GM for the Day: St. Louis Cardinals

It’s like having a date with the girl of your dreams and then she ditches you for Justin Bieber.  I hate you Bieber…and I’m not a fan of the Cardinals, so this offseason has been kind of interesting.  The whining birds will be without the greatest right-handed hitter of our generation, as Albert Pujols left for gobs of cash and the temperate climate that houses the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-Orange County-California-USA-Planet Earth-Milky Way Galaxy.  What’s left and what can the defending champions do?  Lets take a look-see at their 25-man roster:

2 Catchers: Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz

1B: Lance Berkman

2B: Daniel Descalso

3B: David Freese

SS: Rafael Furcal

LF: Matt Holliday

CF: Jon Jay

RF: Allen Craig

Bench: Erik Komatsu (OF – Rule 5 pick), Skip Schumaker (INF/OF), Tyler Green (INF), Shane Robinson (OF)

Starting Pitchers: Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright

Relief Pitchers: Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Maikel Cleto

The Cardinals need to replace Albert Pujols.  You can’t but they have to try.  Thinking that David Freese is going to be what he was in the playoffs is stupid.  He hit .397 in the postseason, including .545 in the NLCS, hitting five homers and collecting 21 RBI in 18 games.  Billy Hatcher once hit .750 in a World Series.  He went on to negative WAR (Wins Against Replacement) in five of his last six seasons.  They are rumored to be going after Carlos Beltran.  They can plug him into right and have Berkman move to first, which is what they would do if they didn’t sign Beltran and they put Allen Craig in right full-time.  Craig posted a .917 OPS in 75 games last year, so he deserves a look, but it’s possible the Cardinals need to show signs of life in Free Agency to please “the best fans in baseball.”  They’d probably be better off without signing an aging and declining Beltran, isn’t that why they didn’t go to the extent of the Angels on Pujols?  Daniel Descalso has an amazing arm and he’ll waste it at second.  He always posted solid numbers in the Minors, but if he falters, he’ll share the gig with Schumaker, who is now a super-utility player.  The Cards sured up the infield by signing Rafael Furcal to a two-year deal.

With Adam Wainwright coming back from Tommy John, the Cardinals seem very upbeat about their rotation.  They are dangling Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse in deals, but neither of them really hold a lot of value.  They’ll probably hang on to both veterans and use Shelby Miller, super prospect, as a tool when one of them falter, or if Wainwright hits an innings cap coming off of surgery.

The Cardinals lost a huge piece, more valuable to them than possibly even Pujols when the Astros stole Jeff Luhnow, the Cards Vice President of Scouting and Player Development.  He created a system that has Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Tyrell Jenkins, Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras at the top of the list, all potential stars.  They’ll be spending the next few years rebuilding the franchise and hoping to stay relevent in a changing division, as the Reds deal with payroll issues due to Votto’s upcoming salary increase and the Brewers lose Prince Fielder, who could end up a Cub!

This is what I would do as the Cardinals GM.  The infield is set.  You have to work on an extension for Yadier Molina.  He will be a Free Agent after 2012 and will be 29 this year.  His defensive value isn’t easy to explain but the bat makes him worth a raise and long-term investment.  I still can’t understand the Rasmus deal long-term for this team, as his attitude and inability to follow instruction couldn’t have been worth giving up on the talent, could it?  They are trusting Jon Jay in center and he is a reasonable option.  He has a .784 OPS vs. RHP and .733 OPS vs. LHP, so he doesn’t necessarily need to platoon at this point, but it could change.  Holliday is in left due to the crazy contract and he is pretty good, too.  I would give Craig a chance if I knew he was healthy, but he isn’t.  He is coming off of surgery to his knee and probably won’t be ready until May.  Due to that issue, the Cardinals need to gamble on Beltran or another Free Agent capable of playing right.  Maybe a reunion with Ryan Ludwick, who posted some amazing stats (.857 OPS) over his earlier three-year stay in St. Louis, would be a solid idea as a stopgap?  It wouldn’t be an absurd contract, you wouldn’t have to deal with Scott Boras and you wouldn’t have to invest in a player who has played in just 59% of his team games in the last three seasons.  I would sign Ludwick on the cheap, make him a 4th outfielder off the bat, put Berkman in right for a couple of months while Craig works his way back, and give first base to Matt Adams.  Adams is 23-years-old and he hit .300/.357/.566 last year, ripping 23 2B, 32 HR and 101 RBI in Double-A.  He’s a left-handed bat, which can fit in nicely with Holliday (right) and Berkman (switch) in the middle of the order.  If he falters, move him back to Triple-A and put Berkman at first and Craig/Ludwick in right.  See what you have.  The future in St. Louis needs to happen now.

The rotation is set, you’re not getting anything for the vets and the bullpen is nice.  See what Motte can do in the closer role and quit the closer-by-commitee bullcrap that LaRussa has been pulling since he managed the White Sox.

The 25-man roster would be:

2 Catchers: Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz

1B: Matt Adams

2B: Daniel Descalso

3B: David Freese

SS: Rafael Furcal

LF: Matt Holliday

CF: Jon Jay

RF: Lance Berkman

Bench: Skip Schumaker (INF/OF), Allen Craig (INF/OF), Ryan Ludwick (LF/RF), Tyler Green (2B/SS)

Starting Pitchers: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook

Relief Pitchers: Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Maikel Cleto

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