Inside Baseball: Cardinals need to use rest of season to get some answers for 2012
Since all but a few diehard optimists can now agree the 2011 baseball season is over, at least for the Cardinals, it is time to begin looking ahead to 2012. There is perhaps no other team in baseball which knows so little about what their team will look like seven months from now.
With the futures of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman and others to be decided at some point this winter, there are only three positions in the regular lineup where the Cardinals can predict with any degree of certainty who will be at those spots next season – catcher, if the team picks up Yadier Molina’s 2012 option; third base, David Freese, and left field, Matt Holliday.
The other five positions, either because of free agency or performance questions, cannot be guaranteed. Which is why, beginning now, the Cardinals should use the remaining five weeks of this season to try to find some answers about who is deserving of a lineup spot in 2012.
There are four players currently on the roster, and a fifth in Memphis, who should play on an almost everyday basis between now and the end of the season if the Cardinals truly want answers about how much those players can be counted on in 2012.
Here are the five, listed in no particular order:
Daniel Descalso – He will be 25 before next season begins, and projects as a candidate for either the second base, most likely, or shortstop position. Much of his 71 starts this season came at third base in place of the injured Freese but with Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal all possibly gone next year, the Cardinals will be looking for starters at both second and shortstop.
The left-handed hitting Descalso, who Sunday night started only his 15th game since the All-Star break, has a .284 average against right-handers and only a .167 mark against left-handers this season, meaning the Cardinals need to find out if can be a full-time starter or would be better suited to be part of a platoon arrangement.
In nine starts and 17 total games at second this year Descalso has not committed an error. At shortstop, he has two errors in 10 starts and 12 total games.
Jon Jay – Jay will turn 27 next March, so the time is over to stop thinking about him as a young player. What has to be concerning to the Cardinals is how much he has struggled offensively each of the past two years following a trade which almost guaranteed him a starting position in the outfield, Ryan Ludwick last year and Colby Rasmus this season.
In the last two months of the 2010 season, following the Ludwick trade, Jay hit .244 after hitting .383 to that point, albeit in a reduced role. This year, following the Rasmus trade, Jay was hitting the exact same average, .244, before getting his first home run since the trade on Sunday night, as he raised his overall average to .299. He also turned in several nice plays in center field in the win over the Cubs. Before the trade he was hitting .312 with an on-base percentage of .363.
He also has driven in only four runs over that 24-game stretch, while striking out 19 times.
Other than Schumaker, and expecting that Corey Patterson will not be back, the Cardinals have no other centerfield candidates on the current roster and do not appear to have any ready to move up from the minor leagues by 2012 either.
Allen Craig – He started three consecutive games, one at each outfield spot, before Sunday night but realistically if Craig figures in the Cardinals’ 2012 plans it has to be as either the right fielder or first baseman. Whether those spots will be open or not remains to be seen.
Craig missed almost two months of the year with a broken knee, which makes the remaining time very important for him to show the Cardinals they can indeed count on him to be an effective offensive player. He turned 27 in July, meaning he is the same age as Jay and also can’t be looked at any more as a young player.
In the last two partial seasons in the majors, Craig has hit 10 homers and driven in 44 runs in 91 games while hitting .281. In three consecutive years in the minors he hit at least 22 home runs and drove in 80 or more runs, and he deserves the chance to see if he can produce those kinds of numbers in the major leagues.
Fernando Salas – Considering nobody expected Salas to be the team’s closer in 2011, he has done an admirable job, converting 22 of 26 save opportunities. His lack of experience in the job, however, leaves many wondering if the team should look elsewhere for a veteran closer for 2012.
One of the reasons some people question Salas in the role is the fact he has given up six homers in 58 innings. Only three current closers in the NL have allowed more –Huston Street(10), Leo Nunez (8) and Drew Storen (7) and each of those closers has 29 or more saves.
There has been some suggesting that even Jason Motte, who has performed so well this year in a setup role, merits a chance as the team’s closer and it would not be a stretch to see him get some opportunities in September on days Salas is not available.
Tyler Greene – After having seen Greene on a part-time basis the previous three years, it is time to make a decision on his future. With almost 1,000 career at-bats at Triple A, he has nothing left to prove at that level, and at age 28, can no longer block a younger player, such as Ryan Jackson, who is ready to move up from Double A.
Greene has a .337 average at Memphis this season, with 12 homers and 15 stolen bases, but has only a combined .213 average in a little more than 300 career games in the majors. He can play shortstop and second base, but has to prove that he can hit at the major league level or else be labeled as a 4A type of player.
The Chicago mess
It will be interesting to see who Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hires as the replacement for general manager Jim Hendry. Hendry’s dismissal can be tied to the poor performance of several players he signed to long-term lucrative contracts, including Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez – one of the reasons why a lot of people expect the Cubs to proceed very cautiously this winter on pursuing free agent Albert Pujols.
The hottest name in Chicago’s job search will probably be Andrew Friedman, currently the GM of the Tampa Bay Rays. Ricketts has said he wants someone with GM experience who combines old-scout scouting techniques and the new sabermetrics approach to the game, and Friedman has done an admirable job with the low-budget Rays. He also is likely to receive a job offer from the Houston Astros once that team’s new ownership is in place. Friedman grew up inHouston.
One person who wants the Cubs job is Rick Hahn, currently the assistant GM of the White Sox. Hahn is a Chicago native who grew up living and dying with the Cubs. Whether he has enough experience for Ricketts, or if Ricketts is unable to talk a higher-profile candidate into the job, remains to be seen.
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