The most-talked about subject in St. Louis Cardinals training camp this spring may not be Chris Carpenter, despite the club’s 2009 hopes being precariously hinged on his right arm. What first seemed like a joke has become reality – an attempt to move outfielder Skip Schumaker to second base.
Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be another re-warmed review of Skip’s ancient college history at shortstop or a bashing of his uneven start at his new position.
Instead, this is a quick look at a kindred spirit, Kansas City’s Mark Teahen. As I type this, I am watching the Toronto Blue Jays entertain the World Baseball Classic’s Team Canada in an exhibition contest Tuesday.
One of the Canadian infielders is Teahen. While the versatile 27-year-old is starting at third base on this day, he will be seeing time at second during the WBC, as well, at least in drills if not in actual games. That will be at the request of the Royals.
Just like the Cardinals, their cross-state interleague rivals said goodbye to their veteran second baseman over the winter. Former Cardinal Mark Grudzielanek became a free agent and remains unsigned for 2009.
Already with over 200 career games each at third base and right field, as well as limited time in left field, at first base and even centerfield, Teahen was asked to move once again to take Grudz’ old job.
Kansas City’s November trade for veteran outfielder Coco Crisp, a former Cardinals farmhand, made the most recent Teahen shift necessary. Then, there’s the prospect of the small-budget Royals paying over $3.5 million for what would otherwise be projected as a utility player.
It’s not the first time Teahen has been moved. It’s not the second, either.
When former Nebraska Cornhusker Alex Gordon came up in 2007, starting third baseman Teahen was shifted to right field despite being the organization’s reigning Player of the Year. When veteran right-fielder Jose Guillen was signed, guess who was slid over to left?
Teahen’s first game for the Royals this spring was a disaster, with two errors and several other misplays. After almost 900 career professional games – 364 in the minors and another 532 in the majors – it was his first appearance at second base.
He tried it once before, in his first season of junior college. Despite his past utility success, Teahen’s 6-foot-3 height adds to the skepticism.
While the Cardinals are missing Schumaker’s primary infield instructor due to the WBC in Team Puerto Rico’s manager Jose Oquendo, they still have former major league second basemen Joe Pettini and others to keep the heavy focus on.
Imagine how the Royals feel about Teahen missing valuable spring training time?
Of course, it has to be discussed carefully, since the WBC is the brainchild of Major League Baseball and any club officials know better than to speak out. In this case, all the right words are being spoken, at least publicly.
I am not sure on which team this more reflects, but Team Canada defeated the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Former Cardinals starter Mike Maroth got the start for Toronto, allowing two runs in two innings and looking shaky in the process.
(On a side point, have you noticed how the Jays have become the place former Cardinals go to die? By my count, there have been at least five to head north in the last two years alone – David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Cody Haerther, Matt Clement and Maroth.)
Are the Canadians this good or the Jays that bad? I am not sure, but either way, since Team Canada is in a pool with the USA and Venezuela, their WBC participation is expected to end with the first round. If that is the case, Teahen could be back in KC’s camp by the middle of the month.
Like Skip, Teahen doesn’t have to worry about his roster spot, but how can the time spent away from camp be spun in a positive manner?
Now, I’m not being critical of Teahen. He was put in a bad place by the timing of the tournament, being forced to decide between his employer and his country.
Teahen had decided to play in the 2006 WBC, but let the Royals talk him out of it. He had wanted to participate in the Olympics when in the minors and his father is a veteran of Canadian international competition.
If the Schumaker experiment by the Cardinals fails, the WBC can’t realistically be blamed. Royals backers might not be so gracious if Teahen can’t make his transition stick.