Signature bet aside, tom did a fine job of summing up my feelings on the Nick Punto acquisition yesterday. Money quote (emphasis mine):
the difference among greene, punto, and descalso seems pretty marginal in a utility role, although i share the general distaste for playing a 33 year old one year rental over comparable prospects. neither is so compelling a bench option that we should avoid a decent pickup of this sort. yes, we will probably see punto go north from spring training over one of these guys. but we could and we have done far worse than punto as our veteran utility man. and i suspect, baseball being what it is, that all three of greene, descalso, and punto will get substantial time in the field.
I appreciate that it's phrased in a passive sense. It's less about the desire to avoid these types of pickups and more about the fact that it's so mundane and uninspiring. The Cardinals traded away a brilliant defender and then later this same offseason they acquired a slightly less brilliant one in the field but more palatable personality-wise off the field.
I think what continues to worry me, and I've expressed this previously, is the ongoing lack of direction that I sense from the organization. Unfortunately, Nick Punto only feeds that narrative in my mind.
Consider that we're 3 years removed from Cesar Izturis posting a .292 wOBA at shortstop over 454 plate appearances. Yet in three years, here is the culmination of our middle infield acquisitions ZiPS projections:
While I'll readily admit that I'm leaving off the defensive component, it's a mixed bag in that regard. Still, the point is that the Cardinals have had a distinct problem up the middle for years and I can't tell what if anything they've done to fix it. If the plan is to punt on those positions and rely on the rest of the team to drag them to the playoffs . . . well, at least they acquired the player whose name will play well in the punting puns. (Who's the only MLB player that's a better punter than Darin Erstad? Nick Puntooooooooooooooooooooo!)
So what's the end-game for the middle infield? Pete Kozma doesn't look like a viable option. Ryan Jackson playing down in Palm Beach is a slick fielder with a very questionable bat. The continuation of scrap bin middle infielders will eventually result in another Cesar Izturis. One of these winters, that bargain bin will be empty when we run to it and we'll be forced to pick the trampled toy that got stepped on while everyone else was getting their kids Zuzu pets.
Perhaps the failing here is Jeff Luhnow's. The position players coming out of the Cardinals minor leagues are typically outfielders. Eventually there's got to be a concerted effort to develop a shortstop or second baseman. Alternately, you can point the finger at Mozeliak. The inability to acquire a decent shortstop (be it prospect or MLB-er) is, ultimately, his responsibility. Maybe, it's really hard to develop or acquire middle infielders. I'd even be willing to accept that as an answer.
What I find perplexing is the lack of a long term plan. In an offseason where our answers are Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto, what the hell was the question was being asked in the first place?
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The advent of sabermetrics in front offices has produced some remarkable changes just in the last decade. The rise of on-base percentage. The improved defensive valuations and understanding. The most recent change seems to be in the DH market.
Manny Ramirez posted a .382 wOBA last year. The Rays will pay him $2M in 2011. Jim Thome hit for a .432 wOBA and projects in the .370 region. He'll get $3M from the Twins in 2011. We're not that far removed from guys like Travis Hafner and David Ortiz getting lucrative long term deals and yet now, we see highly productive hitters being paid very low salaries. It's not that they're being paid less than their worth by modern valuation. I just find it incredible how swiftly the market turned on this type of player.
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If there's a next objective after signing Albert Pujols, it would seem that the time is coming to discuss buying out Colby Rasmus's arbitration years. It's what all the cool kids are doing. It provides the team and player with financial certainty, disarms the rather uncomfortable arbitration process and retains a valuable asset.
The Cardinals came out with a huge win the last time they did this (Adam Wainwright) and Colby Rasmus is in that exact same wheelhouse for coming out ahead. He hasn't proven himself an all-star caliber player quite yet but he's had a very solid season at an important position. Scouts remain enamored of his skills and there's both room and reason to project him to be a better player in the future.
I await with baited breath. . .
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I still can't believe we signed Miguel Batista. That is all.