Tag Archive | "Allen Craig"

The Ever-Present Enigma Of Oscar Taveras

Yesterday when I was leaving the Hyatt, I walked past a rather athletic looking young guy walking with a fairly attractive girl. Neither of the two spoke much English in what seemed to be a back-and-forth exchange of some sort, and they stood out among the remaining packs of Cardinal garbed fans. It took a few seconds to realize that I’d just walked past the most discussed Cardinal prospect since Rick Ankiel, and in just that quick few seconds, as I turned to look back to confirm what I had just realized, Oscar Taveras and mate were gone already.

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Thus is the nature of the coming of the ‘Next Big Thing’ to St. Louis. And while this weekend is about getting a chance for fans to be able to put eyes on a property that has truly been more myth than man, the questions and rumblings about when will his prodigious talent make a way into a Cardinal uniform still is a very hazy proposition.

One thing that is for certain is that it is not, and never has been, a question of talent. Although an ankle injury basically cut his season in half and kept him out of winter ball for the first time in his brief career, the body of work that was there is proof positive enough that the hype is based in reality. He hit .310 in 47 games last summer in Memphis, with 17 extra base hits, all while playing through a persistent pain. This came on the heels of a spring where he predictably proved his bat could play with the big league club as well, even if his glove left some things to the imagination.

“He’s just an amazing talent”, expounds Mozeliak when approaching Taveras’ impact. “Clearly he lost a lot of at-bats last year, so when you think of things in an aggregate sense of experience and exposure, yes he missed time but there is no way to replicate that.”

Injuries are a part of the game, and the delay created by them alters even the best laid plans. And due to that element, the plans and discussion around Taveras at this point in the year are largely the same as a year ago at this point. The path through the spring is clear; he will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent and will likely be a regular part of the Cardinal lineup throughout the duration of Spring Training. There is still the matter of finding out what his positional potential is in the outfield (whether centerfield is a possibility or not is still a matter that Mozeliak is not completely clear on), as well as rounding off the rough edges at the plate. Basically, the same questions that the fanbase wonders, the inner workings of the club share along with them.

This adds to the intrigue of Taveras, and just exactly what his fit is in the near future. Much like last season, there is no clear and immediate need for him on the Cardinals stack deck of outfield options. And at the same time, he is clearly a talent that is unmatched in ceiling and has risen consistently to the challenge of every level he has competed thus far. He is ready, but the club is willing to see how it all plays out, which adds the enigmatic nature of his image to the masses.

Patience is tough when it comes to such an exciting property, but it is the course that Mozeliak is preaching in regards to the club’s 2011 Organizational Player of the Year. The depth of the team plays as much of a factor in the handling of his progress as it ever did, and the team is content to go the cautious route with its prized quantity. The 2014 Cardinal roster may be the deepest offering it has put forth in year, which makes it a time crunch for nearly the entire roster. It is crowded at the top, and the positive development of earlier prospects will, understandably, impact those to come.

“The fact that we have a Matt Adams or an Allen Craig gives us flexibility, and that’s a good thing,” Mozeliak comments on viewpoint of the 25-man roster.  “Looking at the DNA of the club and how it is composed, and can we use him in a functional manner. And it is tough to answer that in January.”

The time is nigh for the mystery to come clear, but patience should breed measured expectations. He is the type of dynamic talent, which can force the issue for a roster spot by the end of March, in the fashion that Adams did a year ago. However, the timing will be right whenever the move is made. “It has to be about what’s best for him”, Mozeliak waxes on the expectations of Taveras in an immediate sense. “At his age and where he is at, development is critical.”

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What Does The Future Hold – Cardinals Contracts and Scenarios

As the St. Louis Cardinals face the final weekend of the National League Championship Series, and the baseball year as a whole rolls into its final go around shortly, the show still goes on, regardless of outcome. Sooner or later, the tone of the year quickly turns to the personnel part and the future becomes the present. Free agency, retirements, trades and rumors will rule the roost for the next three months, and the Cardinals will be far from on the outside looking in.

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While the team has the rare pleasure of having the vast majority its entire core and active roster under team control for not only 2013, but 2014 as well, the business is safe to continue as is for the near future. But exactly how is the design of the team set up entering the winter? Here is the entire breakdown of the Cardinal roster, including what’s to come, what will cost what and how contract status works into the personnel decisions that could loom.

(Contract figures per Cots Contracts & Baseball Reference)

Guaranteed Contracts—$71.5M guaranteed in 2014

Adam Wainwright (32, $97.5M through 2018)

Matt Holliday (34, $51M through 2017 w/ $17M team option in 2018)

Yadier Molina (31, $44M through 2017, w/ $15M team option in 2018)

Allen Craig (30, $28.5M through 2017, w/ $13M team option in 2018)

Jaime Garcia (27, $17M through 2015, w/ $23.5M total in separate team options in ’16-’17)

Jason Motte (32, $7.5M through 2014)

Randy Choate (38, $6M through 2015)

The vast majority of the Cardinal veteran core is not only signed, but is contracted through the next four seasons at minimum. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are likely on career carrying deals, while the team locked up young, quickly proven players such as Craig and Garcia early in their careers, and have control through their best years underway. Motte is the lone pending free agent on the 2014 team, and will have a show-and-prove year as he returns to the ninth inning from Tommy John surgery early in the season.

Arbitration Eligibles

John Axford (31, Stage 2, $5M in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

David Freese (31, Stage 2, $3.15M in 2013)

Jon Jay (29, Stage 1, $524,000 in 2013)

Daniel Descalso (26, Stage 1, $511,000 in 2013)

Fernando Salas (29, Stage 1, $512,000 in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

While Craig and Motte are locked up, the remainder of the formerly young Cardinal cast is in the midst of their arbitration years. At maximum, Freese, Jay and Descalso are under team control through 2015, but there will be a few tough calls in this tier of the team, and none harder to predict than Freese, who is due for a raise into the $5M range, but had his worst year of his career. Axford’s case will be the most interesting case, as he is a high-ceiling talent, but will carry a difficult price tag for what is likely a seventh inning bridge pitcher to carry.

Pre-Arbitration

Lance Lynn (27, Stage 3)

Matt Carpenter (28, Stage 3; Buy-out Candidate)

Tony Cruz (27, Stage 3)

Shane Robinson (29, Stage 3)

Shelby Miller (23, Stage 2)

Michael Wacha (23, Stage 2)

Carlos Martinez (22, Stage 2)

Pete Kozma (26, Stage 2)

Trevor Rosenthal (24, Stage 2)

Kevin Siegrist (24, Stage 2)

Seth Maness (25, Stage 2)

Matt Adams (25, Stage 2)

Joe Kelly (26, Stage 2)

Keith Butler (25, Stage 2)

Sam Freeman (26, Stage 2)

Tyler Lyons (26, Stage 2)

John Gast (25, Stage 2)

Kolten Wong (22, Stage 2)

Adron Chambers (27, Stage 2)

The core of the Cardinal team is its youth, as the group that was heralded as the top organization in all of baseball before the season has seen many of its jewels hit the big leagues. Of the 19 players in this section, no less than 12 are virtual locks to be on the Opening Day roster, and none will come in at cost of more than $525,000. This is where the cost control of youth, performing youth at that, shows it’s most advantageous asset. And with only Lynn, Carpenter, Cruz and Robinson on pace to reach arbitration status over the next two years, unless the team decides to up the ante on an early long-term deal to buy out any of this group’s arbitration seasons, this will be a strong asset on the side of the team’s purchasing power, if needed.

Free Agents

Carlos Beltran ($13M)

Jake Westbrook ($8.75M, $9.5M team option will be declined)

Chris Carpenter ($10.5M, will likely retire)

Rafael Furcal ($7M)

Edward Mujica ($3.2M)

Rob Johnson ($750,000)

There are a few ifs and a few certainties here. The certainties start with Jake Westbrook, who’s 2014 option is all but certain to be declined. Furcal and Carpenter will not return as well, with retirement on the horizon for Carpenter and Furcal missing all of the season with Tommy John surgery, and the team having moved on from him before spring training commenced. Mujica is due for a raise, despite his late season struggles, and will likely price himself out of returning for the capacity he would be needed in.

 

Post-2014 Free Agent Candidates

Motte, Axford, Freese

Post 2015 Free Agent Candidates

Garcia, Choate

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Déjà vu Threatens Cardinals All Over Again

Down 2-1, and faced with nothing elimination games ahead in their Divisional Series match up with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals find themselves in a familiar place. But not the type of “they’ve been behind before” postseason rhetoric that has been tagged to the club so often recently, rather it directly correlates to the way their season ended last time around. While the pitching alignments get the buzz, it is the lineup that is once again failing the Cardinals.

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It has now been two full games since the Cardinals had a lead at any point versus Pittsburgh. Along the way, the Cardinals have been buried by the same type of timely hitting from the Pirates core that the Cardinal collective has been prided on. Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd have collaborated to drive in more runs (16) than the Cardinals have combined for as a club (11).

Basically, they are being beat at their own game. After a season where the Cardinals were the second most productive team offense, hitting for a .269 average, they have torpedoed to a .219 average through the first three games of the series. Carlos Beltran’s once again outstanding October effort aside, as well as solid showings from Yadier Molina and Matt Adams, the rest of the lineup has brutally underperformed. Highlighted by a 1 for 11 (.091) spin by Matt Carpenter, a 2 for 12 effort by Matt Holliday (.167) and a pair of 2 for 10 showings from Jon Jay and David Freese, the same type of large scale outage that sunk the team over the last three games of 2012 has made an untimely return.

There is a huge difference in the 2012 postseason Cardinals than any past incarnation however, and it is a simple see: it is not a deep team. Whereas in years past there were Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter among others to supply hits off the bench, there is no such presence of that sort this year. Look no further than the final two batters in yesterday’s game, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who, respectively, hit .217 and .238 on the year. It’s a striking showing that their were no other bats available to take those opportunities, and proves resoundingly the depth the team lost when Craig was lost for what looks to be the season. The bottom line is simply, what starts is what has to produce, and the group failings to do so (a .192 average from the starting lineup over the past 18 innings) is creating a brutal case of déjà vu.

Over the past the last three games of last season’s National League Championship Series, the Cardinals mounted one run across three games, which unfolded in the same home, then road-road sequence. While the team is guaranteed to score more runs than last with yesterday’s output, there is still simply too much pressure put on the pitching staff to win games.

Game four sees a continuation of yesterday, with Michael Wacha going to the mound for his first postseason appearance of his career. While he has been effective against the Pirates, and is the best available option to start this game, even with his best efforts will be for nil if the team continues to leave runners on base

In a most poetic situation in how the year has unfolded, it is the young arms that have been leaned on to pitch in high leverage situations, and while the rookie staff as performed impeccably throughout the year, they still are young. The postseason is made for veterans to deliver, and for all of the strides the team took this season, it finds itself on the verge of ending in not only the same fashion, but at an earlier clip if it cannot work out the order of things by 5:00 this evening.

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Picking the Biggest Bird on Bat isn’t Easy

Picking the best player in a particular league is never an easy task, but picking who is the most meaningful Cardinal is arguably and even tougher one. Between Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig, the team has three very viable MVP candidates, all of which could make a claim for the real deal by season’s end.

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More so than any other team in baseball, the Cardinals lean on the total team approach at the plate. There’s no one contributor that’s leaned on to carry the weight of the club individually. This delegation of responsibility is what makes determining just who’s the most valuable portion of the lineup that much more difficult this season. Even with the contributions of Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright, it is a three headed race for who is the Cardinals’ biggest regular impact this year. Each has been an irreplaceable catalyst in the timeliest lineup in baseball.

The Glue: The favorite in the clubhouse for most of the season has been Molina, and with good reason. The perennial Gold Glover and face of the organization has had his finest summer to date, on the heels of a 2012 season that carried that same honor. While his league-best (…) average is the most noticeable headline of his year, without a doubt he is perhaps the best intangibles player in the game today. He has guided the club’s young pitching staff to an outstanding year thus far, and has continued to change the way that teams approach attacking the Cardinals on the bases. In terms of most differences made, it is tough to make a case against Yadi.

The Catalyst: However, the biggest change in the team came when Carpenter truly took off out of the leadoff spot, solving a long-standing uncertainty for the club. And he the windfall of his production has spread throughout the entirety of the lineup beneath him. He leads all National Leaguers in doubles (31) and runs scored (75), while his 120 hits come in at second in the league as well.

While he is not the traditional leadoff man in a speed sense, the most important job of a lineup lead is to get on base, and he has that down pat. His .399 on-base percentage is the best on the club, and third best in the NL, and since moving up to the order in May, his .410 OBP has been the second best mark in the NL overall.

For a guy that started the calendar year with a new glove at a position he’d never played exclusively in his life, to find himself in his first All-Star Game just six months later, his impact combined with growth has been the most remarkable transformation the club has seen in years.

The Wrench: Craig’s impact has been predictable in a situation where it shouldn’t be. Simply put, he’s the most dependable player in baseball at the absolute best time to be that. While his 77 RBI overall are impressive, the fact that 67 have come with runners in scoring position is unreal. The batting average he carries in this position is a surreal .489 this year, which is nearly 50 points better than next most efficient producer in the situation. Digging even deeper into his clutch prowess, with runners in scoring position and two outs, Craig has produced 30 of his 77 runs driven in and carries a .467 average as well.

Timely hitting has been the Cardinals calling card, as they carry a .338 average as a team with runners waiting to be driven in, but Craig’s efforts go over and above. It’s truly one of the most efficiently productive years in recent history.

In the end, it is very possible that Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez or another rising candidate from a contender takes the MVP crown for himself completely. It is also possible that another situation such as took place around the Cy Young Award in 2010, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter cancelled each other out on the ballots, takes place and knocks each Cardinal down a notch. However, regardless of outcome, 2013 has plenty of potential to go down as one of the finest overall efforts of any offering the franchise has put forth, across the board. Where everybody gets their due…yet nobody can claim too much credit.

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Grading the Cardinals at the Half

To say the first half of the season for the Cardinals was good would be a gross understatement; they set a club record for first half wins and go into the break with the best record in the National League. Yet, to get to this point, it took a complete effort from not just the organizational mainstays, but also a coming of age of the youth movement throughout the entire organization.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Overall, 38 players have worn the birds on bat at some point during the year, including six All-Stars and a club-record 12 rookies, already. But in the end, the parts create the sum, and here is the rank of the how each portion of the club played into the first half, 1-38.

  1. Yadier Molina: Basically, he’s the best player on the club because he’s been the best player in the league as well. He’s leading the National League in hitting, as masterfully directed the Cardinal staff to a club record in first half wins.
  2. Adam Wainwright: With a NL-best 12 wins and top 5 totals in strikeouts and ERA as well. Waino is having his finest year, and would have been a legitimate candidate for adding a third Cardinal All-Star starter, if he was eligible.
  3. Matt Carpenter: The team’s offense took off when Carpenter was moved to the top of the lineup in May. He is leading the National League in doubles with 28 and runs with 72, and has hit over .320 since moving to the leadoff spot.
  4. Allen Craig: The RBI machine is up to his same tricks from last year, coming in second in the league with 73. He’s been the biggest part of the Cardinal assault with runners on base, with an insane .480 average with runners in scoring position.
  5. Carlos Beltran: If it is his farewell tour, it’s a greatest hits collection for sure. Headed into his 8th All-Star team, he’s the only Cardinal to top .300, with 15 home runs and 50 RBI, and among only five NL outfielders to meet the level overall.
  6. Edward Mujica: Last season’s seventh inning fireman moved back to the ninth with the same results. He cashed in on his first 22 save opportunities and sits at second in the NL with 26 overall. A last second selection to the All-Star Game to “replace” Wainwright was made his late Sunday night.
  7. Trevor Rosenthal: He’s settled in as the club’s eight inning stopper nicely, striking out 65 in just over 43 innings on the season, and posting 22 holds, second in the NL.
  8. Shelby Miller: The rookie righty has exceeded expectations in many ways in an equally young season. He leads all rookies in wins (9) and strikeouts (112).
  9. Matt Holliday: His totals have not been up to the accustomed levels he’s set over the years, but his 47 RBI and 13 home runs keep him at the heart of Cardinal production. If injuries don’t curb his second half much, he’ll be in range for his usual total of 90+ RBI.
  10. Lance Lynn: He’s posted another typical Lynn effort: upheld leads and racked up the wins (11), in a somewhat up and down effort. But he’s been consistent and is on pace to yet again push close to 20 wins.
  11. Matt Adams: The odd man out has made the best of his opportunities. He’s punched out seven home runs in just over 120 at-bats and 40% of his hits have been of the extra base variety.
  12. Jake Westbrook: An injury interrupted what was off to a phenomenal first half for Westbrook, but he has posted a 2.88 ERA across 12 starts and has continued to steady the boat around the up and down young starters.
  13. Jon Jay: His bat has been down tremendously this year, but his defense has stayed top tier. He set a Cardinal record with his 227th consecutive errorless game. He’s been a nomad in the lineup, but has shown life over the last few weeks.
  14. Seth Maness: More credit should be paid to what Maness brought to the club for half of the season thus far. He’s won five games out of the bullpen, but not of the vulture variety: he’s been a seventh inning fireman, producing nine double plays in 30 innings.
  15. David Freese: He’s off to his toughest start at the plate in his career. His numbers are down across the board, and health has been an up and down battle again, but he hasn’t shown much life in his swing this season.
  16. Pete Kozma: The value of Kozma has continued to be debated, but for what it is worth, he’s been what he was supposed to be: a solid glove, with an adequate (at times) bat. Not too great, not too bad.
  17. Randy Choate: He’s been exactly what he’s supposed to be as well: a situational lefty that does what he’s called on to do, and that’s win matchups. Left handers are hitting .202 against him.
  18. Daniel Descalso: The idea of him being in a platoon with Matt Carpenter was put to sleep quickly by no fault of his own, but he’s done well around the infield where needed and has rediscovered his swing as well, hitting .275 on the year.
  19. Kevin Siegrist: One of the season’s biggest revelations thus far has been this hard throwing lefty. Against the former 41st round pick, batters have just three hits in 42 at-bats, an .071 average against.
  20. Jaime Garcia: He pushed out as much as he had left to make it through nine starts, but ultimately his shoulder gave out and he finally had to give in to surgery.
  21. Joe Kelly: He’s spent much of the year as a nowhere man, and there’s no guarantee that couldn’t continue again soon. But his has been willing to step up to every role asked of him, regardless of how sporadic, and it has been commendable.
  22. Michael Wacha: The hype was huge, but the result was more realistic of a guy that made it to the Majors in under a calendar year. He showed promise (1-0 record, two quality starts out of three), but needed more seasoning.
  23. Shane Robinson: The light-hitting Robinson didn’t bring his huge spring bat with him to St. Louis, but has continued to be a solid fill as a defender at each outfield spot.
  24. Tony Cruz: He didn’t get many opportunities to contribute early in the season, but performed well at the end of the half when Molina was injured, and stands to get more at-bats in the second half.
  25. Carlos Martinez: His talent has been too tempting for the Cardinals to leave in the minors. And they have twice brought him to the St. Louis bullpen, where he has shown why, striking out 11 in ten innings.
  26. Kevin Butler: He started off has a fill in fresh arm, but has become a very solid part of the middle of the bullpen. He’s posted a 1.98 ERA in his first 13 MLB innings.
  27. Fernando Salas: Taken out by injury and seemingly relegated to the minors since, Salas may be finding himself lost in the shuffle of young arms making their way to St. Louis.
  28. Tyler Lyons: A tale of two stories: Lyons won his first two starts after being promoted, but then lost the next three before being chased in under two innings in his final start in June and returning to Memphis.
  29. John Gast: The finesse left-hander was the first call to replace the injured Jaime Garcia, but then fell victim to a shoulder injury himself. Results were varied, return is uncertain.
  30. Michael Blazek: The promise is there (1.38 ERA in 26 games between Memphis and Springfield), but the chance for regular work hasn’t manifested yet in St. Louis.
  31. Rob Johnson: The call up when Ty Wigginton was let go, and he made the best of his return to the Majors in a hurry, hitting a tripling and scoring a run in his second day on the job.
  32. Ryan Jackson: He’s been among the most consistent performers in Memphis, but hasn’t gotten the call back to St. Louis since the second series of the season.
  33. Mark Rzepczynski: Was too hittable, and really replaceable to hold off the brimming young arms in the Cardinal system, and hasn’t done much to regain favor since being demoted in May (44 hits, and 15 walks in 41 innings in Memphis).
  34. Ty Wigginton: The season’s biggest reach consequently his biggest headlines when he was signed, and then released. The Cardinals waved the white flag on Wigginton after he showed, well, not much at all.
  35. Victor Marte: The Triple-A mainstay didn’t show much in his brief return to St. Louis again this season (6.00 ERA spread across four games).
  36. Jermaine Curtis: Two spot plate appearances don’t equal much, coming or going, for Curtis.
  37. Maikel Cleto: The Brendan Ryan era completely came to an end when Cleto, the return for him three years ago, was released in June.
  38. Mitchell Boggs: One of the most rapid and remarkable falls from grace was Boggs’, which saw him fall from closer to two unceremonious exiles to the minors, and eventually a trade for the rights to spend more freely in the international market down the road. No one had a rougher year than Boggs did, in barely three months time.

 

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Cardinals Spring Training Pics From InsideSTL

Our friends over at InsideSTL spent last week hanging out at a picnic table, and eventually under a tent, in Jupiter, Florida and talking with any Cardinal players that came by and were willing to sit down for a few minutes.

What resulted were some great candid shots of the guys as well as a very candid interview with Adam Wainwright about his contract situation.

The images below were posted to their website and are being shared here with their permission.

Carlos Beltran

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Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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The Quandary At Third Base

Throughout the course of this off-season a lot of attention has been placed on upgrading the St. Louis Cardinals middle infield. And for good reason; the middle infield was a liability for the entire 2010 season. The positions were no longer hitting for average and the defense was leaky. In response, General Manager John Mozeliak signed SS Ryan Theriot this off-season, hoping to boost the offensive production of that position and address some chemistry issues.

A lot has been said about that signing, both good and bad. But, there is still a glaring problem the Cardinals are going to have deal with sooner rather than later; the third base quandary.

Everyone remembers the years of “MV3”. That trio consisted of 1B Albert Pujols, 3B Scott Rolen, and CF Jim Edmonds. That combination produced four division titles, two NL pennants, and one World Series championship. Cardinals fans look back longingly on those days. What that lineup had is what the Cardinals of the last four years have been missing tremendously; a threat at third base.

Since Rolen’s trade to Toronto, the Cardinals have floundered at the hot corner. The position has become a turn style for injuries, mediocre players and long shots. It’s been a chink in the armor of some otherwise good Cardinal teams. Without a quality anchor in the infield and at the plate, the Cardinals have struggled to reach the heights of the 2000’s.

In 2010, it was suppose to be different. The player who was dealt to the Cardinals in the Jim Edmonds trade was finally going to be given a shot. His bat and glove were supposed to stabilize the ship. For the first half of the 2010 season, it appeared this was the case. From April to June David Freese hit .296/.361/.404 with four homers, 12 doubles over 240 at-bats. More importantly, he hit for .324 with RISP. Because of that, he drove in 36 runs, providing some relief for the middle of the order.

His glove became a solid addition as well. Yeah, there was that brief melt down in Milwaukee on April 11th when he committed multiple errors that lead to runs (I remember vividly because I was at that game). However, David did a tremendous job of showing poise as he regrouped himself and became almost flawless in the field the rest of his season. That is, until tragedy struck at the position again.

Freese suffered a bone bruise on his right ankle in June. He went on the DL on June 29th. While on the DL he hurt himself again by dropping a weight on his left foot. His eventual rehab with Double-A Springfield only lasted a game as he suffered another ankle injury. The season was over for him when it was determined another surgery was required on his ankle.

Entering the 2011 season, Freese is again projected to be the starting third baseman. If Freese stays healthy and builds on his success from last year, this could be a great thing. A lineup with Pujols, Holliday, Berkman, and a healthy Freese could do a lot of damage to opposing pitchers. The key is if Freese stays healthy. Depending solely on the health of Freese is not the safest of options.

If Freese once again gets injured, what will Mozeliak & Tony LaRussa do? Their options are limited yet again. The organization does not have a lot of depth at the position, obviously. A veteran utility player would help on the bench in case of another injury to Freese. But, at the moment there is no one to fill that role. And coming out of winter meetings it is clear this is not a priority.

An opening at third base could help provide more playing time for Allen Craig. In his time at Memphis, Craig has torn the cover off of the ball. But in the big leagues he has suffered from spot duty playing time, which affected his plate performance. Playing regularly at third along with Freese could help Craig find his rhythm and provide more punch to the lineup.

Another option the Cardinals have is turning to a thin minor league system. Players like Ruben Gotay and Zach Cox are third basemen in the making. Both offer promise of someday filling in as the “anchor”. But at this time are they big league ready? Of the two, Gotay has the most experience. He hit .285 with Memphis but has not posted big league numbers since 2008.

Zackary Cox offers a lot of promise but needs growth. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 2010. After signing, he hit .400 at the plate and fielded 1.000 while playing with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. He could be the future but he shouldn’t be rushed through the system to help in 2011.

Another option would be to play Daniel Descalso at third. In 2010 he played 11 games with the big league club. He hit .265 and drove in four runs. Though, I am not sure if I would classify him as a true third baseman.

That leaves adding a third baseman via the trade route. As Cardinals fans last year found out, the organization doesn’t have a lot to deal. Therefore, the prospect of gaining an impact player is small. Nothing exemplifies this better than the trade made last year for Pedro Feliz. The Cardinals gave up a live arm in reliever David Carpenter for the “bat” of Feliz. It was a desperate move done by a desperate team. Not surprisingly it didn’t pan out. Feliz hit an anemic .208, making third base a liability rather than a strength once again.

There is still a lot of time left before the season begins. “Mo” might once again turn to picking some “low hanging fruit” to give third base some stability should Freese not be able to stay healthy the entire 2011 season. Let’s hope something is done to provide depth to the position. Without a solid presence at the third base position, the Cardinals will find it difficult to field a productive lineup again.

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