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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Could the Cardinals have done better than Skip?

What might the St. Louis Cardinals have seen in the second base market next year had they not locked up Skip Schumaker for 2011?

    As most St. Louis Cardinals fans know by now, the club and second baseman Skip Schumaker came to an agreement on a two-year contract to avoid arbitration. The base amounts are $2 million in 2010 and $2.7 million next year with additional appearance-related bonuses that could take the total to $5 million.

    Skip Schumaker (AP Photo/Morry Gash)My initial view was slightly positive as it looks to be a case where both sides gave a bit. The Cards took two years at a decent price and Skip received another year of security, something he said was important to him.

    Based on the comps I posted earlier for The Cardinal Nation subscribers, I believe Skip had a decent chance of winning his arbitration case. Had he made over $2.4 million this year via arbitration, barring a collapse he would have made more next year ($3-$3.5M would not seem unreasonable). At that price, the Cards could have been tempted to non-tender Schumaker next winter.

    Instead, this way Skip knows he can stay and the club will at most spend $5 million over two years to cover the position. The alternative may have been to spend as much as $6 million to keep him for the two years going year-by-year or finding a new second baseman for 2011 that would cost $3 million or less.

    Another factor to consider is the lack of proven depth in the Cardinals outfield. Schumaker has demonstrated his ability to play all three positions, increasing his value to the club.

    According to The Biz of Baseball, the rate of multi-year contracts for arbitration-eligible players who exchanged figures with clubs is slightly up this year. In 2009, 11 of 46 eligible players received multiple years while here in 2010, 12 of 44 have gone that route, with 12 situations still open, heading toward hearings.

    As the discussion continued on The Cardinal Nation message board, another perspective was put forward. Among the legitimate questions posed:

    • Is Skip is good enough to warrant the need to lock him up for an extra year?
    • Is the potential of saving a million dollars worth giving up the non-tender option for the Cardinals?
    • Is Skip more than a platoon second baseman who struggles in the field?
    • Is Schumaker a value at this price?

    I decided to take a quick and dirty look at what the second base market might be like next year, using this year as a guide. This effort is not to suggest the Cardinals should not have signed Schumaker to a 2010 contract, but more to consider what their alternatives might have looked like a year into the future.

    I am assuming Skip’s immediate replacement would not have come from within. While Daniel Descalso is a fringe top ten prospect in the organization, he is not a sure thing with just one-half year of standout offensive performance in three professional seasons and a sub-.700 OPS over the remainder of his minor league career. There isn’t anyone on Descalso’s heels, either. Our annual Cardinals Top 40 Prospect List at The Cardinal Nation includes just one second baseman for the second consecutive year.

    This winter, there were nine free agent second basemen on the market. Eight of them have found homes for 2010, the lone exception being former Cardinal Felipe Lopez.  Most are in their 30’s. Five of the nine could be free agents again next winter. Though he was not a free agent, I included Schumaker in the group for comparison.

    I listed the 2009 contributions of each player, using OPS+ for offense and UZR at second base for defense. With those scores, I ranked each of the players from 1-to-10 in each category and added the two numbers. Like in golf, low score is better. The ten second basemen are listed in that sequence.

    Further, to the right, I listed the players’ 2010 and 2011 salaries, noting any additions, such as options or incentives.

    Free agent 2B 2010 team Age 2009 OPS+ 2009 UZR Score 2010 $M 2011 $M Other
    Felipe Lopez FA 29 111 7.8 2.5
    Marco Scutaro BOS 34 111 0.3 7.5 $6 $6.5 2012 option
    Craig Counsell MIL 39 105 5.0 7.5 $2.1 plus incentives
    Ronnie Belliard LAD 34 105 2.0 9.5 $0.85 plus incentives
    Freddy Sanchez SF 32 96 7.4 10 $6 $6
    Orlando Hudson MIN 33 109 -3.3 11 $5
    Jamey Carroll LAD 36 90 2.7 13 $1.35 $2.5 plus incentives
    Adam Kennedy WAS 34 101 -4.7 15.5 $1.25 $2 2011 club option
    Skip Schumaker * STL 30 101 -7.7 16.5 $2 $2.7 plus incentives
    Kelly Johnson ARI 28 83 -0.1 17 $2.35

    * Not a free agent

    Based on these measures of offensive and defensive contribution in 2009, Lopez stood substantially taller than any of the other nine. In between big-bucks signees Marco Scutaro and Freddy Sanchez are a pair of aging reserves coming off nice years, Craig Counsell and another ex-Cardinal, Ronnie Belliard.

    Amid questions about his wrist, his defense and second-half falloff, new Minnesota Twin Orlando Hudson leads off the bottom five. In a most interesting comparison, both of the second basemen paid by the Cardinals last year posted OPS+ marks of 101, Adam Kennedy with Oakland and Schumaker. The former had a less-negative UZR.

    Bringing up the rear is Kelly Johnson, who had a subpar year offensively with Atlanta and looks to rebound with Arizona in 2010. A year ago, some Cardinals fans endorsed a straight up trade of Johnson for Ryan Ludwick, an indication of Johnson’s prior success.

    Conclusions?

    A quick spreadsheet analysis like this of a single season has its obvious limitations, but if the 2009-10 free agent market is any indication of what 2010-11 will be like, then it certainly seems like a Schumaker replacement could be out there for the taking at a comparable price next winter.

    My question is whether the likes of Counsell, Belliard, Carroll, Kennedy or Johnson would really be any better than Schumaker in 2011. At least Skip has the chance of improving his defense this coming season, and in doing so, perhaps moving up in the scoring hierarchy. His offense probably is where it is going to be. Clearly the top tier of Scutaro, Sanchez and Hudson are out of Skip’s league price-wise.

    Then there’s Lopez, with the best 2009 UZR at second base and tied for the top OPS+ last season. Why is he still out of work?

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