No, I’m not advocating anything that involves combining a “hot stove” and a “shallow pool”. The title is intended to imply that the pool of free agents and potential trade targets is relatively thin during this hot stove season. I shouldn’t feel the need to explain that, but I do live in what I consider the most litigious country in the world. After all, I can spill hot coffee on myself and blame the establishment that sold me the coffee for my pain and suffering. Somehow I’ve got to work my way back around to the point of this post, but tangents involving coffee are the shiny objects that most easily distract me from….whatever.
As the rumor mill continues to churn for the Cardinals and practically every middle infielder in baseball with a well-worn glove, I want to go on record with a definitive stance. I’m not absolutely thrilled with the status quo of Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker at SS and 2B respectively. While they were key contributors to the team that went 91-71 in 2009, I don’t expect Brendan to repeat his .292 batting average of ’09, and Skip’s defense makes him too much of a liability at 2B for a team practically loaded with ground ball pitchers. However, I can live with the pairing for 1 more year, because they should combine to make less than $4M in 2011 and should be motivated to rebound after down years in 2010. If I had to pick between the two, I’d definitely pick Brendan over Skip, and that’s both a business and a baseball decision.
Brendan costs a lot less and is arbitration for the 1st time while Skip’s salary for 2011 is $2.7M. Even though Brendan only batted .223 in 2010, he still posted a WAR of 0.9 (3.4 in 2009). Skip batted .265 in 2010, but his WAR was only 0.4. Add in the defense and athleticism components, and Ryan gets the nod on two more categories. Position flexibility is also a consideration, because Skip has added value as added value as an extra outfielder or bench player. To me, 2B then becomes the logical upgrade position, even if that means obtaining a SS to play 2B. The problem then becomes identifying an upgrade that is truly an “upgrade” while not breaking the bank.
Names like Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Miguel Tejada, and Marco Scutaro have been tossed around. I consider all of them a defensive upgrade at 2B and potentially an offensive upgrade at SS, but they all have 1 thing in common. Each one of them is either guaranteed $5M+ for next year or is expected to ask for $5M+ next year. While $5M may not be a back breaking number for the Cardinals, it may really push the limit. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it may leave little margin of error in case of injury.
That’s why I’m making a value pick for the Cardinals. My value pick is none other than David Eckstein. Yep, that’s right. Eckstein made $1M last year, and he’s currently a free agent. He batted .267 and managed a respectable 1.4 WAR in 116 games for the Padres in 2010. If he’s available at the right price, then he could slot in as a middle infielder who wouldn’t have to play 150 games a year. Heck, by not spending $5M+ on someone else, the Cardinals might be able to bring back Aaron Miles for another shot at getting his first strikeout.