Without David Freese for three months I think we're going to be missing one of my favorite features of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals to date—the way there appeared to be no easy out in the lineup on any given day. Last season the Cardinals had on-base percentages at three positions—shortstop, third base, and second, with catcher just over the mark—that were below average for the position. Really below average—.289, .317, and .322, against .325, .333, and .331. Even our pitchers were totally average, a serious disappointment for a Wainwright-led rotation.
With Freese, and assuming a bounce-back year from Skip Jared and the Schumakers, this seemed possible. Without Freese we're doomed to another year of mediocre hitting from the fourth or fifth-best hitting position in baseball. The good news is that these players will actually be able to play defense.
And the upshot is we're likely to get a significant chunk of Major League playing time to see what Daniel Descalso can do; since Skip Schumaker's contract runs out at the end of the season—he's still arbitration-eligible, according to Baseball Reference—that could offer the Cardinals a preview of coming attractions if they don't acquire a second baseman on the market in the offseason.
Given how hopeless he's looked in the Majors this year—he hasn't just hit .214, he's looked like someone who hits .214, swinging and missing on a fifth of his strikes to date—it's easy to be surprised by his preseason ZiPS projection, which was a robust .268/.330/.394. When he was drafted I remember it being for his bat, which was described as sweet-swinging in the way that all punchless lefty bats are, and he made his name in the minors for that 74-game stretch in 2009 when he hit .323/.396/.531 with 26 doubles and eight home runs for the Springfield Cardinals.
After you factor in his terrible Memphis performance from the same year his last two minor league seasons were pretty recognizable as coming from the same player; he hit .299/.373/.459 in 2009 and .282/.350/.421 in 2010, each time with 30 doubles and 10 home runs and (most surprisingly) a nice strikeout to walk ratio. At 22 and 23 he's been relatively young for one of these spare-part prospects, which makes the ZiPS projection optimistic but not totally implausible.
And should he scuffle, Nick Punto offers a replacement level that is, thankfully, higher than replacement level. This should be sounding eerily familiar to you by now—Felipe Lopez the replacement level higher than replacement level, David Freese the bright young prospect. The good news is that this one is less likely to involve Pedro Feliz, who lowered the collective third base batting average by 15 points, and that one super-utilityman's utter failure to produce is no evidence of another's.
Once again the Cardinals have made the right moves here; they've got a decent backup, a prospect at the Major League level, and Matt Carpenter in the minor leagues, all of them offering the possibility of adequacy in the near future. Now it's a matter of seeing if those moves actually work.