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Don't Know What You Got

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I may just be falling for Joe Mather. Look, it's not a big deal or anything, I just wanted to get that out of the way. I mean, it's not like I literally love him or anything. It's just that every time he goes up to the plate, I get this weird, fluttering feeling in my stomach and-

Wow. Sorry, everybody. I think I must have blacked out there for a second. What do you say we move on to safer, less disturbing topics?

I have to admit, even though I've been firmly in the don't-trade-away-your-prospects-for-veteran-rental-talent camp, I was a little disappointed when the trade deadline passed without the Cardinals obtaining at least some sort of assistance for the relief corps. Then, of course, you look at the price that a guy like Brian Fuentes was likely going to command, and there's no getting around the fact that it just wasn't worth it.

What I find interesting is just how many people are up in arms over the Cards' failure to add an impact bat. All I keep hearing (not around here so much, but over at the P-D boards and on sports radio, etc.), from a lot of fans is how the Cardinals needed to get some protection for Albert. Even ignoring how fuzzy a concept 'lineup protection' is, and the fact that there simply aren't any hitters more intimidating than Albert anyway, this particular line of thinking is very puzzling to me.

We all know that there weren't any run producing middle infielders on the market. Thus, any offensive upgrade would likely have had to come in the outfield. The thing is, when you look at most of the outfielders being considered, they were almost all right handed hitting corner outfielders. What that means, of course, is that the player who most likely would have had his playing time most affected by any new acquisition would have been Ryan Ludwick. With that in mind, I wanted to look at some of the numbers, just to try and get an idea of how much of an upgrade replacing Luddy with one of the so called big bats on the market would truly represent. Now, I do realise that it's also possible you could have replaced Skip Schumaker instead of Ludwick, but with Schumaker's proclivity for hitting righthanded pitching and his defensive aptitude, you're going to see Schumaker quite a bit no matter what. So even if you were to try and replace Schu rather than Ludwick, you would then most likely see Skip replacing Ludwick several times a week. Either way, I think Ludwick would have ended up being the one to have his playing time cut if the Cards had brought in another outfielder.

First off, here's Ludwick's line for the season:

PA H   BB  HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
409 107 43 25 .303 .381 .598 .979

Not too shabby, eh? Above average defense in either outfield corner, an OPS near 1.000, and all of that for a little over four hundred thousand dollars. Ludwick may be the biggest bargain in all of baseball this season.

Okay. Now let's look at some of the biggest names on the trade market this year, and see just how much of an upgrade they would really have represented.

I heard some rumblings here and there on Thursday that maybe the Cardinals should go out and get Manny Ramirez. Never mind the fact that he beats up senior team employees and occasionally just has to take a call during the game, Manny's one of the all time greats with a bat in his hands, right? Well, yes, he is. He also happens to be one of the worst defensive outfielders to ever go tumbling across the ground, so Ludwick has a pretty significant advantage there.

The numbers for Manny? He's putting up a .299/.398/.529 slash line, for a .927 OPS. So, for the three or four top prospects that you would have had to give the Sawx to get him, you could have had the pleasure of giving up fifty two points of OPS, plus the huge defensive downgrade you would be looking at with Manny manning left field. Boston is paying the rest of Manny's salary this season, so it's entirely possible you could have knocked a prospect off the package and taken on the salary, but that's a pretty serious chunk of change. I'm not sure exactly what the prorated portion of $20 million would be right now, but it's certainly more than Ludwick's salary for the entire year.

What about Jason Bay? Bay will actually be replacing Manny in left field in Boston, having been dealt from the Pirates to the Red Sox. We Cardinal fans have long had a fascination with Jason Bay, and it's fairly obvious to see why. Since he plays for the Pirates, we have to see him put up his numbers in person quite often, and a ton of those numbers have, unfortunately, come against the Cards. I remember in 2005, I believe, there was a huge clamour for the Cardinals to try and go acquire Bay, with Jason Marquis being the name most often mentioned as part of a package to get the Canadian outfielder. At the time, I would have wept tears of joy if Jocketty could have pulled off a deal like that. Now, though?

Bay's slash stats look like this: .282/.375/.519. That's an OPS of 894, a full eighty five points less than what Ludwick is doing this year. Bay does have a fairly reasonable contract, with a salary of $5.75 million this season. He's also signed for next year, at a cost of $7.5 million. Of course, that advantageous contract also made Bay expensive to acquire. The Pirates received four players in return for Bay, two each from the Dodgers and the Red Sox. Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris, and Craig Hansen are the players; a comparable package from the Cards might be Bryan Anderson, Joe Mather, Chris Perez, and a Brad Thompson/ Mike Parisi type. To me, that's way too much to give up for a net loss of 85 OPS points.

Look, the idea of Matt Holliday was really, really exciting, I know. The guy is one of the most frightening young sluggers in the game. He's only twenty eight years old, so he's obviously in the prime of his career. Of course, he's also making $13.5 million this season and is a free agent after the year, so you would have to pony up some serious, serious dough to resign him. Oh, and also? His agent just happens to be Scott Boras, so count on that number going even higher.

Holliday has a slash line of .342/.428/.573 this season. Ah, now we're getting somewhere. That's an OPS of 1.001. Finally, a player who's actually hitting better than Ludwick. Of course, we're talking about 22 points of OPS, so it's not a huge amount, but still.

Unfortunately, Holliday's numbers do come with that one huge caveat: his home/away splits. Holliday plays in Coors Field, which is no longer the hitter's paradise it once was, but still tends to favour those with a bat in their hands. Holliday's OPS at Coors Field this season is 1.129, which is okay, I guess. However, his OPS on the road is 862, a full 250 points lower, and over a hundred points lower than Ludwick's. What's really worrisome about that is the loss of SLG%. Holliday loses a full 200 points of SLG on the road, going from a .677 to a .460.

Now, of course, a lot of people are going to say that it's just the fact that he's playing at home, that he's just one of those guys who hits better in his home ballpark. I'm willing to buy that, to a point. Say he goes elsewhere and his numbers start to normalise some. There is some evidence that Coors hitters struggle on the road for some reason, so maybe his road splits come up a bit. I would still expect his home OPS to drop by 50-100 points. Even if he improved his road OPS by a full 50 points, that still makes him barely a better hitter than Ryan Ludwick this season. Add in the fact that you would have to break the bank if you wanted to keep him around, plus the hassle of a Scott Boras negotiation, and I just don't think it would be worth it.

Look, I know this is ground that has been mostly covered already. But watching Ryan Ludwick play last night, I was struck by just how underrated he is. The kind of production he has given the Cardinals, for an absolute bargain basement cost, makes him an unbelievably valuable player. I admit, I always saw him as mostly a fourth outfielder, even after he started off hot this year. I have to say, though, he looks like the real deal to me now. And still there is angst all over the place that the Cards didn't go out and get a legitimate bat. As I said earlier, of all the outfielders the Cardinals currently have on the roster, Ludwick would most likely have been in line to lose playing time.

Ludwick is under club control for a couple more years, he's affordable, he plays above average defense (though he doesn't do sliding catches very well), and if he isn't a legitimate bat, then I don't know what is.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I just don't understand what people are looking for. Ludwick has been one of the best outfielders in the game this season. Personally, I don't know that there is an upgrade out there, no matter what you were willing to pay.