[by PH8 reader Ryan Dell – @KingRD3]
In the 2010 off-season the Cardinals handed out the biggest contract in team history to Matt Holliday, and watched “plan B” leave for San Francisco. Plan B was no longer needed, nor did he want to wait around. Mark DeRosa, who just months earlier had been acquired for young bullpen talent from Cleveland departed, and headed west to become the Giants plan A.
DeRosa may not have followed the money to a young Giants team, but he did find a starting role and place where he could mentor young stars like Pablo Sandoval while getting substantial time at the plate. DeRosa’s departure left a gaping hole in the left side of the Cardinals infield, a spot DeRosa had been brought in to fill. So as Holliday soaked up most of the free agent money the Cardinals had to spend, there was little to fill the void left by DeRosa.
This season the Cardinals will look to fill the void with a player that has already manned the position, David Freese. Freese was the opening day starter for the Cardinals in 2009, but injuries and an early slump found him right back in Memphis. The position was then stocked with underachieving talent in Brian Barden (now with the Florida Marlins) and Joe Thurston (Atlanta). The platoon contributed little to the Cardinals offense early in the year, and ultimately lead General Manager John Mozeliak to make a move with Cleveland.
This season the Cardinals seem to be in a similar spot, Freese should start the season at the hot corner, but if his season starts out like last year’s he may find another long season in AAA.
Mozeliak has insured the position a little more carefully. He signed former Cardinal Felipe Lopez to a one-year, $1,000,000 contract plus incentives after the start of spring training. Tony LaRussa could also turn to prospect Allen Craig. Craig is capable of playing multiple positions, including third, first and both corner outfield spots. He was the Cardinals minor-league player of the year in 2009 and helped lead the Memphis Redbirds to a PCL championship.
Craig has batted his way into consideration with Freese and Lopez by hitting .301 with a homerun in spring ball. Another name that may be the dark horse is Joe Mather. Mather was drafted as a shortstop and is also capable of playing all three outfield positions. He was in the running last season but did not make the cut due to injuries.
No matter what Tony LaRussa and Mozeliak could find themselves looking at a lot of internal options if Freese falls through early.