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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Put Me in, Coach…

Over the coarse of the season, one expects such a playing-time log-jam as the Cardinals have in the outfield to work itself out – it has not. In fact, it’s only gotten worse. The five Cardinals outfielders’ stats currently look like so:

The current stats for all 5 Cardinal outfielders as of 5/20/2008.

At first glance, the decision seems simple: Play Ankiel, Ludwick, and Schumaker. But, hold on there…are these really the best three options in the outfield? Rumor has it that Johnny Mo just may trade one of these promising young outfielders for an impact bat later in the season. So who gets the boot? If you’re going to trade one away, you better make darn sure it’s the right one. But determining who is the right one can be complicated.

Many Cardinals fans want to see Chris Duncan shipped out. While I understand their perspective, I urge caution. Duncan has it in him to be an incredibly intimidating power hitter with an above average on-base percentage. He may have struggled earlier in the season, but something has since changed. I think he’s simply standing more erect at the plate to take advantage of his height-induced power – but what do I know? The point is, he’s getting better, which means the club has to find out just how “better” he can be before committing him to the trading block. Only problem is, Duncan can’t get better without consistent playing time – something that is hard to come by on this crowded roster.

Other Cardinals fans are ready to give Skip Schumaker a one-way ticket out of St. Louis if it means an “impact bat.” Okay…Skip’s qualities aside (see “Making a Case for Schumaker…”), who do you hit lead-off? The answer tends to be Brian Barton…but the young right-handed hitter is struggling mightily. Word is, Barton is not the most fundamentally sound player to begin with…a moment spent watching any of his limited at-bats will tell you that much. He has a reputation for being “that guy” – the one who looks horrid in practice but gets it done in a game…the type the coaches can’t quite figure out. Here’s the problem with being “that guy” – he tends to be pretty difficult to predict. To me, poor fundamentals and inconsistent practice/game performance equals holes in his swing and an easily exposed hitter. How can we commit long-term to a guy like that? Yet that is exactly how many fans see it…Brian Barton as part of the future of this franchise. So…again…how do you figure that out? Well, playing time, of course…of which we are in short supply.

As if the log-jam in the Bigs wasn’t enough, young players like Joe Mather and Nick Stavinoha are pushing hard from Triple A. Mather is hitting .313 with 8 home runs (last I heard, 5 of the last 6 games included a Mather HR – 2 of which were game winners – one of those being a walk-off shot) while Stavinoha is pasting the ball at a tune of .378 and 6 home runs. Mather is considered the better athlete, but Stavinoha may be too much to ignore. So…when do you bring THOSE guys up for a shot? And that doesn’t even take into account the highly anticipated Rasmus (currently struggling with a .182 avg and 6 home runs) who is expected to crack the roster late this year.

This truly is a conundrum. People call this a “good problem to have,” but it is still a problem. Don’t get me wrong – having this many promising outfield options is a good thing, but figuring out which one is the future of the franchise…whew…let’s just say I wouldn’t wanna’ be Johnny Mo right about now. No one wants to see another Danny Haren deal.

All in all, the gluttony of talented outfielders is refreshing. I remember last season when Ludwick was brought up to inject some life into the offense. No one really expected him to stick, but stick he has – and with authority. This year, it’s a matter of playing time – no single outfielder can get enough, and all of them desperately need it. The result is an eerie excitement when players like Ankiel are briefly side-lined with minor discomfort. In his absence, La Russa is able to give Duncan and Barton the as-of-yet unavailable playing time needed to both get them on track and evaluate them.

The short of it is this: Someone is going to get traded. But even that comes with it’s difficulties.

Barton is a Rule 5 guy, meaning he has to stay with the club all season or be offered back to the Indians for $25,000. Trading him is no less complicated.

Duncan is the much-publicized son of pitching coach Dave Duncan. While the Duncans are professionals (and one son, Shelly, already plays for another pinstriped club), trading away the coach’s son is no easy thing.

Even the players we may look to keep pose their own problems. Ankiel is represented by the reprehensible Scott Boras, and who the hell knows how to determine the long-term contract value of an injury prone, 30 year old guy with a screw in his hip like Ludwick?

In fact, the only guy that seems to be simple to predict and easy to deal with – Schumaker – seems to be the one most threatened by the rise of Rasmus.

No, this log-jam has most certainly NOT worked itself out…but it is a good problem to have. Just think – with our improved minor league system and player development, this is exactly the kind of problem we can look forward to year after year for many years to come.

BIRD SEEDS

Cesar Izturis Finally Found a Bat His Size  Lil’ Izzy has turned some heads this month. Coming into Spring Training, the defensively-minded shortstop’s offense was in question. Coming into the Regular Season, his defense wasn’t much better. But both have been excellent as of late. The scrappy little switch-hitter has hit to the tune of a .327 AVG, .386 OBP, and a .404 SLG percentage during the month of May. And to top it all off, the little guy shot a HR to left field last night against the Padres in PETCO. I didn’t know the guy had it in ‘im…

Mark Mulder Now Thinks the Cards’ Medical Staff is Just F***ing with Him  It happened again. Mark Mulder has been shut down for 10-14 days after experiencing some kind of problem getting his arm where he wants it to go. GAH! At this point, I’m seriously doubting that we’ll every see Mulder pitch this year. This latest bout with shoulder discomfort now makes it nearly unthinkable that he will make a return by mid-July (as he previously expected), but it’s got me wondering if he’ll ever pitch in a Cardinals uniform again. It also makes me wonder…just what kind of online degrees do our club doctors have, anyway? At some point, the law of averages states they have to get SOMETHING right…eventually…don’t they?

Ryan Ludwick Prooves the Existence of Spontaneous Combustion Luddy is flat-out killing the ball. In fact, he’s so hot, other Cardinals players have been reporting burns to the face and hands immediately after celebratory encounters with the right fielder. Tony La Russa has even taken to hiding a small canister of fire-retardent foam in the dugout before each game – just in case. When asked if Ludwick’s hitting streak will earn him more playing time, La Russa gave a practical response. “Of course. I’m gonna’ run him out there every chance I get. Can’t have a guy like that sitting in the dugout too long. These benches are made of wood – not to mention the safety of the players and staff.”

Chris Perez – the Future is Now  Chris Perez, the Cardinals’ future closer from Triple A, has finally made his debut with the Big League club. Now that he’s up, and considering the occasional ineffectiveness of the bullpen (I’m being kind…very kind), how in the hell do you send a guy like him back down? I don’t care if Izzy comes back spitting 95 mph fastballs out his arse…this kid’s here to say.

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Discussion

One thought on “Bird Watching: Put Me in, Coach…

  1. I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

    Posted by Tom Stanley | May 20, 2008, 7:56 pm

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