Life after the St. Louis Cardinals' Astros Implants

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals is positively radiant after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win Game Seven of the MLB World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On Tuesday I talked about how the Cardinals have built out their post-Pujols squad with veterans available on short-term deals, and in general I'm very excited about it; they've risked nothing more than the chance to sign Prince Fielder, and they've gained a team that looks ready to weather the worst year or two of the post-Albert-Pujols lull. They can do this, in part, because they were already prepared to spend $25 million on a thirtysomething with visible health problems; spending $30 million, instead, on Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, and maybe Roy Oswalt is no particular risk by comparison.

But they'e also able to put themselves in this position because they have prospects to turn to after these players go back onto the market, another year or two older. Right now, this is what the Cardinals look like behind their Astros implants.

Lance Berkman—$12 million through 2012

Poor Allen Craig—apparently hitting .315/.362/.555 in 200 at-bats in the regular season and double-Pujolsing Alexi Ogando wasn't enough to guarantee him a full season in 2012, even though the starting right fielder was 35 and the starting first baseman is gone. He's clearly the first in line at first and in right, and given Berkman's huge career platoon split (1.009 against righties, .778 against lefties) and the likelihood of ex-Astro injury and positional jiggery-pokery he should significantly improve on his 2011 playing time regardless.

Or—second base. Someone tell Mike Matheny this isn't just a meme.

Past Craig there's Mark Hamilton, who should be sent to a nice farm somewhere where there aren't fifty other adequate first baseman on the depth chart ahead of and directly behind him, and Matt Adams, who will have to give us some reason to expect an above-average on-base percentage before he figures in the Cardinals' long-term plans as something more than a hedge against disaster. (Last year MLB first basemen hit .271/.345/.452, even in the Year of the Year of the Pitcher Story.)

Behind Adams is not very much—Jonathan Rodriguez put up a nice .251/.389/.472 line for the Midwest League at 21 and has a nice chance to be this year's Matt Adams, especially if he can get his strikeouts under control—which means the rest of the depth chart at first base is repurposed third basemen; it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Matt Carpenter or even Zack Cox get some at-bats there, if someone spends some time on the disabled list.

Rafael Furcal—$14 million through 2013

Pete Kozma's failure to thrive has done terrible things to the Cardinals' infield depth, which still looks a little peaked with Rafael Furcal standing on top of it. Tyler Greene is not quite so impressive in the Allen Craig role, but he's likely to see even more playing time in it, because Furcal and Daniel Descalso are not exactly brick walls at second and short.

Behind him things don't get any more impressive. Ryan Jackson hasn't proven he can't hit, yet, but .278/.334/.415 in the Texas League doesn't tell me much about what he can do, either; I'm still not convinced he's more than a replacement-level hitter at shortstop, and until we know what kind of great defense his great defense is he's hard to rely on.

Past that there's only Kolten Wong, who had a great half-season in the Midwest League and remains the Cardinals' best chance at a stable middle infielder by the time Furcal is gone.

Carlos Beltran—$26 million through 2013

Well, Allen Craig can only stand at one of these positions full-time; if Matt Adams impresses it's likely to be here, which would be excellent news for a Cardinals system that's lacked a really exciting bat since Colby Rasmus graduated.

Charlie Tilson and the 10 to 15 other speedy center fielders the Cardinals drafted last year are the nearest internal options, besides hoping that Thomas Pham will someday be able to play more than 50 games in a season; the Cardinals' outfield corners in the high minors were dotted, last year, with speedy non-hitters like Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson, non-prospects of all ages, and the kind of prospect that can be traded straight-up for Rafael Furcal. (Speaking of which, after his .322/.406/.603 month with Los Angeles's AA affiliate, Alex Castellanos is still stuck with a .239/.292/.389 ZiPS projection.)

It all makes me wish the Cardinals had managed to sign Kyle Russell, who at 25 hit .259/.342/.497 on that same Dodgers affiliate last year with 144 strikeouts in 394 at-bats. He's turned himself into Outfield Tyler Greene, combining nice speed and defense and enormous power with strikeouts in 32% of his plate appearances. It would be a fun sideshow, if not worth all the money he wanted out of that fourth-round pick back in the Kozma Draft.

Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, and Maybe Roy Oswalt

The Cardinals' rotation is already really expensive right now, with or without Oswalt—they're due, right now, to spend $43 million on it, with the last $12 million year of Lohse the biggest expense. Luckily for the Cardinals, Lohse and Westbrook's production could be replaced for less money even if the Cardinals didn't have several top starting prospects on their way through the system.

Shelby Miller, 21 and putting up excellent AA numbers, is going to be difficult to keep in the minor leagues for a full season, and I doubt the Cardinals manage the trick. He's probably the Cardinals' fourth best pitcher right now. Behind him there's a firewall of pitchers who are probably better than replacement level as starters—Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski—and behind them are Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins, who remain a few years away.

The Cardinals will have a lot of money coming off the rotation's books next year—even more if they outbid the Rangers for Oswalt's underpriced services—but thanks both to the weird collapse in veteran starter value and their increased rotation depth it looks like a lot of it won't need to be reinvested. Of course, if Adam Wainwright comes back looking like he never left a lot of that will be tied up in long-term contract questions.

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