A completely unconsidered guide to generalizing about the St. Louis Cardinals' offseason

Rob Carr

Building a base to speculate wildly from on top of.

Yesterday Tom kicked off the Hot Stove League season by offering you information; this afternoon I'm here with a simple reminder: Your Hot Stove League enjoyment is tied directly to your ability to extrapolate newer, more dramatic scenarios from the Cardinals' existing problems. So let's start with those problems.

Shortstop

In 2011, Pete Kozma's Memphis OPS was .569. In 2012, his major league slugging percentage was .569. In 2013, his major league OPS was .548. In spite of all that, by the end of the season I was rooting for Mike Matheny to put him in every chance he got; that's how unready Daniel Descalso was at shortstop.

Kozma is exactly the player he looked like last year: A replacement-level shortstop shaped like really bad hitter and a pretty good defender. The Cardinals had their reasons, I'm sure, but based on the information we have it's hard to be sure they were even the best shortstop platoon in the organization; Ryan Jackson's not-at-all-impressive .352 OBP and .698 OPS were better than anything Kozma's ever done in the minors, and Greg Garcia escaped an awful start to finish at .271/.377/.384, which is above the PCL's 2000-vintage league average.

If the Cardinals are as convinced he can play shortstop next February as they were this February, that makes Garcia a very awkward prospect to have around; he's good enough that he could start, but questionable enough that it's hard to see a team already bitten by Pete Kozma signing on to a year of him in advance.

He's left-handed, though, so if your idea of Hot Stove League fantasy is thinking about Baseball Mogul platoons I'm not going to disabuse you. Noted Free Agent Brendan Ryan is a career .249/.315/.325 hitter against lefties, in case your Baseball Reference window hasn't opened yet.

Second/Third Base

100 years ago, second base got all the stocky hitters and third—where the bunts went—the lithe acrobats. This is just one of the facts you'll find in my upcoming book, Matt Carpenter Is 127 Years Old. Carpenter's success, combined with David Freese's nine home runs and apparent lack of mobility at third, has given the Cardinals their weirdest internal decision of the offseason: Do you move the guy who was just (inexplicably) one of the best second basemen in baseball to make room for the prospect who was always a second baseman?

Heading into his age-31 season—and still arbitration eligible—Freese's best days are probably behind him, but so are his worst, at least for a couple of years; -0.3 rWAR is a long way to fall not to bounce a little at the bottom. Freese's price tag and recent history of above-average performance gives him value, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cardinals hang onto him (at least for a while) and enact the ersatz platoon they looked to be considering when they called Kolten Wong up in the first place.

Right Field

Not a problem so much as a conundrum: Everyone loves Carlos Beltran, and everyone also has the nagging feeling that he'd be one corner bat too many, even on a team that's shown a predilection toward piling up fragile hitters like middle relievers and seeing what sticks.

Because of Oscar Taveras's lost year, the situation the Cardinals find themselves in looks a lot like the one we began last year not-really-worrying about; Matt Adams and Matt Holliday exceeded expectations, but Allen Craig's scary lack of mobility at the end of the season probably makes that a wash. The real key here, I think, is that Beltran's two years older and in line for a raise anyway; he just played too well for a team that would be counting on him for 400 at-bats.

Center Field

Jon Jay's outfield defense sold very few jerseys in the postseason, and his drop-off in offense tracked with Freese's for most of the season, but I think the chatter around upgrading in center has something to do with how much Jay looks like a fourth outfielder in the first place. He's got an ugly, exploitable platoon split (.689 vs. LHP), none of his skills demand your attention, and the .348 BAbip he carried through his first three seasons was always in doubt.

But falling off on offense and taking a seven (FanGraphs) or 10-run (B-R) hit on defense still left Jay flirting with average; a career-high walk rate and his sudden decision to compete for the HBP title every year have given his batting average and his on-base percentage a little breathing room.

If the Cardinals have a particular target in mind an upgrade's plausible, but these are among the most expensive wins that are on the table this offseason.

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