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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: The Changing Roster

With the trade deadline tomorrow, rumors are gearing up for a Rafael Furcal (or other SS) trade. Furcal’s numbers aren’t impressive this year, but much of that is due to early season injuries. His last several games have shown significant improvement, with hints at increasing positive momentum. Remember, Furcal was an All-Star as recent as last season.

And it’s no secret Ryan Theriot has fallen out of favor at the SS position. It didn’t take last night’s appearance at 2B to show media and fans that Theriot’s days as St. Louis’ primary SS were, perhaps, over. It doesn’t bode well for an infielder when a AAA third baseman bumps you from SS to 2B.

Of course, as we’ve said here before, playing Theriot at 2B – especially when he’s not hitting – opens up the proverbial “can of worms” regarding Skip Schumaker. Hitting .338 with an OBP of .411 for July, Skip has turned a 22 for 65 performance into stability for the Cardinals offense, regardless of where he plays. Now that we are firmly within TLR’s “play the hot hand” part of the season, you cannot simply bury Skip’s bat on the bench.

So…assuming we do acquire a new primary SS (a big assumption), what does that mean for the rest of the Cardinals’ infielders and the timeshare developing at each position? Let’s take a “quick hits” look at a few players and positions and how each may develop during the month of August.

1. Roll Call:  Operating under the assumption that the Cardinals will acquire a new starting SS, we will refer to that SS as Furcal for now. That would leave the infield roster at Furcal, Theriot, Schumaker, Freese, Descalso, and Pujols. Throw in the occasional Tony Cruz in a pinch, and subtract Tyler Greene by necessity, and that leaves you with a versatile bunch of players with a staggering number of deployment options. For clarity’s sake, we’ll ignore the no-contest starters in Freese and Pujols as well as the less-than-likely inclusion of Cruz as an infielder. Let’s see where that leaves us.

2. Shortstop (SS):  Furcal would immediately become the primary starter at the position, but given Tony’s desire to protect players recovering from recent injuries, he won’t be the only option. The question is, who would Tony prefer to spell Furcal on his off days? Theriot or Descalso? In a word…both. Tony will likely play the match-ups (lefty/righty), but look for Descalso to enter the game as a late-inning defensive replacement more often than not. He’s clearly won the trust of Don Tony (apologies to Mr. Miklasz). Of course, Theriot’s starts will depend greatly on his ability to gain some offensive momentum over the coming weeks.

3. Second Base (2B):  Prior to Theriot’s offensive funk, the general assumption was that Theriot would become the primary 2B option (creating relative obscurity for a player like Skip) if a better SS joined the roster. Now, however, the picture is less clear. Skip’s success at the plate and significant improvement in the field combined with Theriot’s issues in both areas has made Schu the better option at 2B. But…Tony has still shown a desire to protect Skip against lefties (only 31 ABs this season). The result could be a right/left platoon at 2B between Theriot and Schumaker.

4. Third Base (3B):  David Freese is still putting together quality, productive at-bats despite missing significant time early on and dealing with a recent nagging hamstring. But Tony knows the value of protecting The Iceman and keeping him fresh. Descalso has shown himself to be a more than capable replacement in the field as well as a nice offensive piece in the right situation. Combine all of that with a need to occasionally spell Furcal, a Schu/Theriot platoon at 2B, and the fact that DD hits from the opposite side of the plate than Freese, and it’s logical to assume DD’s duties will shift to the left side of the infield exclusively. He’ll become the primary SS and 3B backup in spot starts and late-inning defensive replacement scenarios.

5. The Outfield:  What does the outfield have to do with the infield roster? Two things come to mind. First, the trade of Colby Rasmus. Rasmus’ departure, Berkman’s shoulder, and Allen Craig’s DL stint has left a strength (the outfield roster) at a disadvantage. The addition of Corey Patterson adds versatility and speed, but his bat does not compare to Craig’s. He’ll be a versatile bench option as needed, but Craig should see the majority of ABs come mid-August. Second, Skip Schumaker’s throw from right field to nail the runner at home plate last night. The resulting out reminded fans, media…and I would bet TLR…of the value of a plus arm in the outfield (something the Cardinals haven’t seen in quite some time). It also reminded us all of Skip’s value as a utility man.

The first created and identified a need in the outfield…a previous unknown prior to the Rasmus trade (and the Craig injury). The second identified a possible solution to the need. With a sudden abundance of 2B options, Schumaker may find himself providing spot starts in the outfield as well as late inning defensive appearances.

Wrap-Up!

In short, the acquisition of a new starting SS results in more than a few roster changes…and very few of them predicted from the start of the season. Theriot relegated to a platoon spot at second base, Schumaker returning to spot duty in the outfield while demanding playing time at 2B, and Descalso emerging as a primarily left-side backup at both third base and SS (remember, DD had yet to play SS prior to this season and was expected to log more innings at 2nd late in the season than 3B). The odd man out? Tyler Greene.

Greene’s future appears over with the Cardinals. A talented SS and threatening bat, Greene was unable to translate his talent and success to the big league level under the high-pressure gaze of Tony La Russa (despite TLR’s support of the young SS). With a rumored trade in the works with LA for Furcal, and the Cardinals supposed involvement in talks to acquire Heath Bell, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tyler moved in the next 24 hours. Such a move would be in the best interests of the player, the Cardinals, and Greene’s new team who may likely give Tyler the long-term playing time he needs to grow comfortable in The Show and finally let his talent out.

That’ll do it for today. Cards and Cubs upcoming…and who knows…maybe Santa brings us a new SS for Christmas in July!

GO CARDS!!!

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