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The 2003 Cardinals, the 2010 Cardinals, and the bench

If I had known the team as a whole were going to scuffle so badly in August and September I would have had a much easier case to make about Matt Holliday not being a disappointment in April. All that warbling about small sample sizes and descriptive vs. predictive stats could have been replaced with:

You think he's hitting poorly with runners in scoring position, huh? Check this out, nerds—according to Future Baseball-Reference the Cardinals are going to hit .250/.316/.374 after taking the NL Central division lead in August! By then you'll yearn for the sweet release of a late-innings Matt Holliday pop-out, but it won't come, because he's a good player! And he'll be surrounded by bad players! Like Pedro Feliz, and Aaron Miles!


Which would have saved me some time, not that I had much going on in April and May, anyway. If I ever hand the VEB keys to Futuredanup (he insists on the capitalized F), expect more smugness, less insight, and more mystifying future-haiku (space-winter is cold / in the future all haiku is self-referential / during space-winter.)

There have been worse Cardinals teams than this one, and will be again, but the 2006 team that made that 3-9 nosedive into the playoffs didn't have the Reds targeting 90 wins. The 2003 club is probably a better comparison, and not just because I beat the Mike DeJean thing into the ground for a solid week after the Pedro Feliz trade; they featured four MVP-caliber players (and a fifth, J.D. Drew, who would have been had he played more than 100 games), two solid pitchers, and found themselves with considerably less depth than they thought when things broke down. 

But here's what amazes me about that team, especially given how good they were the next year: There's nobody exciting on the fringes of the Major Leagues. 

In 2010 the Cardinals have given noticeable playing time to Jon Jay, Allen Craig, David Freese, Tyler Greene, Fernando Salas, reliever-Mitchell-Boggs, and, of course, Jaime Garcia. Bryan Anderson made a cameo appearance, too. 

In 2003, these guys made cameo appearances: Chris Widger, Wilson Delgado, So Taguchi, Joe Girardi, Esteban Yan, Russ Springer, Mike Crudale, Kevin Ohme, Pedro Borbon, Gabe Molina, Jason Pearson, Josh Pearce, and the immortal Jimmy Journell. [Note: I was very excited to see who the SB Nation auto-linker would pick out of this list.]

I agree with Dr. Eustace V. "Red" Berrohn, retired (Mrs.)'s grades from yesterday, on balance, but Mozeliak's ability to cultivate fringe players who can outperform the Wilson Delgados of the world and hold out the hope of future usefulness is a solid A. Aside from Bo Hart, who ended up playing more second base than anybody else on that 2003 squad, the youngest non-starter on the team to get any time at all was Mr. Miguel Cairo

That the Cardinals couldn't convert these young guys into a winning squad is at the fringes misallocation of resources—Greene shouldn't have 40 fewer at-bats than Aaron Miles, or Craig 15 fewer than Nick Stavinoha—and also a reminder that for all the guys a team can develop to take 80 at-bats and run, it's the starters and front-line guys who slide toward replacement level who can make the difference between relevance and Skip Schumaker looking really pissed off at the top of this website.