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Felipe Lopez: Instant Depth

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Skip Schumaker sucking, Brendan Ryan being talked narrowly off the ledge by Joe Mather—this was apparently all prologue, as reasons to laud John Mozeliak's Lopez pickup go, for the moment in which David Freese revealed he was made from delicate space shuttle parts fastened tgether with fragile strands of adult stem-cells. 

As long as Lopez is healthy the question of whether Allen Craig is a third baseman at this moment—so thoroughly discussed, among other topics, in yesterday's comment thread—seems mostly academic. Lopez has been adequate there defensively in his MLB career, and a rehabbing Tyler Greene looms as a satisfying balm for continued Schumaker and Ryan flareups. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have explicitly shown themselves to be comfortable with Joe Mather's defense at third, and even with his post-break swoon I think they'd go to him before they ceded the position to Craig. 

So while I'd love to see the team continue to get Craig low-leverage innings at third—a concept with which I never thought I'd need to be familiar, but this is how being a Cardinals fan works—to see if he could be in La Russa's undoubtedly complicated 2011 mix, for now it seems like Freese's ankle's self-destruction is the last and most impressive of Felipe Lopez's patch jobs. 

How good is Felipe Lopez? Good enough that his own injury problems, which cost him the first half of May, didn't lead the Cardinals to call up Aaron Miles. So there's that.

As we come through yesterday's long off-day, take a look at the numbers Lopez has put up at each of the three positions in which he is chief understudy, and think about how this season would feel if Joe Thurston had made the team instead.

At shortstop Lopez has hit .242/.324/.452, with eight of the Cardinals' 31 RBI from the position in 62 at-bats; in May, when Ryan's hold on the position and reality was at its most tenuous, he returned from injury to provide an .856 OPS. I didn't want to see Lopez play shortstop, if the Cardinals could avoid it, and defensively he's been subpar as ever there; UZR has him at -4 in 143 innings, which would not be worth talking about if I had a better way of establishing that he can't really play shortstop.

But he stood out there, as Aaron Miles would have done, and he hit the ball, as Aaron Miles would not have done. He and Tyler Greene allowed the Cardinals the flexibility to let Brendan Ryan go on what was without a doubt a hilarious vision quest.

One of my ideal positions for Lopez heading into 2010—with a healthy David Freese and a hitting Brendan Ryan, you'll remember—was as a supercharged platoon partner for Skip Schumaker, so that he's made just 11 starts at second is an unfortunate reminder that he's been drafted for more pressing concerns. Schumaker's post-ASB line is... well, it's better, but his defense appears to have plateaued, and were it not for Freese's injury Lopez would be an ideal candidate to soak up more and more playing time while Schumaker continues to not hit .300. 

But like the cop who's just a week away from retirement, Lopez has been pulled back into third base, which bodes ill for his survival past minute 70 of the crime-drama version of the 2010 Cardinals Official Playoff Video. Lopez has put in 370 innings at third base in 2010, the most action he's seen there since he was a 21 year-old rookie in Toronto, and if all goes according to the latest plan he'll easily exceed his career high this month. And while his availabiiity there is to no small extent a La Russian Development—the 13 innings he played there for the Cardinals in 2008 were his first experience there since one inning in 2005, and he didn't appear there at all in 2009—he's proven up to the task on defense, and a remarkably convenient replacement on offense.

It hasn't earned Mozeliak a lot of credit here because it seemed like such an obvious move from the start, but whatever the reason nobody else in the league was excited enough about Felipe Lopez to offer him a base contract clocking in at exactly $1 million. It's a good thing they didn't and he did.