Cards Blog: Finding Strong Bats in the Minors

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Remember when I said Monday that Sunday's loss was the worst game I had seen the Cardinals play this season? Well, apparently the team took some pretty serious umbrage at that statement, because they did their very best to convince me otherwise last night.

Look, Adam Wainwright is going to have rough games every now and again, OK? Every pitcher does. Even Hall-of-Famers like Roger Steroids and Sex Scandal Clemens have their bad days. Wainer can't be perfect every time out. Adam Kennedy turning a popout into a ground-rule double single handedly doesn't help either, of course. Once again, though, the Cardinals went out and laid an egg against a pitcher who isn't exactly putting himself in Cy Young talks this season. Dave Bush came into last night's game with an ERA well above six, and the Birds made him look like an All-Star. Even after he was handed a giant lead and just started chucking it up there, the Cards didn't do much of anything against him.

Unfortunately, as I've discussed pretty much ad nauseam over the past week or two, the offense appears to be exactly what it looks like. This team just isn't going to score many runs, no matter how many base runners they get. There are simply too many holes, and not enough power, to turn the wonderful on-base work these hitters are doing into real run production. So what are the local nine planning on doing about it? Well, let's look at a couple of options.

Call up some pop: Not a great option here. The Cards don't really have a whole lot of hitting prospects in their minor leagues, at least not at the upper levels. Colby Rasmus is really the only impact hitter the Cards have stashed at Triple A, and there are two problems with him. One, he's been awful this season. He's barely hitting over .200 right now and has shown very little power. Yes, he is a habitually slow starter, but this is severe even for him. Methinks the disappointment of not making the roster, coupled with the fact that pitchers are offering him very, very little to hit, are combining to make Colby's early 2008 season a tough one. Two, he's an outfielder. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Cardinals don't seem to have much of a need for outfielders. They have five of them right now, and not enough playing time to go around. Brian Barton, in particular, looks to me like he needs more time on the field. He doesn't look as if he's being able to stay in any kind of rhythm at the moment. So, no room at the inn for Colby.

There are a couple of other good bats the Cards might consider, but each comes with a pretty serious caveat. Joe Mather is also at Triple A, and is currently tearing the cover off the ball. You might recall that Mather nearly made the team out of spring training as a utility player, only to be left off in favor of Uncle Rico Washington and his steak-tossing abilities. Mather offers definite power, and he's versatile enough to play several positions. Problem is, he's also primarily an outfielder, only able to play there and at the infield corners. He won't see much time at first, and, much as some of us might like to see Santa Glaus on the field a little less often, that probably won't happen either. So Mather is left playing mostly outfield. For reasons that's not really a good thing, see above.

There are also two third basemen to consider, David Freese and Allen Craig. Freese, the player the Cardinals received in return for Jim Edmonds in the off-season deal that sent Jimmy Baseball to San Diego, (good move, by the way, Mr. Mozeliak) is currently at Triple A and having a solid season. Problem is, this is the first year he's played above Single A ball, and bringing him up right now might well prove detrimental to his development. Also, again, I don't think Troy is going anywhere, at least not until 2010. Craig is an even better bat, although he started slowly, and is stashed at Double A Springfield. Craig offers the kind of impact bat the Cards could use, but the jump from Double A to the majors might be too much for him. He's probably not an option at this point either.

What we really need to look at are the middle-infield options the Cards have that could give the team an offensive spark. I'll list them all for you now, so you can reference the list whenever you need to. Here you go:

1. ...

Not much of a list, is it? The Cardinals' farm system contains approximately the same number of impact bats in the middle infield as the big league club does. Zero. Their first-round draft pick last year, Pete Kozma, is doing a nice job at Quad Cities, hitting .292/.379/.460, but Quad Cities is low-A ball. He's probably at least two seasons away from St. Louis. Aside from that, it's a pretty barren group.

A trade? Really, this is probably the only workable option the Cardinals have. So, what sort of trading chips are we looking at?

Chris Duncan: my personal favorite trade candidate. I know I've been harping on this way too much, but I really think the Cards need to try to move Duncan to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter. As a primary DH, he'd actually be unusually versatile, seeing as how he can play two positions on the field (albeit neither one at a particularly high level). The trouble with moving Duncan right now is that he hasn't been hitting all that well, which reduces his trade value. If he can start hitting, though, and the Cardinals have a chance at dealing him for a potential future impact middle infielder, they'd do well to pull the trigger. Possible trade partners: San Francisco, Minnesota, Baltimore and maybe a team like Seattle. I should amend that and say possible trade fits. I'm not implying I've heard these teams mentioned; I'm just going on teams that might be a fit when I look at them.

Anthony Reyes: Oy. How does one even go about trying to figure out what Reyes' trade value might be? He was once one of the better pitching prospects in the game, he won Game 1 of the World Series, and he's still got nasty stuff at times. On the other hand, he's been pretty awful at times as a major leaguer, and there's no guarantee he'll ever get it figured out. According to some recent reports, Mozeliak is asking for one blue-chip prospect plus another piece for Anthony. Good luck with that one, Mo. Still, you can't blame him for trying. Realistically, though, the only way the Cards probably get the kind of player they really need in return for Reyes is to find an organization with a good, but blocked, prospect on the middle of the diamond and a need for pitching. The two best organizations I can think of that fit that profile are the Angels, with >Brandon Wood blocked at Triple A, and the Braves, with a kid by the name of Brent Lillibridge. Either one could be a potential fit for this type of deal, but you would probably have to add on to Anthony to get either of those players.

Brad Thompson: He's sort of like Reyes, value-wise, with a little more versatility and a little less stuff. Probably a good part of a package, but not worth much on his own.

Braden Looper, Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro: Here's the really interesting area of discussion, to me at least. All three of these pitchers are just the kind of veteran, solid presence that a team in contention could be looking to add as they head forward. All three have good points, and all three have some bad points.

Both Looper and Lohse have the benefit of being free agents after this season, which would reduce the time a given team would be committed to them, while Jo-ell is signed for next year, which could be good for a team that doesn't have an immediate option to fill its 2009 rotation and would like a little bit of security.

Lohse and Pineiro are both proven mediocrities, albeit durable ones. A team that needs to eat up some innings could do much worse than to pick one of these guys up. Looper, on the other hand, has less of a track record, and so is more of an injury concern, especially considering the whole career reliever-turned-started switcheroo he's pulled.

Bottom line, all three of these guys are valuable, but there are two things keeping the Cards from moving them. One, most teams right now are still trying to get their footing on exactly what their chances really are and aren't willing to part with too very much at the moment to acquire a veteran, average pitcher. Two, what do you do with the spot in the rotation that's suddenly vacant if you did manage to move one of these guys? There are a couple of options at Triple A, beginning with the aforementioned Mr. Reyes, but that's probably not real likely. Mitchell Boggs and Jaime Garcia are a couple of other names you might hear thrown around, but both probably need more seasoning. Besides, the Cardinals are one of the most hesitant organizations in baseball to reach down into the minor leagues for help. You see other teams bring up kids for temporary help all the time, but not so much the Cards. Of course, that's partly a reflection of the quality of their minor-league system in recent years, but it's also a philosophical issue. Most likely we won't see any of these three pitchers moved until the trading deadline, and quite possibly not even then.

Skip Schumaker: This is an interesting one, but I doubt it's going to happen. The Cardinals may have waited out Skip's highest value, when he was hitting the cover off the ball and looking like a young Brett Butler leading off games a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, Tony seems to like Skip leading off an awful lot, and I'm just not sure he would bring enough value to make it worthwhile moving him. Bottom line, Skippy's probably here to stay. Which brings us to our last option:

Steroids for all! Mandatory steroid injections could be just what this team needs. It might add some pop to the middle infield, our pitchers wouldn't get tired out so easily and Albert could begin using a tree trunk to hit with. I think this solution is workable and within the Cardinals' means. I know they have at least two guys on staff who have some connections, and pretty much the whole crew is from Oakland originally. This could work, people. It really could.

Okay, so we bag the steroid idea. What should the Cardinals do? I'm going to have to say they start trading in the next couple of weeks, beginning with Duncan. Move him, move Reyes. Mike Parisi makes Brad Thompson redundant, so move Thompson too.

Again, these guys aren't going to bring much on their own, but creative packaging of a player or two, combined with a minor-league relief arm (which the Cards happen to be overflowing with), could bring good value in return.

Then, in a month or so, strongly consider moving at least one of the three veteran pitchers on the staff. At that point at least one of your minor leaguers should be available to help carry the load at the big-league level, and, fingers crossed, Carpenter should only be another month away.

My top target would be Brandon Wood of the Angels. He's got light-tower power, he can handle shortstop and the Angels like Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick in their middle infield an awful lot. I'm sure it would take a lot to get a guy like Wood, but he just might be worth it. He's worth the call, at least.

Whether or not John Mozeliak can find outside assistance, and for the right price, will prove to be his first major challenge as general manager. You're on the clock, John. Got any moves?

- Aaron Schafer

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