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Aroldis Chapman and low-hanging fruit updates

Okay, anyone feel bad about the Aroldis Chapman signing? 

I'm not saying I wouldn't take him; he immediately becomes the Cardinals' "top prospect", I'd imagine, and I'm hard-pressed to imagine a situation in which a left-handed pitcher with a 98 mph fastball becomes less than, say, an overpaid set-up reliever for five years. But Chapman at the full, non-draft price—I'll spare you the de rigueur comparison to Strasburg, but yeah, seriously, how much would Strasburg get if he were Cuban?—seems like a steep price to pay for a level of certainty that is somewhere between Wagner Mateo, at $4 million, and a top draft prospect, especially when the signing team is losing out on those wonderful cost-controlled pre-arb years. 

That said—I kind of like Jocketty's off-season so far, in its small-scale way. Extending Rolen was a cheap, low-maintenance move that apparently increased their financial flexibility in the near-term, and it now has the added benefit of solidifying the defense for a front-line of Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, and (eventually) Edinson Volquez. It's not enough, but the remaining hole at shortstop—presuming, perhaps unwisely, that Dusty Baker will know when to quit with Willy Taveras—is so big that any incremental improvement at all would be welcome. (And they, like us, will continue to wait for their  superprospect outfielder to put it all together with the bat.) 

That said: they're a few years away, and the Cardinals, having just spent $120 trillion on Matt Holliday, were not the market. I think we're only allowed a certain quota of offseason excitement, anyway. But the Reds' shortstop situation, while simultaneously both more severe and less important, mirrors a few of the problems the Cardinals needed to address going into this offseason. How have they done? 

Left Field: I'm pleased with this solution. Holliday was great, outstanding, even, and he probably won't be quite so great or outstanding next year. But even after he came in the Cardinals' final totals in left were .263/.339/.437. (Worse yet, that was still the second best line of any position, with Schumaker and the second basemen placing a strong third.) It is impossible to overstate just how bad Chris Duncan was for much of the season. 

Center Field: I hate to Go Here, but Cardinals center fielders hit just .248/.301/.401 in 2009. Part of the blame can again be foisted on Rick Ankiel, who hit .246/.297/.389 in 203 of the position's 634 at-bats, but Rasmus's 416 weren't much more impressive (.245/.300/.409). (The other at-bats belong to Shane Robinson (1-2), Skip Schumaker (4-9), Ryan Ludwick (0-2), and Tyler Greene (0-2), because you were wondering.)

This was, admittedly, not a difficult hole to fill for 2010—I don't think anyone but Rick Ankiel is particularly loath to give Rasmus a year for his bat to adjust as well as his glove did, and in the meantime the Cardinals can just allow Shane Robinson to continue hitting .500. 

Third Base: Cardinals third basemen actually hit nearly as bad as Cincinnati shortstops last year—just .229/.292/.369—even worse than their pinch hitters managed after sitting on the bench for most of 136 games. Adrian Beltre might have been nice, for $10 million, but for $400,000 David Freese seems like a basically average candidate. And he'd better be: this is one of those rare instances in which a playoff-caliber team has a chance at filling a replacement-level hole. Those two wins should be easy pickings, even if the budget doesn't even allow for Joe Crede

Fifth Starter: This one still worries me a little. I love Jaime Garcia, who seems to have been ready to pitch at a Major League level since he got into everyone's prospect consciousness as a nineteen year-old, but ideally the fix for Todd Wellemeyer's 21 miserable starts—fruit hanging only slightly higher than Joe Thurston's year as a starting third baseman—would not be stacked entirely atop Garcia's new elbow ligament. 

The Cardinals will be getting more and presumably better starts from Kyle Lohse, but they'll be losing a lot of good ones, too—Christy Mathewson won't be making his 32 starts in 2009, and it's difficult to expect Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright ever pitching better or more frequently than they did in 2009. If the Cardinals have money left, one more flier—Ben Sheets? John Smoltz?—to fill out the inevitable gaps in this thin rotation seems like the best way to spend it. I'm all for giving the kids a chance, but the worst case scenario is that somebody like BEN SHEETS pitches so well that Jaime Garcia spends a full year in Memphis—where he's made 16 starts to this point—at 23. (Or, I suppose, that BEN SHEETS fails to send you his medical records.)

The 2009 Cardinals had a surprising number of big, easily fillable holes on the roster. Now that we don't have to watch them bat one after the other anymore, this is a good thing.