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

Have the Cardinals improved toughness and chemistry?

The St. Louis Cardinals have made a pair of changes to their starting lineup for 2011, in the outfield and at shortstop. What might the impact be?

In Sunday’s Post-Dispatch, Jeff Gordon penned a column entitled “Cards sacrifice defense for offense, toughness”. The flashpoint was Saturday’s signing of outfielder-first baseman-outfielder Lance Berkman, but the focus was the cumulative effect of the team’s roster moves this winter to-date.

Let’s start with the title. I get the defense-offense contrast and readily agree. I want to think about more about the “toughness” assertion, however.

Gordon also mentions the elusive term, chemistry, in reference to Berkman and new shortstop Ryan Theriot.

“But this much is certain: The “Big Puma” adds sorely needed presence to the Cardinals’ batting order and clubhouse.

“The move, following the addition of gung-ho shortstop Ryan Theriot, alters the team chemistry. Berkman plays to win, as the Yankees discovered after adding him to their supporting cast last season.”

OK, Berkman and Theriot joined St. Louis. Depending on which part of the 2010 season to which you are drawing a comparison, Berkman either replaces Ryan Ludwick or the platoon of Allen Craig and Jon Jay. The latter two are still on the team.

Theriot takes the place of Brendan Ryan in the lineup and perhaps Felipe Lopez or Aaron Miles on the roster. Ryan remains with the team, at least for now. Miles had the reputation of being a good teammate. Blake Hawksworth was traded away and eight players departed via free agency.

Other than Lopez, an obvious target, and Ryan in a diminished role, it is unclear who else is being referenced on the deletion side of the equation.

On the addition side, how do we know the two newest Cardinals are tougher and contribute to a better a chemistry mix than the guys they replace?

Berkman has been a fine player for a long time but is in the decline stage of his career. He is a good guy by all accounts, though injury-plagued and in less than ideal playing shape. While he may have shown the Yankees he plays to win, they didn’t ask him back and neither did his longtime Houston club, despite Berkman almost begging to come home.  Theriot was unwanted by the Dodgers after having lost his starting job and being dispatched from Chicago last summer.

Further, can Berkman stay healthy and can both bounce back from substandard 2010 campaigns?

At this early stage, it feels more like hope than anything that can be substantiated.

Gordon readily acknowledges the decline in defense expected from the revamped Cardinals lineup but is still among those who already see positive change with certainty. His closing comments:

“But La Russa is willing to trade defensive potential for offensive muscle and a tougher attitude. Last year’s team spent a lot of time daydreaming.

“That won’t be a problem next summer with Berkman and Theriot playing big roles.”

More than toughness and chemistry, I am most interested in the bottom line. Will the potential for increased run-scoring more than offset the risk of additional runs allowed?

I will wait and see before becoming a “daydream believer” that these changes for 2011 will prove to be as substantive as suggested.

What do you think?

Poll: Will the Cardinals’ roster changes improve team toughness and chemistry?

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