stay focused during the season, are how to deal with adversity are all topics Edmonds has experience with and can provide Rasmus the benefit of that experience.

A side-note to the mentoring. Young men breaking in at the major league level are already very successful in their profession, but still have lessons to learn from those who made it before them and stayed for many years. I’m sure Edmonds learned a lot about how to play the game in the majors from Chili Davis, just as I’m sure Davis learned a lot from Joe Morgan. That’s a lot of experience to pass on.

Left-Handed Bench Bat. It is possible LaRussa wanted a veteran to bring in off the bench as a pinch-hitter. Jon Jay should be the heir apparent in this role. His maturation made the Ryan Ludwick trade possible, and he posted an OPS+ of 113. Edmonds put up a 127 OPS+ last season, and other than his disastrous 2007 with the Cardinals has posted at least an OPS+ of 110 for the last decade. Maybe the Cardinals feel Jay would be better served in AAA and Edmonds can better handle the sporadic playing time the bench bat will get.

All this discussion will be rendered moot if Edmonds retires before the season starts, or fails to make the roster coming out of spring training. Given LaRussa’s preference for veterans I think he has a leg up on Jay going into the spring. Whether he makes the roster or not, Jim Edmonds back in camp gives the team something to distract them from the Albert Pujols contract negotiations (or lack thereof).

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