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

Cardinals choosing Skip over Brendan

The St. Louis Cardinals look to upgrade at shortstop over second base for 2011.

Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker (AP/Morry Gash)The St. Louis Cardinals struggled up the middle in 2010 offensively at both shortstop and second base and were not strong defensively at the latter position. Many observers feel this should be a target area for improvement in 2011.

The question is the best way to do it.

If indications from the Cardinals manager come to pass, shortstop Brendan Ryan may be replaced while second baseman Skip Schumaker remains.

To date, Ryan has been a one-dimensional defensive player while Schumaker is a former outfielder who can play all three positions there. Despite a ground ball-oriented pitching staff, the Cardinals may be preparing to forfeit Ryan’s Gold Glove-quality defense while keeping Skip’s sub-optimal glove at second. The idea seems to be that the loss of Ryan can be more than compensated by acquiring a better-hitting shortstop and the hope of a bounceback season from Schumaker with the bat.

On the ITD Morning After radio show on Wednesday, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said the following.

“…I think Skip has done an amazing job. You know we won 92 games with him at second base his first time out there and this year you know he was more comfortable making routine plays, and he’s still getting used to the position…”

Regarding Ryan, the manager’s comments were far more pointed.

“…when he struggled at the plate like Skip did early… you know Skip, he refused to, he bent a little bit you know, but he didn’t break, and I think it broke Brendan quite a few times. You know he just let those at bats drive him nuts and he’d take it out defensively so again, if there’s somebody better, then Brendan’s job is at risk.”

In his weekly Q&A session on Wednesday, the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss suggested another factor is stacking up against Ryan – his impending arbitration salary may be a mismatch with his perceived value. Oddly, Schumaker was in a comparable place last winter, but secured a two-year commitment from the Cardinals. As such, Skip is under contract for $2.7 million next season after being paid $2 million in 2010.

Strauss also suggested there would be no reason for the Cardinals to keep Ryan as a reserve if another shortstop is acquired (and he wasn’t traded away as part of the deal).

One possible implication of Strauss’ arbitration value comment is that Ryan could be a non-tender candidate if not traded. I just don’t get it. It is very difficult for me to come up with an explanation for how Ryan could be worth less money to the team than what they gave Schumaker.

If you had the assignment to replace one of the two starting middle infielders, what would you do?

  • Would you make Schumaker a utility infielder/outfielder, acquire a second baseman and keep Ryan at short?

or

  • Would you deal Ryan as part of a package for a shortstop with a bigger bat and keep Skip at second?

It seems pretty clear what La Russa wants.

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