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Monday Morning Pinch Hitter

(LB may be in later with some more notes but I thought I'd go ahead and kick the morning off.)

[LB responds: thanks for getting up some notes AZ. i've got the day off --- am in portland for a family affair. RB may be along later w/ a post; i'll be on duty tues through thurs this week.]

The outfield has been, to a large extent, a strength for the Cardinals this season. Ryan Ludwick continues to mash the ball to the tune of .976 OPS although in June he’s hitting just .765 OPS. He’s caught the team’s allergy to walks largely. Ankiel isn’t quite the offensive powerhouse he was to start the year but his defense in CF is more than good enough to keep him afloat. Skip Schumaker, for all my skepticism, is getting on base at a .360 clip. For all those positives, the outfield is starting to show a few cracks. Chris Duncan is an obvious and continued source of concern. That’s been talked about a great deal and I’m not sure I have anything to add there.

Perhaps the most disappointing, however, is Brian Barton and his .671 OPS. Given how little LaRussa seems to trust his defense, and the plethora of nearly ready outfielders in the minors (Joe Mather, Nick Stavinoha, Colby Rasmus, Shane Robinson, Jon Jay) I’m starting to question if it isn’t time to cut bait with Barton. It’s not that he doesn’t still have potential, although at 26 one has to wonder how much growth is left, but it’s more along the lines that one of those outfielders – probably one of Mather, Stavinoha or Rasmus – could be a tangible and immediate upgrade to the team.

Mather strikes me as the best option. He’s already been up this year, he plays good corner outfield defense and he’s a right handed hitter. I’d take Rasmus next mainly because he’s left-handed and not on the 40-man roster yet (he also needs to be an everyday player once he comes up). I’m really pleased for Stavinoha who got his first major league hit yesterday but I’m not a believer in his bat and he’s a stiff in the outfield.

Giving up on Barton now means sending him back to Cleveland. They probably won’t make a trade for him and I’m less inclined to believe he offers something unique over our own minor leaguers than I was at the beginning of the year. I’m loathe to just give a player back to another organization but maybe it’s time to do so. If the team is determined to keep a bunch of slap hitting middle infielders on the bench, then, if nothing else, swapping out Barton for a different outfielder has the potential to provide a better bat for pinch hitting opportunities (Adam Kennedy’s recent heroics aside). It may hurt in the long run but the team’s contending now and I’m sure they’re considering every possible upgrade – even those of addition by subtraction.