By now everyone knows the story with Brian Barton. A Rule 5 draft pick, Barton must remain on the Cardinals’ 25-man Major League roster for the entire 2008 season, be returned to the Cleveland Indians (from whom he was plucked) for $25k, or the Cards have to work out a “trade” with the Indians to keep him and send him to the minor leagues. Given Barton’s relative progress with the Cards, they’re more likely to accept option two rather than work on option three.
So what of Barton then? What is his future with the Cardinals?
He started the season off well, being very successful in mostly a pinch hitting role for the first month of the season, going .333/.409/.462 in March/April. Since then he has tailed off significantly and steadily. That being said, his numbers split between games he starts and those he pinch-hits in are wildly different. Barton is hitting .290/.333/.419 as a pinch hitter. Compare that to only .227/.337/.307 in games he starts. Is he another Lenny Harris? A guy who can’t get it done on a regular basis, but for his one at-bat per game, he can put a charge into a line drive? He’s certainly the picture-perfect example of a pinch-hitter, going in there and swinging at 43% of first pitches that he sees in his plate appearances.
All of that brings me around to my point. Barton has had a horrendous June thus far, and has only appeared for four pinch-hit at-bats since June 8th. No starts since then, and no extended substitute appearances. Granted, he plays for Tony LaRussa, so the string of right-handed pitchers has surely played a role in Barton’s disappearance from the outfield rotation.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story either. The Cardinals have essentially employed a roster with only four outfielders since Joe Mather was sent down on June 14th, because Chris Duncan is taking all of the starts at first base, in Albert Pujols’ absence. Despite the narrowed outfield roster, the Cards have trotted out the same outfield of Skip Schumaker, Rick Ankiel, and Ryan Ludwick every game since June 10th. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad outfield for the Cards to put in the lineup, it just piques my interest that Barton can’t get a start in two weeks of games.
Additionally, the platoon argument doesn’t seem to hold up in this case as, like Ludwick, Barton has hit right-handed pitching better than lefties on the season.
Ultimately, Barton seems to still have upside. He’s still learning to hit Major League pitching, after all, he didn’t have an MLB at-bat to his credit prior to this season. He seems to be a plus defender in left field, posting above-league-average range factor and a .964 RZR (which is pretty ridiculously high, when you consider that Ankiel’s .947 RZR rating leads the National League among all qualified fielders).
But are the Cardinals willing to let him hold down a roster slot for this entire season just to hang onto him? Would they then option him back down next season to try and further his development?
Rumors swirling before the Rule 5 draft had San Diego trading up to take Barton, which obviously never happened. But would the Pads still be interested in him now, given that he would still have to remain on their 25-man roster to avoid return to the Indians? Do the Padres have anyone that would interest the Cards who merits giving up on Barton’s potential at this stage? Tadahito Iguchi comes to mind, but I tend to think Barton’s upside outweighs any possible upgrade Iguchi may or may not represent over the current 2B situation in St Louis.
It would seem that Barton’s recent relative absence from action would indicate the Cards are starting to lose their sweet tooth for the guy, where some of these other teams who are not in the race and can gamble on upside might be interested. Moving Barton now would make room for Mather to get a true test in the bigs, as well as Nick Stavinoha who is setting the world alight with his bat down in Memphis, and the other name just around the corner, Colby Rasmus.
Not to mention the unenviable task of trying to decide what to do with Duncan once El Hombre returns (get well soon Albert!)…
On a side note, wanted to let folks know that Wednesday marked the release of Out of the Park Baseball 9, a really good baseball simulation game that allows a wide variety of customizable options, including historical simulation. I’ve been playing around with this game for years and have really enjoyed it, including participation in an online league, FOBL. Check it out, if you’re so inclined.