It's August, and college campuses are filling up with stressed-out freshmen tired of years of decadence, man, and that means one thing: I'm going to be approached by several hundred people asking me if I'm familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, then I'm going to say, "Only from that Ben Folds Five song, 'Kate'," and they're going to say, "Oh, that's what he's saying? I always thought it was 'Bong of Evita,' for some reason," and I'm going to say, "Yeah, it's really you guys's thing, that's not racist because you're white and she was probably white, if I had to guess, which also isn't racist," and they'll say, "Aren't you like a year or two too young to have been influenced by Whatever and Ever Amen, at least on the first time around?" and I'll say "Yes, yes I am," and I don't have time for all that.
The St. Louis Cardinals do, though. They've got a rough home situation, and everything they know has been turned upside down, and Mom and Dad are fighting just about all the time. And they were never a big fan of this whole Go-Go-Win-Now western philosophy, anyway. And their first Ben Folds CD was Rockin the Suburbs, so this all happened very quickly.
So let's say that on September 1, after reading the Wikipedia entry, the Cardinals drop out of the NL Central race, sell all their veteran-free-agent-possessions, and become members of the Hare Krishna movement. Here's what the team will look like while it's handing out pamphlets around Speakers' Circle.
C: Bryan Anderson / Tony Cruz. Yadier Molina is not an especially decadent free agent, and unfortunately the Cardinals' options at the position are a little on the ascetic side. Anderson is a AAA-average hitter, but his defense gets terrible reviews; Tony Cruz is not a AAA-average hitter, but Tony La Russa loves him. The end result is a platoon that maybe-average on offense and bad on defense on one side, and bad on offense and maybe-above-average on defense on the other.
A very strict Anderson/Cruz platoon, with Cruz sitting in for Anderson when Tony La Russa is feeling especially defensive, would definitely be cheap, and it would definitely not be worth dumping that $7 million option on Molina, who's been worth 2.4 bWAR to date. That's all I can say about it, definitively.
Memphis would very quickly announce a Charles Cutler bobblehead day.
1B: Mark Hamilton / Matt Adams. Throw Mark Hamilton's three half-seasons at AAA into ye olde MLE-ometer and you get .273/.341/.440 (in what I'd imagine is the old Major League environment), which sounds about right for a guy who's dominated AAA but totally failed to make a Major League foothold. Another above-replacement-level/below-average type, Hamilton's doubles power and patient, underwhelming bat would just be keeping first base warm for Matt Adams, who has caused a minor Civil War over at Future Redbirds.
Down from his absurd spring numbers, Adams is still hitting .313/.371/.589 in AA Springfield as a 22-year-old. His age, his league, and his numbers—he's got 23 doubles and 31 home runs, if you like counting stats, and only 40 walks, if you like to hate counting stats—are exactly where they need to be to spawn equal numbers of naysayers and All-Star-Game-predictors. He's a bad-bodied late-round slugger who can only play first base, too, if you'd like to pile on some more objects of contention.
The righty platoon bat situation is less than ideal down in Memphis. Steven Hill, who could also be La Russa's third catcher, broke his foot soon after finally earning a AAA call-up. Allen Craig will be busy, let me tell you. Andrew Brown, still hitting .293/.390/.515 in Memphis after his brief call-up, is probably your best shot.
2B: Daniel Descalso In Memphis, Freddie Bynum and Pete Kozma are your starting second basemen. In Springfield it's been Jose Garcia, whose .317/.376/.409 line between there and Memphis is the first OPS of his career over .700. The Cardinals' best minor league second baseman might already be Kolten Wong, though I still can't believe the former Top Yankee Prospect Eva has reemerged as an old-for-his-league slugging utility guy in AA Springfield.
Luckily the Cardinals have Daniel Descalso, who's put together an exceedingly average rookie season. For reserves the Cardinals can either lean too heavily on Kozma, which they'll have to do anyway, or be extra-creative with their glut of interesting-bat-third-basemen and throw Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter in there. Speaking of which:
3B: David Freese. The Cardinals just finished throwing out their flat-panel TV and their PS3 and their computer only to learn that they somehow own two really nice canteens. Freese isn't arbitration-eligible until 2013, but since he's just played a career-high 75 games we can probably bank on seeing Matt Carpenter and Zack Cox at some point anyway. Of course, whichever one of them runs fastest is hereby cordially invited to play left field.
SS: Tyler Greene. I'm beginning to think that this thought experiment is the only way we would actually see a full season of Tyler Greene at shortstop. You remember Tyler Greene: He's the one who doesn't hit, and then he hits, and then he doesn't hit. Thanks to some of Descalso's best work the Cardinals shortstops this year haven't hit terribly—their line is .257/.317/.331, an sOPS+ of 90.
But with more than half the team's defensive innings coming from Ryan Theriot I don't think it's a stretch to say that shortstop would probably be the only place the Krishnardinals would have a clear upgrade over their 2011 performance by throwing off their earthly desires.
LF: Replacement Level Free Space. Take your pick: You could throw Adron Chambers or Daryl Jones here and hope for the occasional walk, some good baserunning, and a nice bump on defense from not throwing the guy with the .975 OPS out in right field; you could throw Matt Carpenter or David Freese out there and hope for a few more walks and less of a defensive bump; you could go with Andrew Brown or, gob forbid, Nick Stavinoha, who is having a counting-stats season for the ages in Memphis, where I hope he becomes player-coach or something equally cool.
The Cardinals' nearest outfielder with star potential is either on the disabled list or 19-years-old and hitting .380 in the Midwest League, depending on what you think of Tommy Pham.
RF: Allen Craig, when he's not penciled in at every other position in this lineup, will play here. He will hit all of this team's home runs and most of its doubles.
This is an awful team, as you might expect. But while some of Jeff Luhnow's first round picks have mystified me I can't fault the way he's stocked this team with replacement players who are somewhat likely to outperform replacement level. The pitching staff:
1. Marc Rzepczynski. The inefficient-lefty-ace spot took a big hit when Jaime Garcia signed that multiyear contract. Rzepczynski might not be a starter long-term, but nothing in his Major League career to date suggests that. With the real-life rotation glutted by Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse I'm worried the Cardinals will fail to get the most out of the last interesting piece of their Rasmus bounty; in this scenario, they have no choice.
2. Lance Lynn. Lynn looked great as a Major League reliever and he looks ready as a minor league starter. He's not a future star, but he's competent.
3. Shelby Miller. The free-agent-free Cardinals have little choice but to throw their superprospect into the rotation. Even after his little swoon Miller's struck out 80 and walked 31 in 79 Texas League innings, which is no small feat. He won't be ready immediately in 2012, but I don't think it'll take long.
4. Maikel Cleto. I've watched all his appearances and followed him start-by-start and I still have no idea what to make of Maikel Cleto, who's managed regardless to push himself back into prospect-land after serving as the hard-throwing ballast in the Brendan Ryan dump. Here's what I know:
- He has one of the best fastballs I've seen all year.
- His peripherals in high-A and AA were great, nearly 10 strikeouts per nine and a 3:1 K:BB.
- He's struggled some in AAA, but he's 22.
I don't know whether the Cardinals think of him as a starter or not, but he's a big guy and he's come this far—no reason to push him into the bullpen just yet.
5. Brandon Dickson. Your starter in the Cardinals' penultimate most-important-series of the season! Dickson looked surprisingly sharp during his brief Major League stint, but his great season in Memphis looks like a case of the Yusmeiro Petits to me.
Okay, that I'm fine with.