beyond beltran and berkman

happy 2012, one and all. i’m your designated danup today. good position for a geezer like me -- way too old and slow to be trusted afield, but can pick up a few stray ABs now and again without hurting the team.

so let’s get right down to it. i’m impressed w/ the cardinals’ rapid patch-up job after pujols’ departure. by signing furcal and beltran, they gave themselves a good chance to stay competitive in the short run, while avoiding deadweight obligations that will hurt them in the medium and long term. the latter are what i’ve been thinking about lately -- the 2014 season and beyond, when the expiration dates (literally and figuratively) will have passed on beltran, berkman, furcal, and chris carpenter. molina may be gone by then as well -- and if he’s still here, he’ll be entering an age range at which (as tom s documented last week) catchers are susceptible to sharp drops in value. it’s safe to say that after 2014 the cardinals will need help at catcher regardless of whether yadi’s still on the team.

that’s a whole lot of lost value they’ll have to replace in the not-too-distant future, and the organization is not likely to do it solely with internal resources. here’s the projected depth chart heading into the 2014 season, based on players who are currently under control through that year (2014 age in parens):

1b matt adams (25) mark hamilton (29) andrew brown (29)
2b dan descalso (27) kolten wong (23) greg garcia (24)
3b david freese (31) zack cox (25) matt carpenter (28)
ss tyler greene (30) ryan jackson (26) pete kozma (26)
lf matt holliday (34)
cf jon jay (29) adron chambers (27) tommy pham (26)
rf allen craig (29) andrew brown (29) oscar taveras (22)
c bryan anderson (27) tony cruz (27) robert stock (24)

plenty of quibbles you could make w/ my selections if you wanted. maybe cody stanley or audry perez or even steve hill (who will be 29 by 2014) should be the 3d catcher; you could make a case that mark hamilton belongs ahead of adams at 1b, or that wong should leapfrog descalso at 2b, or that matt carpenter is likelier to see playing time in rf than andrew brown. all legitimate arguments, but they don’t alter the basic picture: entering 2014, the cards will likely have more holes to fill than resources with which to fill them. the core of the offense by then projects to be craig, freese, and 34-year-old matt holliday. they're good players, but they hardly constitute an mv3 nucleus.

of course, a lot can change in two years.

maybe matt adams will have established himself as a solid starter at 1b by then -- maybe he’ll tear it up at memphis this year and take over for berkman in 2013. or maybe zack cox will take charge at third base, with freese shifting across the diamond to replace berkman at 1b. perhaps carpenter (like craig before him) will move off 3b to become a right fielder, with craig shifting to 1b. either jay or descalso (or both) might evolve into a reliable .800 OPSer by 2014. i bet some of you are even secretly hoping that taveras pulls a pujols and jumps from class A straight to the majors as a sure-thing .400 woba hitter. maybe maybe maybe maybe. . . . . but probably not. while there’s a plausible chance that any of these lovely scenarios (except the last one) may come to pass, an equal or better chance exists that matt holliday will age more quickly than we’d like, or freese’s ankles will splinter, or allen craig's weaknesses will get exposed as a full-time player, rendering a thin offense even thinner by 2014.

this isn’t meant as a criticism of the cards’ decision-making this off-season; it’s just a reminder that a ton of work remains to be done, and fairly soon. what are the cards’ options? it seems as if the biggest needs are at catcher, short, and center field. freese, holliday, and craig account for three of the corner positions, and the fourth is covered if just one of adams, cox, carpenter, or taveras is able to stick; that seems like a reasonable bet. i’m willing to entrust 2b to descalso / wong beyond 2014. so we’re looking for up-the-middle players who can hit, and who will be available within the next couple of years. anybody out there who fits the profile?

bj upton is just about a perfect match. he’ll be a free agent after the 2012 season, heading into his age-28 year. he’s reliably a 3-win player and has the talent to surpass that. it will require upwards of $100 million to sign him, but the cards will have the money. one drawback is that upton bats right-handed -- and we’re adding him to a lineup whose presumed holdover anchors (holliday, craig, freese) are all righties.

curtis granderson becomes a free agent after the 2013 season, or sooner in the unlikely event the yankees decline their option on him after 2012. he’ll be 33 years old entering 2014 but appears to have quite a bit of good baseball left in him. he plays good defense in cf, bats left -- bingo.

brian mccann is scheduled to hit the FA market after the 2013 season at age 30. he’s a consistently productive left-handed hitting catcher; scarce commodity. would fit right in.

stephen drew reaches free agency after the 2013 season, and possibly sooner if the dbacks decline their option on him after this year. the cards have long liked this player; he will be 31 years old in 2014. is inconsistent but would still be the cards’ best-hitting ss since edgar renteria.

shane victorino becomes available as a free agent after this year, heading into his age-32 season. he got a late start on his career, but he’s been at a very high level for four years; plays cf, switch hits, is very durable.

adam jones was dangled in trade this winter and will be a free agent after the 2013 season, heading into his age-28 year. he hasn’t developed the way the orioles hoped, but he’s still young and has upside and could be an attractive buy for that reason.

grady sizemore will play 2012 on a one-year make-good deal, then hit the free-agent market again this fall at just 29 years of age. he was a consistent 5- or 6-win player not too long ago, before injuries slowed him down. he’s not likely to get back to that level again, but i can imagine him getting back to the 3 WAR level; he bats left and plays centerfield. could be a fit.

jhonny peralta will be a free agent after 2013, heading into his age-32 year. he has an inconsistent bat, and may not be able to play ss full-time by then. still worth paying attn to.

colby rasmus will be a free agent after the 2014 season, heading into his age 28 year . . . . .

beyond the free agent market, the cards also will have a golden opportunity to trade for an impact player within the next two years, dealing from their surplus of cost-controlled pitchers. i wouldn’t want shelby miller to be traded, but i’d be amenable to dealing almost anyone else (in exchange for the right player, of course) from a rotation stable that includes carlos martinez, tyrell jenkins, lance lynn, trevor rosenthal, and joe kelly. a package of one or two of those guys, plus maybe zack cox or matt adams or makiel cleto or jordan swagerty, should be able to bring back a pretty damn good player.

that exhausts my inventory of half-baked ideas. look forward to reading yours in the comments section.

a quick aside before i go -- i know there are a number of people in this community who have troves of photos they have taken of cardinal players. if anyone’s willing to share, pls contact me (vivaelbirdos AT yahoo); i may have need of some pixs for a project i’m working on.

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