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Big Shoes

As you may have guessed from the position in which this post appears, I will be filling in on Saturdays to take part of the role that chuckb played. I was very honored to be considered for the role, and even more surprised. I'm not the sabermagician that chuckb is, and i probably don't have the baseball smarts that many posters do. I certainly have never played the game (beyond a grade school level) and, if that disturbs you, I guess you should probably just skip down to the comments area.

I want to start out by recognizing the contributions of chuckb (nee houstoncardinal). Chuck has a long history of putting together very strong articles, showing a thorough understanding of the game and a dedication to backing up his opinions with statistical analysis. If I can be a quarter as infomative as chuck, I will be very happy.

I also officially assume the role of grumpy old mod for the board since (I think?) I am the only one on the wrong side of thirty. Or at least the side closer to Social Security. So, get off my lawn!

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In the doldrums of May and June, the popular epithet for the Cardinals was "Albert and the seven dwarves." The name fit because Albert was in the throes of one of the best half-seasons (I am tempted to write "the best half-season, but then I recall the consistency of Albert's ridiculousness and must write "one of the best") and the remainder of the team ranged anywhere from at or slightly above league average on offense (rasmus, skippy, yadi) to well below (ryan, the two-headed third baseman of mediocrity, slumpwick, the two-headed leftfielder of mediocrity, kaheel, and Tyler Robinstav - a melange of replacement value rookies).

The team improved offensively down the stretch - mostly through addition (holliday, lugo), subtraction (duncan), and regression to a norm (ludwick). Of course, the titular tongue-in-cheek epithet was knowingly one-dimensional; it omitted the substantial defensive contributions in key roles: shortstop, catcher, centerfield.

But, not being prone to lament a rough end to the season, let the 2009 funeral meats coldly furnish forth the marriage table for 2010. There's a lot to like about this team for next season and beyond.

The $100M+ elephant in the room rhymes with "fat collie play." Whether he signs or not probably depends a great deal on two things: how much he wants to stay in St. Louis and whether dewitt wants to increase the budget to do so. Even a discounted holliday would really limit a low-$90M cardinal team. A full-price holliday could be tolerable on a budget that goes well beyond $100M. The fans did their part this year, cresting the 3M attendance mark, even in a very tough economic year. As the economy heals, the prognosis for 2010 attendance shouldn't be worse than 2009, and probably better.

Planning for a vacancy to arise in the LF market in St. Louis is not a pessimistic step. If we are not going to build a team around two players probably worth 12-14 WAR between them for next year, let's think about a different tack: build a team of albert pujols and a field of league average (or better) players, with the depth and flexibility to make sure we don't end up with replacement-level voids on the field. The perennial cry is for a "big bat," a masher, an all-star. and, don't get me wrong, i like all-stars. but holliday is really the only legit all-star option we're looking at. rather than blow our wad on one all-star (especially if he's not so all-starry), think about depth and flexibility.

Our net team position player WAR this year was 18.9 -- basically middle of the road (only the yankees and the rays broke 30 WAR). Seven position players each worth 2 WAR and a 7-8 WAR first baseman would get us past this year's mark.  Of course, achieving that number also means avoiding negative WAR; the vacuums of value (primary suspects - K. Greene, N. Stavinoha, chris duncan).

Last year, we had a few great peformers and some uninspiring showings. Only five players produced 2 WAR or better for the cardinals. Guess who ranks 8th for the team in WAR?

First base
Albert Pujols (8.4 WAR in 09)
The cornerstone. The Mang has been stellar since he sprang, fully formed, out of Mark McGwire's skull in 2001. No reason not to expect a 7+ WAR performance here . . . Except . . .

Should the unspeakable happen, the cards could look at mark "I make nick johnson look durable" hamilton. Also, the intertubes are abuzz with talk of some Free Allen Craig character. There's nobody who will play like the Mang, obvs.

Yadier Molina
(3.4 WAR)
Molina was the second most valuable position player last year, even though WAR does not account for catcher defense, which I hear he's pretty good at. I have no reason not to think he's less than a 2.5-3 WAR player next year.

Again, an ugly proposition. Larue is not a long-term backup, even if re-signed. He does quite well as a "spell yadi once every five-to-seven days" guy. Odds are pags jr. or bryan anderson gets a long look should yadi hit the dl. Expecting more than replacement value there is wishful thinking, though the club has sent anderson to the AFL for winter work. See your local for AFL updates. [In an unrelated AFL story, the danup-mancrush curse strikes again. Derrek Goold tweets that Gary Daley gave up seven runs in one-third an inning for Surprise.]

Brendan Ryan (3.2 WAR)
Our months-long national nightmare was over when ryan took on the ss role this spring. His defense will not likely slump next year, but his bat could. I think he'll be a 2+ WAR player with his D, but doesn't walk enough to maintain value that doesn't rise and fall with his BABIP. Watch for falling wOBA next eleven months.

They call him Hoolio. Truth is his play was never that bad, theo epstein just couldn't take the way Lugo looked at him. Lugo's defense has become apallingly bad, eating up his decent offensive value. I have to think that julio: brendan:: larue: molina. Not too awful to make a spot start, but should brendan hit the DL, we should see tyler greene brought up. Tyler was a bit of an enigma this year. He hit very well at memphis, poorly at the ML level. UZR hated his defense, which was puzzling. I'm willing to chalk it up to SSS, but will eye it nervously next year.


Left field
Matt "Beltre'd" Holliday (2.8 WAR)
It's somewhat depressing that the fourth-most valuable cardinal only spent two months with the team. He's likely to be a 5-6 WAR player next year. He's already been discussed ad nauseam by mid-October, so that's all I've got to say about him. I do want to say something about a frequently discussed alternative. Please just say no to jason bay. While he might well be better than average, he is a prime candidate to be overpaid this offseason. He amassed over three WAR last year, his offensive value sapped by horrendous defense. His high-value MVP days are gone. Let another team tie themselves down to him and give up a first round pick.

One reason why I am so appalled by the Bay talk is that we have a couple of internal candidates who could be at least average - allen craig or (if healthy) joe mather. Anecdotal evidence says craig is decent in left, and mather was once a very decent defender (caution -- mather had a -9 TZR rating in his short time in RF in 2009). Jon Jay may get a look as LH depth/defensive substitute. Tyler Henley and DJ Tools are not far off - another reason not to tie the team down to a long contract for a just okay LF.

Center Field
Colby Rasmus AKA cody ramos AKA corky ramirez AKA boromir
velazquez (2.3 WAR)
Razzle dazzle made the bigs and got a fair amount of playing time. His defense was all that was promised and his hitting . . . showed promise. Seriously, work out a little, bulk up, and try to find a good diet in the offseason, cody. i easily expect improvement next year. With a full season in center, we'd be looking at a 3 WAR player even with no offensive improvement.

Ugh. Um, jon jay, shane robinson. . . . Ludwick could cover CF in a pinch. Mather if healthy wouldn't be a disaster. Skippy is not a CF. Our depth here leaves something to be desired. A RH option who could face LHP in lieu of corey rundell would be a nice bonus.

Right Field
Ryan Ludwick (1.7 WAR)
Luddy had maybe the most perplexing season (unpleasant surprise division) of anyone. His season makes me feel like there's a certain element of futility to these crystal ball sessions. Hard to project and injury prone, I would expect him to rebound, but i say it with trepidation.

In the AAA championship game, brian barden played RF. Does that tell you what our RF depth is? Or what kind of confidence we have in craig's arm or jay's arm? Henley is our only real RF prospect - a decent one, but he's yet to even play a game for memphis. Another area of serious depth concern.

Second Base
Skip Schumaker (1.2 WAR)
Skippy adapted as well as could be expected, and better than I expected. The good news is that his defensive statistics match up with popular perception - appalling early in the season and close to average later on. The outlook for skippy is good - if he defends like he did at the end of the season he'd gain a full win in value over the course of 2010, which would make him average. Luckily, his offense has been consistent, so we can readily look for improvement. Skippy's dedication and hard work are admirable. I am accepting gloating letters, skip.

Hoolio is skippy's primary backup/platoon partner. To all accounts lugo's 2b defense is awful. His offense was quite good, but I doubt he turns in more than a one win performance in a platoon/utility role. Jarrett Hoffpauir seems to be english for julio lugo; terrible glove and good bat that only marginally offsets the other. Plus lugo brings the crazy eyes. daniel descalso is a good prospect but could not make his springfield success translate to memphis in a short aaa stint. He's also left-handed and won't be a platoon partner to skippy. We'll likely see him in 2011 barring more disappointment.

Third base
If you guessed that brian barden was the eighth most valuable player for the cards (a statisically insignificant fraction of a run better than derosa), you win. Third base in 2009 was a vast cauldron of suck where joe thurston reigned supreme at replacement value until the arrival of mark derosa and his amazing wrist that goes pop. That was the only thing going pop at third base after may day. Third base is clearly a spot for great improvement. Derosa as the 3b candidate awakens a great sense of "meh" in me. His two main virtues are a) playing subprime defense at several positions and b) hitting for some power. The former is likely to get more subprime from age. The latter could be hampered by his wrist injury.

The club shows no sign of interest in troy glaus. Assuming figgins goes back to the angels, beltre could be a prime FA target. david freese recently received Mo's benediction as the prime candidate (which probably means that spending cash will be directed at LF and the rotation). The good news is he'd probably defend like brian barden (+14.9 UZR; before citing sss to me, check barden's minor league defensive stats). The bad news is he may hit like barden too. odds are freese hits a little better and is about a 2 win player. For my money, if derosa is at best a win better than freese, I'd rather spend the 5-7M elsewhere and get the comp pick when he signs with the cubs for three years and $30m. That said, if we're not coughing up the money for Holliday, a hard charge after a FA 3B could be a good way to upgrade.

Freese is second string depth if he's not the starter. At some point, the club may have to swallow its misgivings and give craig a shot. Descalso could conceivably act as a third-string option, as could a healthy joe mather or a resigned brian barden. Otherwise . . . I give you joe thurston, ladies and gents.

>Exit, pursued by a bear.<

>Enters again, winded.<

I think the 2010 picture is not a bleak one, especially in the context of our division. I am most concerned about the depth, more than the starter any particular position. I don't see any starter who looks like a less-than-league-average type (count me a little skeptical about freese). While we're never going to have a replacement albert pujols on the shelf - nor should we aspire to that - more depth and particularly more flexibility could make this team much more competitive. 2009 should also be remembered as the year of the Dry Powder; our ability to forecast gaps on the squad from our vantage point in the off-season is limited. We should retain the organizational flexibility to make  moves to address sudden needs that arise mid-season.

We have very poor outfield depth right now - I would guess craig and a healthy mather could approach league average. Jay is probably a less than average prospect with most of his value being defensive. Henley is hard to project with no time yet at AAA. That is why a player like Mike Cameron holds so much interest for me. A perennial 4 win player, he can play a corner respectably and could sub for an injured colby in center. We have poor RF depth, having few strong-armed outfielders. We can't go into 2010 without legit replacements at two OF positions while playiong two starters with injury histories.

The infield poses a similar, though not as dire, problem. Quite frankly, I just don't think lugo is good enough to be the infield backup. His defense is bad and his offense is likely to regress. Maybe his knee mends this off-season and his defense improves. But a good RH infielder to split time with skippy at second, hopefully one who could also backup the other infield spots, could save us a lot of heartache. tyler greene could be that guy if he learns some plate discipline. It kind of breaks my heart that derosa had his wrist injury because he could be a really good answer in that role. I just hate to throw money at an older player with a serious injury. Felipe Lopez could be another option, but he'll be very expensive coming off a career season. Unfortunately, the free agent market is parched in many of our areas of need, and our capacity to trade has taken a hit.

The need for depth and flexibility manifests itself in this fact: we lost a total of 2.7 WAR from sub-replacement value position players in 2009. More than half of that lost value came from Khalil Greene and Nick Stavinoha. By lacking appropriate replacement value players, the Cards lost the equivalent value of a better than replacement value player. Now, obviously almost any team is susceptible to having a sudden injury that leaves a less than desirable player in a key spot. Even the yankees caught a below-average performance from cody ransom (not related to our cody ransom) after a-rod got injured. but a deep team, managed well, would likely lose about a win to below replacement players. our lack of depth - and to a certain extent, mismanagement - cost us almost 3 wins. the good news is i don't see many khalil greenes or stavinohas getting a lot of playing time in 2010: lugo, tyler greene, and pagnozzi could be reasonable candidates to play at or below replacement value.

Thank you for reading this far. My apologies for any lack of flash. As I get accustomed to your fancy "tables" and your "icons" and your "twitters," I may get more adventurous in my layout. And I think I have preprogrammed this to appear early saturday. if this appears mid-friday afternoon or sunday evening or in the Sheboygan Daily Press, i'm probably doing it wrong. My apologies, good people of Sheboygan.