Clearly John Mozeliak, the St. Louis Cardinals, and Joe Srauss know the right .573 OPS hitter to question publicly to rouse Viva El Birdos into a barely manageable offseason fury. Let's pretend Brendan Ryan is a really boring guy, and that Skip Schumaker is still a really boring guy. What is it about this article that might make us so mad?
Okay—this thought-experiment is hard to do. Part of Brendan Ryan's appeal is that he makes baseball more fun to watch. He's a showman in the field and a funny guy off it; he gives excellent quotes and appears in webisodes, happy, it seems, to be famous, to have an audience. That doesn't make him a better baseball player, but it makes him a baseball player I like to watch. I have reached terminal apathy about the playoffs, so this might not be true of everybody, but I'd give up a win or so relative to a replacement player to watch him play, sure.
But back to the thought-experiment. Brendan Ryan-Prime collects stamps as a hobby, and he definitely wouldn't do a webisode about it. Stamp-collecting is personal. He's a good shortstop because he knows exactly where to stand before the ball has been hit, and he always uses two hands, which Al loves. His parents' nickname for him is Brendan.
Brendan Ryan-Prime and Skip Schumaker-Prime, who is the same as regular Schumaker only without the facial hair, are coming off bad years. Schumaker lost the offensive value that made him an interesting second baseman and didn't gain the kind of defensive confidence that might make him a real second baseman. He was a bad offensive second baseman and a bad defensive second baseman and, because versatility is important, a bad offensive outfielder and a bad defensive outfielder.
Next year Schumaker will probably get some of that offensive value back. He'll still be a bad defensive second baseman, but he'd been an average hitter—above-average for the position—for 1327 at-bats before last season. His line-drive percentage was high and his BAbip was low, et cetera.
Now, even though Brendan Ryan-Prime puts me to sleep to watch, and wears his uniform in a way that leaves no impression on me at all, Schumaker-Prime seems like a worse value proposition. Ryan-Prime was a historically bad hitter last season, but the Cardinals won't be hoping for him to get back the one thing that makes him valuable—only the one thing that makes him a starter.
But I can't help but wonder what the point of choosing between these two less-than-sterling options is. If the Cardinals plan on "upgrading" in the infield—and the choices, Juan Uribe most recently, aren't clear and obvious two-win guys, the Cardinals gain little by declaring one survivor the winner and shipping the other off.
The right way to upgrade from these positions, if the Cardinals aren't willing to play in the Dan Uggla et al waters, is to treat them like one position. The Cardinals need to get better performance out of shortstopsecondbase. They have an outstanding defensive shortstop who might not be able to hit and a second baseman who might still be an average hitter. Unless they pick up a guy who can be a shortstop or second baseman without those caveats, they're best off rotating through their options until they determine whose strengths are most in evidence in 2011.
Right now, Brendan Ryan's strength is in evidence, and Skip Schumaker's is not. That's why I'd prefer Ryan even if he were boring. Schumaker really does offer a "comfort level of being probable", but the level at which he's likely to play still makes me uncomfortable.