In a winter that has grown increasingly contentious across the Cardinal Nation, the St. Louis Cardinals front office has made some curious moves in recent days.
How the Troy Glaus injury situation was handled has already been well-analyzed by others, so I won’t excessively beat that horse further.
I will say that it is impossible for me to come up with a scenario where management allowed this to happen on purpose. After all, how could the club benefit by Glaus missing up to two months of the season? It’s not like they think they will play better without him and they do still have to pay him, either way.
Still, the investigative journalist side in many people will not seem to be happy until proper blame can be laid on someone. By default, that always seems to be management. In this case, it seems partially valid at least, in terms of how the communication was handled.
I find it disappointing that during the Winter Warm-up fan event, just a few days prior to the surgery announcement, both the club and player covered up the problem, likely to avoid having to answer tough questions. That is not the way to foster trust with an already-wary wary fan base.
No matter whose fault it is, it provides yet another opportunity to criticize ownership and management at a time when the fan’s confidence level in them seems to be following a George Bush popularity trajectory. Hmmm, maybe that is explainable, since Bill DeWitt, Jr. and “43” are buds.
One positive that may come from this injury is the chance to find out early on if David Freese has what it takes to become a major league third baseman. With Glaus’ contract up following the 2009 season and if the “powder dry” Cardinals continue on their cost-cutting trajectory, Glaus will most likely be playing elsewhere in 2010.
Already on a very aggressive schedule since being drafted in the first round just last June, Brett Wallace would have to wow the coaches in camp to become a serious factor to open the season in St. Louis. Yet, crazier things have surely happened.
Speaking of crazy, let’s move on to second base, home of Adam Kennedy and some very unsettled plans.
One of my pet peeves was recently surfaced in the news. If I had a dollar for everyone who thinks Player A, who apparently isn’t good enough to start at his current position, can magically convert to second base overnight, I would be most wealthy. Trying it at the major league level is even more risky.
Yet, that is precisely what Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak offered up for the Cardinal Nation the other day in a chat at StLToday.com. The subject was Skip Schumaker.
“Schumaker was drafted as an infielder but has not played there since making the move to the OF. I have spoken with Tony on this and we have included Oquendo in these talks as well. Skip may get a look there this spring to gauge how comfortable he would be with trying to move back to the infield. He had a good offensively (sic) and we always look for creative ways to get players more playing time,” Mozeliak said.
Up until that point, I refused to believe the scuttlebutt about Schumaker, just as I did about the earlier rumors about outfielder Shane Robinson, who did not see action during the Arizona Fall League at second base, by the way. (As an aside, Jon Jay received a spring training invite and Robinson did not. Consider that an indication of the outfield pecking order.)
Since Mozeliak had discussed the idea of trying Schumaker at second with Tony La Russa and Jose Oquendo as he says he did, why didn’t any of them actually discuss it with the player, too? Couldn’t they have gotten the player some reps in winter ball to test the idea and increase the odds of success?
Of course, the player needs to be sold on the idea first. Earlier, at WWU, Schumaker seemed lukewarm at best, joking that there was likely a reason he hadn’t been put at second base since college in 2001 and prior. Probably knowing he had to be politically correct, the outfielder also said he would try to do whatever the coaches ask.
Why Mo divulged the idea about Schumaker in the manner he did now seems a bit odd. It may not be completely fair, but it felt to me like the GM is trying to generate hope any way possible no matter how unlikely it seems as this increasingly-long, tiring and frustrating off-season continues.
What was unsaid is that if Skip is able to cover second, that creates more outfield room for top prospect Colby Rasmus. In a season with not much new to be excited about, at least so far, more and more signals are pointing to Rasmus as becoming a 2009 focal point – if he makes the team, that is. (An indicator of the hope is the assignment of number 28 to Rasmus this spring, something that stands out among all the number 70s and 80s assigned to the other non-roster invitees.)
Joe Mather, who hasn’t ever played second, recently commented that he would be excited to get the chance to try to play there, too. La Russa had previously laughed off the idea, noting the 6-foot-4 Mather would be one of the tallest second basemen ever. Seems to me that in camp Mather ought to be concentrating on becoming a credible third base reserve, anyway.
Stop! Let’s get real here. This is the major leagues, not some rookie tryout camp. The Cardinals already had two other proven second basemen and they let them walk.
They watched Felipe Lopez leave because he supposedly wanted a multi-year deal. Yet he signed just a one year contract with Arizona for just $3.5 million. They ran Aaron Miles, who was still under team control, out of town because they were scared of arbitration. Miles signed with the Cubs for an average of $2.45 million for the next two seasons, hardly a king’s ransom.
If the Cardinals want another real second baseman, just go get one now, for Pete’s sake. Waiting until camp to determine if any of the in-house candidates are capable is a gamble. Perhaps some decent right-handed hitting second basemen will be available then, but perhaps not.
Among the second basemen still on the market today are Orlando Hudson and Ray Durham. Hudson is a Type A free agent, so his price may be too high due to the compensatory first-round draft pick lost. Former Cardinal Mark Grudzielanek is also out there and any of the three could be a serviceable Kennedy alternative from the right side of the plate. (AK is a left-handed hitter as is Schumaker, another reason the proposed switch seems questionable.)
Since the Cardinals were willing to pay Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes, there must be a little dry powder that could be spared to acquire a decent second baseman if the club wants someone who is actually proven at the position. Yahoo Sports’ most recent projection has the Cardinals coming in with a $91 million payroll in 2009, an almost 10 percent drop from 2008.
Instead, are we really supposed to feel confident about the idea of Skip Schumaker playing second base?
I am not big into playing the blame game myself, and have been trying to wait to pass judgment until the off-season is complete, but Cardinals management isn’t doing anything to help their standing in the court of public opinion. Lately, it seems just the opposite.