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The Cardinals' middle infield

The off-season news that the St. Louis Cardinals would be replacing shortstop Edgar Renteria and second baseman Tony Womack with David Eckstein and Mark Grudzielanek (respectively) was greeted with skopticism -- which is to say, a mix of skepticism and optimism, and more of the former than the latter. But at this writing, with the 2005 season more than three-fourths over, Walt Jocketty's middle-infield shuffle looks like nothing shy of general-managing genius. Shall we count the ways? After losing the bidding war for Renteria, who turned down a reported four-year, $39 million deal to stay with the Birds in favor of four years and $40 mil to join the Boston Red Sox, the Cardinals went out and signed Eckstein, who'll cost them $2.3 million and change this year. While Renteria has struggled, Eckstein ranks fifth among major-league shortstops in on-base percentage and -- perhaps more impressively given his rep as an adequate infielder at best -- is tied for sixth in fielding percentage. Grud, meanwhile, is taking home a modest $1 million, hitting a robust .290 and sporting a fielding percentage of .989 (fifth among big-league second sackers). Together the two have anchored an infield that leads the majors in double plays. The move also freed up the buckage to assume southpaw Mark Mulder's contract from the Oakland A's. Still skopticistic? Didn't think so.

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