Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Who Stays? Who Goes?

All of the recent trade activity in the NL Central has gotten me to thinking about what might be going around in the noggin of Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and his new front-office braintrust. One doesn't have to be an expert to realize that these folks will have some interesting, and important, decisions to make soon about who will patrol the outfield at Busch Stadium III in the next one to ten years. There is an abundance of young talent that will need to be sorted out and settled on and, in some cases, moved on. Obviously, the people patroling the meadows this year will not be the same next least not the entire top 5 or 6.

There has been too much said about the can't-miss status of Colby Rasmus to expect him to be working at Memphis again next year. Rasmus, and apparently more so his father, expected he would be working in St. Louis this season. That still will probably happen come September. But, his chance at getting here sooner faded with his sub-professional start in Tennessee. Nonetheless, all of his apparent talent, judged as star-quality by almost everyone who knows anything about the game, will have to be allowed a fair shot by next season's start.

The exciting potential of "Mighty" Joe Mather has become apparent to the masses at the big-league level already. And he appears to be a sure bet for the majors on a regular basis soon too. Whether it will be in a Cardinals uniform seems to be the only question.

The enigma that is Chris Duncan needs no further discussion here. He has the raw power that Tony LaRussa is so in love with...but it takes too many games off. And he plays the outfield like Beckham might...Victoria that is. He appears to be cut out for DH duty, and maybe some first base, with an AL squad.

You have Skip Schumaker who is serviceable, reliable, and likeable. But you have to wonder if he will develop anything close to star player status. The guy can play. But how much above average?

There's Nick Stavinoah who has put in some time as DH during the inter-league games in June. He's listed as an outfielder on the depth chart. But that puts him in a tremendously tough spot to expect any playing time at the major-league level...unless it be as a bench player.

Brian Barton has been fun to watch at times. Great speed, occasional power, OK defense. But it appears his status as a Rule 5-draftee is the only thing keeping him at the major-league level. Next year might figure to be one started, and perhaps ended, at Memphis, unless a trade takes him elsewhere.

So, is Ryan Ludwick a cornerstone outfielder for the future? His all-star selection would tend to make you think so. He's got awesome power when he squares the bat to the ball. He's reliable defensively. He's got a great personality and obviously appreciates his time in the majors after career-threatening injuries of the past. It would be nice to think that what we're seeing in '08 could continue to '18. For some reason I wonder if the front office has bought many shares in Ludwick Inc. for the future.

Then you have Rick Ankiel. Even after his amazing catches and power surges you have to wonder if what you're seeing is a mirage simply because...well, for crying-out-loud...the guy was thought to be a pitcher! And was! Here's an obviously amazingly talented athlete who does things with his bat that noone would have ever expected. He does things with his glove that most humans can only dream about. And his arm...well, not even human...that's X-Men stuff. He may be the most solid lock for the future of anybody at this point. But, then you see the stat that he's among the worst in MLB in batting average with RISP in late-inning situations. Does that go back to the mental approach problems of his pitching meltdown? I'm just a fan...not a sports psychologist...but I've got to wonder.

All-right Mr. Mozeliak...what's your plan? Do you package a few of these guys (Duncan? Schumaker? Mather?) to solidify the pitching staff...particularly the bullpen? Do you sit tight this year and see who emerges in spring training '09 and then make a move? Do you try for the blockbuster (OF Matt Holliday and LHP Brian Fuentes from the Rockies for Outfielder A and B, plus pitcher C and infielder D) to try to trump the Cubs and Brewers this year?

My thought-- Nobody expected this year's Cardinals to win the World Series. Probably nobody still does. So Mo doesn't have a lot to lose by sitting tight. He does have a lot to lose if he makes a bonehead trade that costs the team a major chunk of future assets in return for nothing substantially superior. It may be frustrating this season to see the Cubbies and Brewers pull away in August and September. (Of course, that may not even happen) But, if it does, Mr. Mo will still have a lot of cards to play (no pun meant) come the off-season. Expectations will be much higher in '09. Let's see how Ludwick, Ankiel and Rasmus (my projected starting outield for next year) do then.

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