Once the trade talk begins it's tough to put it back into the tube—players who were just plain old average last week, faces in the Baseball Tonight crowd, become targets the next. To Adrian Beltre, the Best Case Scenario, and Mark DeRosa, Mr. Too Sensible to Happen, I briefly add two more boring choices: Kevin Kouzmanoff and Joe Crede. I've never been more excited about dinged-up third basemen with OBP issues.
Kouzmanoff is one of those guys who might have peaked in the minor leagues—as a 24 year-old in the Cleveland system he split time between AA and AAA (the pitching friendlier International League) and hit a combined .379/.437/.656, setting Travis Hafner fans' hearts aflutter. After that 2006 season the Indians turned him into Josh Barfield, who proceeded to fall off the face of the earth after his broad-based rookie year, and the Padres prepared for a big rookie season—he was 25 and considered major league ready—that never came.
In 2007 and 2008 he was basically an average hitter, which is not an attractive proposition when playing in Petco Park, and in 2009 he's joined Adrian Beltre in struggling mightily. But he's just about average defensively—the Fielding Bible and UZR peg him within five runs on opposite sides—and haven't the Cardinals earned, at this point, a he's-leaving-Petco-behind move that succeeds? (Kouzmanoff's home/away split is .690/.783, for what it's worth; there's that Petco effect again, poised to disappoint.)
Provided that his awful start to 2009 is a slump, and not the early signs of a long-term battle with anxiety, Kouzmanoff is a perfect gap-plugger; he's average all the way around, and while he lacks Adrian Beltre's upside prospect watchers will not soon forget that he hit .333 and .379 over the course of two minor league seasons.
His vices and virtues aside, we do know that the Kouz is on the trading block; the Padres are at the part of their fire sale where they offer $2.99 gasoline for three years, having moved from entertaining offers about Peavy to salary-dumping Jody Gerut in about a month, and Kouzmanoff, vaguely average, hitting his prime right now, is best utilized as a complimentary piece on a much better team. As an added bonus, the Cardinals would be prying him right out of the hands of the Bear-Cubs, who[se local sportswriters] are looking to make him the Harry Steinfeldt portion of their Sad Lexicon.
Joe Crede is more directly the poor man's Adrian Beltre; he's nearly as virtuosic with the glove, and similarly frustrating with the bat. But where Beltre frustrates in his inability to smash another 48 home runs, and has reeled off a few above-average seasons since, Joe Crede's halcyon days involved an OBP of .323 and 150 games played. Since then he's missed lots of pitches and wide swaths of season, caused by a fundamental lack of plate discipline and serious back problems repaired surgically, respectively.
But right now Crede's a member of the Twins, who are still just a few games off the division pace and are probably too busy riding Joe Mauer's visit to Ted Williamsburg to sell off starters for whom they have no immediate replacement. That said, should they struggle he'll be a prime target—he's on a one year contract, and his gimpy back means that he's most valuable to a team that isn't counting on him for 2010.
Unless the Cardinals can lure one of these prospective candidates to San Francisco in time for the sleep-addling 9:15 start, though, the options are a little more pedestrian: Joe Thurston and Brian Barden, who, for all their troubles, are still fighting for league average OPSes. Thurston, in particular, confuses me—the wrap on him throughout his career, the one that cut off his tenure as the top prospect in the Dodgers organization, was that he had no secondary skills to go with his high batting average.
Now, two months into the season, he's hitting .246/.353/.404, which is more Jack Cust than Juan Pierre. In May he's gone Full Branyan, .217/.338/.400. He—or Oquendo—thinks too much of his speed on the basepaths, and he shouldn't be playing third base every day, or even every other day. But he's earned his spot on the 25-man roster. May's been less charitable for Barden, who's down to .130/.200/.239 and who has actually played more this month than last, in spite of that stretch where he was the bench's invisible answer to Brad Thompson.
Meanwhile, that off day meant that we had plenty of time to prepare for Ludwick Day, the feast day on our holy calendar that marks the beginning of a period in which Albert Pujols is not intentionally walked twice a day. And with what did the P-D mark this occasion? Palm fronds? Candles? How about a momentary speculation about the end of Khalil Greene speculation?
The club remained in what one club official called a "fact-gathering" mode Thursday regarding the issues confronting shortstop Khalil Greene and possible responses to those issues. Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa likely will discuss how to proceed tonight. Greene is struggling with an anxiety-related condition that increasingly weighs on his on-field performance. After projecting consecutive starts for the club's most significant off-season acquisition, La Russa reconsidered Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers and instead met with his player at length after leaving him out of the lineup.
I can't wait for some kind of resolution, however preliminary it may be, because at this point Khalil Greene's presence on the roster is impossible to analyze. Either the anxiety problems don't weigh on his performance, and have been extrapolated too readily from unclear wording in newspaper articles, or he's just not ready to play; even if it's something in between his presence on the roster doesn't make much sense until we know what the Cardinals know.
If nothing else, I hope that tomorrow, or in the next few days, we move from this state of total uncertainty. Pragmatically it's important because the Cardinals have hamstrung their bench already, with a sore outfielder and a long reliever. But really I just want to know that Khalil and the Cardinals have a plan to deal with a problem that's most frightening in its vagueness.