While on a self imposed sabbatical from social media channels, like Twitter, the Cardinals made an interesting trade with the Houston Astros. My first thought was not about the who the player was or what we had to give up, but instead Lloyd Bridges from the movie Airplane. Yes, this was a bad week to quit twitter.
I will admit to taking a peek to see what the initial comments were, and I was shocked at the amount of negativity.
Wow, such doom and gloom stuff. I know this has been a frustrating season and the expectations in Cardinals Nation were particularly high after signing Matt Holliday to a long term contact in the off season. At this point, the Cardinals are just 3 1/2 games out of first place but falling fast (which is only half true – they are 3 1/2 games out of first, but hardly in a free fall). If you want to see a free fall, check out the ’64 Phillies and ’69 Cubs. Then we can talk. This is just the ebb and flow of a typical long baseball season, albeit with an apparent momentum shift east of the Mississippi river. But that can come back just as quickly as it went away.
Man, I sure picked a bad time to quit Twitter.
Before Mr. Feliz takes his first at bat or fields the first ball hit in his direction, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject. This story will all play itself out over the next six weeks, and we can look back with all of the benefits of hindsight to judge this trade. That’s far too easy. Instead, let’s put our karma at risk and take a stand based on intuition, trust, experience and ….. a little luck.
What did we expect the Cardinals front office to do ?
Seriously. If you were the GM, what would you have done ?
We know how much we had to give up (Ryan Ludwick) to secure a veteran pitcher (Jake Westbrook) for the 4th spot in the rotation. How much do you think he’d have to give up to get an everyday third baseman that could produce Scott Rolen types of offensive numbers, even if that type of player was available ? And still sign Albert Pujols ? We did check with the Tampa Bay Rays – Evan Longoria was not available at the time of this trade.
The Cardinals had several vulnerabilities at the non-wavier trade deadline. These were pitching (starting), middle infield defense, offensive production, and third base. We can debate this until the next trade deadline, but the biggest of these vulnerabilities was in the rotation. I didn’t say problem, I specifically used the word vulnerability – I want to turn this discussion from performance into one of risk management.
- Chris Carpenter is one pitch away from a career ending injury. This is not news. It is also true with any pitcher, but Carpenter has a higher risk due to past injuries. The way the man has pitched over the last twelve months suggests that we shouldn’t stay up nights worrying about this, like we did last May. It is still a factor.
- Jaime Garcia is well into uncharted territory for both his career and his surgically repaired pitching arm. Even without the Tommy John surgery a year ago, Garcia is throwing more tough innings than he has at any point in his career. He has been simply amazing in his rookie year, but it is unreasonable to think that he can shoulder the load of a pennant race without some help elsewhere in the rotation.
- Although both were improving, neither Blake Hawksworth nor Jeff Suppan were succeeding at the tail end of the rotation, and their inability to go deep into games is putting additional stress on a bullpen that has been pretty good so far. Blake Hawksworth has been impressive and should be considered for cost controlled spot in the rotation next year, but his best place today is in long relief. I’ll leave it to others to joke about Suppan being more effective on the Disabled List (DL) than in the rotation.
- Pitching and defense wins championships. You need enough production to win, but if you can’t pitch and field your position, you just can’t consistently score enough runs to win. And it’s such a terrible pun, but good pitching starts with good starters.
Conclusion: as much as we miss Ryan Ludwick wearing the Cardinals uniform, the trade for Jake Westbrook was the right call, at the right time. Fortunately, Westbrook’s performance has helped us put this trade in a better perspective, but even if he went 0-3 with a 10+ ERA, it was still the right move. The risk to the rotation has been managed and it is nowhere near the vulnerability it was in July.
Now that we have agreement, the next priority is defense. The Cardinals middle infield has been inconsistent at best, although recently has improved largely due to some inspired play by Brendan Ryan. The best middle infield help that we have is Felipe Lopez, but he’s stuck playing third base every day because of David Freese’s fragile ankles. Third base is not the best of the infield positions for Lopez, and he has done the best that he can filling in, but the Cardinals are best served when Lopez can play fairly regularly, but not every day – and not at third base. We are a better team if Lopez can spot Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker in middle infield and when not starting, being a late inning bat off the bench to complement Nick Stavinoha.
There are no other third basemen in the system that are ready to play every day and do it better than Lopez has been doing. Rueben Gotay and Kevin Howard are interesting players at Memphis (AAA), but neither figured into the long range plans for the Cardinals. Gotay’s bat of late would be welcome, but hitting at AAA is much different than doing that day after day in the major leagues. Ask Allen Craig. And before anybody starts trying to pronounce Gotay, he is a defensive liability at third base – and that’s putting it nicely.
I credit John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office for filling the biggest trouble spot on the roster, and doing so with enough time to impact not only the divisional race with the Reds, but also not risk the future of the franchise.
If vegetables were like the available third basemen
All of the vegetarians would starve. Or become omnivores, which is sort of what the Front Office had been doing since moving Felipe Lopez to third base as an every day fill in. The list of available third basemen isn’t exactly a Who’s Who in Productive Major League Talent, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a couple of guys that can fill the void and make this a much better team. Pedro Feliz is one of those guys, and here’s why.
- He’s been around the block, so gets extra points for being scrappy. That goes a long way with Tony La Russa’s management style and that means he’ll be left alone to do his job. There are no other players that are fighting to take his place, so he can settle in and try to make contributions to a team trying to make the playoffs.
- He’s been here before. Feliz was on the 2008 Phillies World Series team, and that type of post season experience will be important as he starts working with some of the younger players. The Cardinals are still a young team and his experience can be shared with some of the youngsters that might not seek out help from Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina.
- The primary need at third base is defense, and Feliz can do that. Or at least he has in the past.
- How many games have we lost because innings were extended by an error or a double play that should have been turned, but wasnt’ ? Too many. And when you are only two games out of first place (in the loss column), that’s too many. Ask Jaime Garcia.
- Ronnie Belliard. Cesar Cedeno. Ed Spiezio. Scott Spiezio. Tito Landrum. Eddie Bressoud. Heck, even ol’ Felipe Lopez. These are all players that came to the Cardinals and contributed to a pennant drive, in spite of some rather underwhelming recent performance. Something magical happens when a player puts on a new uniform in a pennant race, especially when it has two birds on a bat. Yes, I’m invoking the mystique of playing for the Cardinals – and it may be called on now, more than ever.
- Feliz is a 2010 replacement only. David Freese is the every day third baseman, and there’s help on the way in the minor league system – but I’ll get to that later.
The Front Office chose the right guy at the right time. We wish this had played out differently, but a mid-August waiver deal to fix both the problems at third base and the middle infield was the smart move.
Ronnie Belliard was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in a non-waiver deadline deal in July 2006. In 56 games with the Cardinals, he hit .237/.295/.371. That adds up to a devilish OPS of .666. He did play well in the 2006 Divisional Series against the Padres but faded in the National League Championship Series and was totally absent in the World Series. Rather than look at what he didn’t do, let’s instead look at what he did. He played slightly better than league average defense at second base – and that’s exactly what we needed him to do.
Why should the expectations for Pedro Feliz be any different ? If he can settle down the left side of the infield and allow Felipe Lopez to play the middle infield with more time off, this Cardinals team will be a lot better off than they are right now. And being two back in the loss total, they only have to be three games better than the Reds in the last 44 games to get into the playoffs.
It’s Just 3 Games People
At the start of play on August 20, the Cardinals are 3 1/5 games behind the Reds. Due to rainouts and scheduling differences, the Cardinals have played fewer games and as such are only two games out in the critical loss column. If the Cardinals can play the remaining 44 games with just 3 losses less than the Reds, they win the National League Central Division title. Right now that appears to be a lofty goal since the schedulers have conspired against the Cardinals by making them play most of these games away from Busch Stadium, where they enjoy a significant home field advantage. The Cardinals have come from much larger deficits, and they have squandered much larger leads – so the season is far from over.
It’s just three games. Count with me…… one, two …… three.
Not that Carpenter
I’m sure that some of the Cardinals Nation faithful were shocked when they read the headline “Cardinals Trade Carpenter for Pedro Feliz.” The Carpenter that the Cardinals actually gave up was David Carpenter, a Jason Motte styled catcher turned reliever, who was closing out games in Palm Beach (High A). In 49 appearances, Carpenter has a 5-3 record with a 2.36 ERA and 20 saves. At nearly a strikeout an inning (8.4 Ks/IP) and low walk rate (2.5 BB/IP), Carpenter looks like an interesting prospect. The fact remains that he’s third on the Carpenter depth chart behind Chris and Matt, and isn’t likely to see the major leagues any time soon. It’s not like we gave up Shelby Miller to get Feliz, so the cost of acquisition isn’t excessive. So why all the fuss ?
Until Post Season Do We Part
Pedro Feliz is a temporary solution for a very real Cardinals problem, but brings along no extra issues. He’s not a long term contract obligation that is going to negatively impact the forthcoming Albert Pujols contract negotiations. If David Freese is able to heal, and stay healthy, we have our third baseman for 2011. At least some of this should be known as the winter trades heat up in January. If Freese does prove to be another fragile player, like JD Drew, help may be just around the corner. There’s an exciting young player in Springfield named Matt Carpenter that can scoop up baseballs like a vacuum cleaner and then turn around and hit the covers off of them. He’s still a long way from being ready for the major leagues, but some time in spring training plus some experience at Memphis next year may produce a valuable player to help wins some championships in Albert Pujols’ second 10 year contract era.
I Don’t Mean to be Offensive
Pedro Feliz was acquired for exactly one reason – to plug a defensive hole in the left side of the infield. If he adds some offense, great. I’d like to see him do more than that, but I’ll be OK if he gets a few timely hits and moves runners over when necessary. The Cardinals have enough firepower in the other seven positions to beat any team in baseball. If they show up. And if they don’t, Pedro Feliz could hit like Pedro Guerrero and it wouldn’t matter. Skip Schumaker and Jon Jay have to find ways to get on base ahead of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Colby Rasmus needs to stay within himself and keep his production up so that opposing pitchers will think twice about pitching around Matt Holliday. Yadier Molina has to hit the ball to the opposite field, and Brendan Ryan has to get on base some how.
Fortunately, a lot of that is happening. As I have noted before, Schumaker seems to have overcome his early season funk and is hitting close to his 2009 level. Yadier Molina’s offensive has returned. Even Brendan Ryan looks better at the plate. This team does not need another Albert Pujols to win the NL Central. It needs just enough of a third baseman to close down innings in three outs, rather than four or five.
The Cardinals won the NL Central in 2009 with a platoon of Brian Barden and Joe Thurston playing third base. Although he had some great series, Mark DeRosa didn’t exactly play a convincing third base down the stretch. If the offense disappears from the middle of the lineup, it doesn’t matter what Pedro Feliz does or doesn’t do. The offensive pieces to the puzzle are already in place. It’s either execute or go home. Feliz solves a much more pressing need, and he’ll do just fine.
Still Miles to go Before We Reach Our Destination
Aaron Miles is still a Cardinal, and I have to be honest when I admit that I’m OK with that. I was totally against his acquisition, but that was more about Randy Winn and later, Jeff Suppan than Miles. The addition of Miles meant the subtraction of Jon Jay, which has since been remedied. Aaron Miles has done exactly what we need him to do. He’s not a great defender at any position, but makes the plays that his limited range allows him to get to. He hits some of the ugliest floaters into the outfield since Vic Davalillio – but darned if he doesn’t get on base.
Aaron Miles is not the problem, so removing him from the active roster is not the solution.
In like a Lamb, out like a Champion
The lesson to be learned from the 2004 and 2006 seasons is that it is far more important how you finish than how you got there.
The 2004 Cardinals were a leviathan. Opposing teams should have surrendered just when looking at the schedule. They had it all – hitting, pitching and defense. Well, they had everything EXCEPT a World Series Championship. That goes to a motley group of 2006 Cardinals, including starters including Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes – not exactly a triumvirate of Cy Young hopefuls. They backed into the playoffs, needed a lot of help, and then got just hot enough at just the right time to beat all of the teams that were supposed to sweep them aside like pet dander.
It is far more important how you finish than how you got there.
Give Feliz a Chance
In closing, cue up some John Lennon and sing along with me ……
All we are saying
Is give Feliz a chance
I don’t know how so many opinions can be formed before Pedro Feliz has even put on a Cardinals uniform. At this point, I don’t even know what uniform number he will be wearing, so speculating on things like offensive production and defensive range factors is a spreadsheet exercise at best. I plan on giving our new third baseman a Cardinals Nation styled ovation as he is introduced to the best fans in all of baseball, and I hope that you do too.
And give Feliz a chance.