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Middle infield follow up

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First of all I want to add a couple of addenda to yesterday’s post about middle infielders. While I feel pretty strongly that an addition at shortstop will add more value to the team than an addition to second base will, I completely ignored many Cards’ fans’ favorite at the keystone – Orlando Hudson. I’d be derelict in covering the middle infield situation w/o explaining why. There are three reasons:

First, Hudson will be 31 when next season begins. He’s not getting any younger. It’s not that big a deal since Furcal will also be 31 next year. Second, he’s been injured each of the last 2 seasons – playing only 109 games this season following surgery on his wrist. His 2007 injury was for a torn ligament in his thumb. Most importantly, however, he was a -4 in fielding +/- this season. He has a reputation of being an outstanding fielder – well-deserved considering the fact that he finished #5 and #3 among second basemen in the previous 2 seasons. However, considering the fact that there was a precipitous drop in his defensive play this season – the year he turned 30, it makes me wonder how much value he’ll really have in the next 3 seasons. Add all that together, and is he really a $25 or $30 M improvement over Aaron Miles – particularly when it would likely preclude a similar improvement at shortstop, in the rotation, or in the pen?

I casually mentioned the possibility of trading for one of the Angels’ shortstop prospects. Brandon Wood has been one of the top prospects in baseball, and now appears to be blocked by Erick Aybar. Or would the Angels rather trade Aybar to promote Wood? And what about Sean Rodriguez, who actually may have passed Wood as a prospect? The problem is that both Wood and Rodriguez have serious plate discipline issues – issues that may preclude either from becoming solid major-league players. As a major leaguer this year, Wood had 4 BBs to 43 Ks. Yuck! It doesn’t get much worse than that. In his career as a minor leaguer, he has 2.66 Ks for every walk. At least he has very good power for a middle infielder. Still, we may be looking at a guy who’ll have a career OBP in the .300 to .320 range. Is he the guy we want?

Rodriguez had 14 BBs to 53 Ks this season w/ the Angels. For his minor league career, he’s averaged 1.85 Ks for every walk, has less power than Wood, and he may truly be a second baseman, rather than a shortstop. Aybar may actually be the worst hitter of them all – 14 BBs to 45 Ks this year and he has little power, less than the other 2. But Aybar is a very good defensive player – registering a +7, tied for 9th in the big leagues in about 60% of the season. I still see Zobrist as better than any of them but think that the Angels would trade at least 1 if they got the right deal – and it wouldn’t cost Rasmus.

The other 2B options I didn’t address included Jarrett Hoffpauir – a guy who, I once likened to a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia. Now, I’ll admit that he didn’t do much to live up to Pedroia, but he did walk more than he struck out and he had a 27.6% extra base hit rate. I think he still has a chance, but he’s not a top prospect. It doesn’t help that Tony, allegedly, doesn’t like his defense.

Another option, potentially, is Brian Barden. He’s played most of his minor league career as a third sacker and has a very good defensive reputation. He played a lot of SS at Memphis this year and for the Olympic team. There’s a pretty good chance he could handle 2nd. The thing that triggered the idea of using Barden at 2nd, or at least giving him a shot in the spring to win the job, is the success that Blake DeWitt of the Dodgers has had making this transition. DeWitt came up as a 3B and moved to 2B when the Dodgers traded for Casey Blake. He’s become a solid defensive 2B, or at least appears to be solid in the admittedly limited time I’ve had to view him, and his offense seems to be more suited to 2nd as well. He didn’t really hit enough to stick at third. That’s been one of the knocks on Barden as well.

I’ll preface this by saying that Barden is 3 ½ years older than DeWitt. He’s not young, for a prospect. He’ll turn 28 as the season starts next year. But if you compare his minor league numbers to DeWitt’s, they’re very similar. DeWitt’s career minor league slash lines were .280/.333/.446. Barden’s are .294/.349/.445. Barden appears to have slightly less power – less of a problem at the keystone than at the hot corner – but a similar ability to get on base. They both have about a 7% walk rate in the minors. His minor league translations from BP aren’t as good as DeWitt’s – probably b/c of the age difference – DeWitt has yet to peak and Barden’s probably in his peak years. But what do we have to lose by giving him and Hoffpauir a shot?

If they fail, we have Miles, who is adequate. I’m not sure I see the need to bring in Lopez who is, potentially, a better offensive player (although potentially much worse as well, to which the Nationals can attest) but who also is likely to give back most of his offensive gains through his horrendous defense. Can’t one of Barden, Hoffpauir, and Miles serve as our utility infielder if they can’t make it as a starter? Hoffpauir probably can’t play short, but we could use Miles as the backup SS and go w/ Hoffpauir at 2B. I know, Miles isn’t good at SS (though his +/- this year at SS was pretty good) but again, he’s probably better than Lopez. I’m resigned to the fact that they’ll bring Lopez back but I really don’t see the need. It will be a colossal error if Mozeliak gives Lopez more than 1 guaranteed year.

Goold, at the p-d, dealt w/ the Furcal issue a couple days ago. He’s definitely an upgrade, if he’s healthy, and b/c he’s a free agent, wouldn’t require the bounty that Tulowitzki would. Still, the more I watch the Rays the more I think Skip could get us Zobrist. Maybe Skip’s not that much better than Gabe Gross against righties (.822 career OPS vs. .786) but a platoon of Skip and Rocco Baldelli sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? They get some improvement in their lineup and on defense for a utility IF (for them) – a guy who doesn’t figure to ever be their starting SS. We get a good young SS for the next 5 years and we open up a spot for Rasmus. They’d have to consider it, wouldn’t they? Unless their playoff run makes them feel like they need to add more power than Skip would provide.

As I was watching the Rays even the series last night at 12:30 this morning, it occurred to me that there may be another option at SS – Julio Lugo. Let’s see, he’ll be 33 in a month, is owed $9 M in 2009, and $9 M in 2010. He had an OPS+ of 80 this year and his fielding +/- was -2. He "slugged" a whopping .330. Ok, never mind!

A lot of Cards had breakthrough seasons this year, and some others began to establish themselves as legitimate major leaguers. If nothing else, it give Mo a lot of options in terms of improving the middle infield situation. Maybe Furcal’s the best option. But, if he is, he’s the best option for several teams – not just us and losing him to another bidder wouldn’t necessarily make our DeWitt "cheap" – though that’s how many Cards’ fans will portray him. We need a plan B.