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

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #15: Young bench, veteran stopgaps

Starting in June, the St. Louis Cardinals called on five minor league castoffs with below-average results.

The St. Louis Cardinals have long professed a desire to build a steady supply of low-salaried prospects to fuel the needs of the major league club. Its implementation had some major ups and downs in 2010, however.

As the minor league pipeline was tapped and soon went dry, the organization went outside for a number of 30-something veterans. Most of them performed below expectations for a 2010 Cardinals club that can be summarized similarly.

Here is a bit of how it came about.

As May concluded and the first third of the schedule was history, it was clear that the Cardinals had lost their early-season momentum. A National League Central lead that had grown to five games on May 3 had eroded to a one-game divisional deficit as June began.

Rookies Jaime Garcia and David Freese contributed out of the gate, but reserve outfielders Allen Craig and Joe Mather had been among the strugglers. Jon Jay had posted an unimpressive OPS of .625 in his first full month as a major leaguer in May.

Starting pitchers Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse went down due to injury on consecutive days in mid-May and Freese would soon be sidelined for an extended period as well. Pitchers P.J. Walters, Adam Ottavino and Evan MacLane were tried but lacked desired consistency.

Rather than continuing to exclusively call on players from Triple-A, the Cardinals instead began to turn to a series of in-season additions of fringe major leaguers no longer wanted by other clubs. They included veterans Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan, Mike MacDougal and Pedro Feliz. In each case, a younger player was returned to Triple-A to make room.

Each of the five veterans ended up playing a considerable role for the 2010 Cardinals. By necessity, several may have been asked to do more than ideal.

The three position players saw approximately 440 plate appearances in total while the two pitchers tossed almost 90 innings. Suppan was the only one of the five that delivered above-average results as measured by OPS+ and ERA+.

On June 1, the Cardinals were 30-22 (.577). The rest of the way, the club went 56-54 (.509), falling short of the post-season. While there were many favors behind the struggles, on the whole, these additions certainly didn’t spark a playoff run.

Date Added Pos Age Previous Sent down PA/IP OPS+/ERA+
6/1 Aaron Miles 2B 33 Rel Cin Allen Craig 151 73
6/5 Randy Winn OF 36 DFA NYY Jon Jay 162 89
6/14 Jeff Suppan SP 35 Rel Mil Adam Ottavino 70 1/3 102
7/28 Mike MacDougal RP 33 Rel Was MiLB Fernando Salas 18 2/3 55
8/19 Pedro Feliz 3B 35 Trade Hou Nick Stavinoha 125 32

Miles was the first notable veteran signed. The Cardinals placed the second baseman on their 40-man and 25-man active rosters on June 1. The 33-year-old had been playing with Springfield since joining the Double-A club on May 13. Released by the Cincinnati Reds in the spring, the switch-hitter signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals on April 27. Miles was given the most time at second base, but also appeared at short, third and even pitched twice.

Four days after Miles reported, on June 5, the switch-hitting outfielder Winn joined St. Louis after having been designated for assignment by the New York Yankees. The 36-year-old had batted just .213 while wearing pinstripes. Winn performed better with the bat as a Cardinal, but it became clear his defensive skills had eroded.

The next addition was Suppan, a familiar face. The 35-year-old former Cardinal returned to the team on June 14 after being released by Milwaukee. In 15 games with the Brewers, he had gone went 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA. Following eight appearances with St. Louis, Suppan was placed on the disabled list on July 31 due to a groin injury and was not reactivated until rosters expanded in September. His appearances seemed carefully selected and his work monitored closely.

On July 8, a day after their bullpen had an embarrassing meltdown in Colorado, the Cardinals added a reliever in the former MLB All-Star MacDougal. The 33-year-old right-hander had been released by Florida in spring training and opted out of his minor league deal with Washington on July 1. Upon signing with the Cardinals, MacDougal was assigned to Triple-A Memphis. On July 28, the Cardinals purchased his contract. In 17 games with St. Louis, MacDougal continued his long-established pattern of hard-throwing inconsistency.

The ongoing health problems of Freese coupled with the struggles of Felipe Lopez led the Cardinals to acquire a third baseman for the stretch run. On August 19, Class A reliever David Carpenter was sent to the Houston Astros with Feliz and cash considerations heading in the other direction. The 35-year-old Feliz was batting .221 for Houston before losing his starting job and performed even worse offensively in his brief stint with St. Louis.

Each of the five is among the team’s six free agents not expected back for 2011. (Brad Penny is the other.) Though more players could be added between now and spring camp, the current outlook for the opening-season bench once again includes a generous quantity of youngsters.

If the kids struggle, will the organization stick with them or import a new crop of golden oldies, and if so, will the results be better next time?

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

Poll: Which veteran in-season addition contributed the most to the 2010 Cardinals?

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