Allen Craig I'd like to convince other people about, and P.J. Walters I'm still not convinced about, but regardless of expected future performance I feel good whenever a purported AAAA guy makes good in the Major Leagues. (After wondering briefly whether this was consistent with my avowed distaste for Matt Pagnozzi I would like to remind any possible interlocutors that there's no evidence Pagz Lite is a AA player.)
Craig still looks like a possible tweener; he's not Chris Duncan in the outfield, but he's clearly uncomfortable there, and his awkward movements lack of the weird football-grace of Matt Holliday's awkward movements. But he's become less of a tweener with each passing season, thanks to his career years at Memphis. MLEs remain unimpressed; the Davenport Translations at Baseball Prospectus give him a .272/.326/.430 line at the Major League level, while Minor League Splits suggests .272/.327/.442.
But Craig has been excellent at every level, and he'd be seventh in the PCL in OPS if he had the at-bats. (I see the Royals have finally freed Kila Ka'aihue. How many AAA pitchers had to die first? While we're at it, remember that year where Calvin Pickering turned into Babe Ruth?) Craig's good enough that the Cardinals would be well-served to see whether he really is a tweener, instead of trying to guess at it.
Of course, it's hard for a team like the Cardinals to go into the 2011 season with two potential tweeners in right field, even in some kind of ideal tweener platoon, as much fun as I would have with it in Baseball Mogul, which is probably why John Mozeliak made the first move of the Hot Stove League by suggesting the Cardinals were after "two 15 to 20 homer guys." Here's hoping Mozeliak just forgot to signal that he's all about positional scarcity, too, because that sounds a lot like Allen Craig, to me.
The available 15-to-20 homer guys in free agency seem like slim pickings, unless you'd like the Cardinals to try the Adrian Beltre thing again at four times the asking price. The Cardinals are weak and cheap at second and short, and shaky and cheap at third, and none of these positions are particularly easy to fill with guys who hit home runs and also do other things, which is why Jorge Cantu and Ty Wigginton have such high hot-stove-interest:WAR ratios.
If they're looking for a guy who hits pretty well and plays bad defense—well, that's what Skip Schumaker was in 2009. If they're looking for a guy who hits poorly and plays great defense—well, that's what Brendan Ryan is doing right now. This is a difficult team to upgrade; it seems like everybody's about one win above replacement, below average but no longer low-hanging fruit.
For the second year in a row the Cardinals got awful production at third base, but this year they did everything right; they gave David Freese the job and signed Felipe Lopez as a backup plan so good that it was unsure whether Freese deserved the job at all. What could possibly go wrong?
Unless they're doing the homering at second or short, AAAA players and 20 home run guys seem to be doing the same thing; they involve minimal financial investment, offer limited upside, and still carry the risk of falling below that low threshold of production. As Schumaker proved this year, average players aren't any less likely to fall off than good players, and there's less room to fall.
I don't see any avenues for upgrade as clear as the ones after 2009 felt. Maybe that's not a bad thing, given the results.