The last days leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline may be the most exciting time in the entire baseball season. In the coming days, fates of several franchises will be determined as buyers and sellers each try to make that one deal to put them over the top now, or set themselves up for success for years to come. And then there’s always the Cubs.
While we shouldn’t overreact to a rumor, especially one circulating on Twitter, there is one floating around that just might be too good to pass up. The Los Angeles Angels are rumored to be asking about left handed reliever, Marc Rzepczynski. The carrot being dangled is outfielder Peter Bourjos. If there is any truth to this, John Mozeliak should do as the fourth Montrose album suggests, and Jump on It.
Taking Rzepczynski out of the picture for a moment, let’s look at what it would mean to add a player like Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals roster. Before doing that, let’s take a look at where the 2012 Cardinals are vulnerable.
Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position
Yeah, this gets a giant “Duh” from every Cardinals fan on the planet. Instead of shaking our heads and assembling the canonical list of every non-clutch player on the roster, why don’t we look at why this is happening.
It is not necessarily a problem of getting runners into scoring position. The Cardinals are second in team batting average (just behind the Texas Rangers) and first in on base percentage (OBP). They are sixth in slugging. We are getting somewhere ….. continue with that thought.
The Cardinals are 10th in doubles, 8th in triples (that actually surprises me) and 12th in home runs. You mean, the Cardinals are a singles hitting ballclub ? Yep, and therein lie some of the difficulties in scoring runs. It almost seems like it is 1979 all over again.
That 1979 ballclub was absolutely loaded with talent, but the pieces just didn’t fit well together. There were big time players at nearly every position, but it took them 3 hits to score a run. They were very good at getting two of those three hits. Yes, I am still talking about the 1979 Cardinals (Garry Templeton, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons).
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.
Earlier in the season, the Cardinals seemed to be scoring runs at will. They were also aggressive on the bases – occasionally a bit too aggressive, but that might have been the key to their success. Good base running not only reduces the number of hits it takes to score a run, it puts continual pressure on the pitching and defense (both infield and outfield). Those stresses add up over the course of the innings of a game as well as games of a series.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that once the Cardinals became passive on the bases, the team began struggling with run production. The Cardinals became somewhat predictable, and teams started taking advantage of the station-to-station approach.
How did the Cardinals solve the 1979 problem ? Lonnie Smith. OK, it was a lot more than just Smith, but he became the archetype of the new Cardinal player. He could hit with a little power, but was mainly a high average .800 OPS type of hitter. He could also turn a single into a double by stealing second base. His defense was a bit suspect, but that was offset by the establishment of an insanely high operational tempo at the top of the batting order. Whitey Herzog would follow the acquisition of Smith with David Green and a minor league deal for a kid named McGee. They would also draft players like Lance Johnson, Andy van Slyle, Vince Coleman and Ray Lankford.
Where is that type of player on current roster ? No, go ahead. I’ll wait. I have plenty of time. No, not Rafael Furcal. OK, in an alternate reality where he’s not a MLB bust, Tyler Greene. Keep trying. Couldn’t come up with one ? Don’t worry, there isn’t one.
That player does not exist on the current 25 man active roster. The closest thing is Adron Chambers, who is currently exiled in Memphis in favor of too many redundant left handed hitting yawningly average middle infielders and perhaps one too many range challenged first baseman. Even Shane Robinson would be a step in the right direction, albeit a teeny tiny one.
You know who could be that kind of player ? Duh.
No, Really – Chicks Don’t Dig the Long Ball
In the last week, the Cardinals have had two exceptional innings. In a genuine delight of a game (more in that later), the Cardinals tied a franchise record by scoring 12 runs in an inning. That offensive outburst also tied a MLB record for seven doubles in an inning. The amazing thing about that inning – no home runs. It was like an afternoon with Casey Kasem – the hits just kept coming.
The same thing happened a few games later, and against one of the better pitchers in the National League, Clayton Kershaw. A little bit of wildness and perhaps a tighter strike zone than Kershaw would have liked also contributed, but the Cardinals plated six runners in one inning, eight in total. The offensive outburst started with an 0-2 single by Daniel Descalso, the 8th place hitter. 30 minutes and two innings later, the Cardinals put a snowman on the scoreboard and the series was tied at one game each.
The key to those two innings – taking what pitchers were giving the Cardinals hitters. No big yacking swings for the fences. No heroes. Just put the ball in play and let the fates of BABIP do their thing. And they did. And Clayton Kershaw was sent to an early shower (and with all that sweat, it looks like he really needed it).
Home runs are great fun. They really are. But you can’t count on them to win games, and certainly not championships. And yes, I am talking about Game Six of the 2011 World Series. Two of the key hits were home runs, but if you look back at that game, it was a routine Lance Berkman single – a piece of exquisite veteran hitting that set up the exciting final hit by David Freese. Even Freese’s triple was an example of going with the pitch. If he tries to pull that one, Ron Washington would still be dancing in the Cardinals dugout.
Let’s take a look back at a fairly recent Cardinal player, just selected stats at first. You will probably not be able to tell who it is, just from this data. That’s part of the fun.
Player B is obviously Peter Bourjos and his second year stats are from the 2012 season where his role has been reduced to a bench player, thanks to the emergence of a pair of young stars: Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout.
But who is Player A. Let me replace one column and you will know exactly who he is.
That’s right. Player A is Vince Coleman.
While we remember him as an exciting player that could bring a major league battery to tears, if you exclude his stolen base totals, his offensive production was …… well, pretty offensive. He didn’t hit for high average, didn’t take a lot of walks, and struck out A LOT. But when he did get on base, his singles were like extra base hits. A stolen base, a sac bunt and a sac fly produces a run. That was something that Ozzie Smith, Tommy Herr and Jack Clark perfected as Whitey Herzog’s team scored early and often. They had to because the rest of the lineup lacked any real fire power.
Vince Coleman is certainly an extreme corner case, and I’m not suggesting that Peter Bourjos can be exactly that type of player, but he could be the perfect post-PED era catalyst to put at the top of the batting order. He won’t steal as many bases as Coleman, but he will also hit for more power. In a post-PED world, teams need more players like Bourjos and Oscar Taveras and fewer like Brett Wallace/Matt Adams/Zack Cox. You still need the power hitters, but be smarter with them and don’t allow them to clog up key defensive positions, such as the middle of the field.
Defense Wins Championships
Once again, the Cardinals front office have assembled something of a softball type roster, not at the complete sacrifice of defense, but certainly favoring offense over defense. If you can step away from being a fan for one second and evaluate the Cardinals outfield, it is yawningly average at best.
OK, sure. Matt Holliday has worked hard on his defense. That might be true, and he has made several good plays this year. His arm also looks a bit better than I remember in the past. On the other hand, he still looks like the Thing from the Fantastic Four when running into the corner to retrieve a baseball. Adding a bit of humor, Holliday still looks like he’s being attacked by bees when making a routine catch (that reference is courtesy of Dennis over at Pitcher’s Hit 8th – you do read them regularly, right ?).
Jon Jay has also improved his defense since the Colby Rasmus trade. He seems to be in a better position to make plays, and he is certainly getting good jumps when a ball is hit in his direction. But one area where he continues to struggle is with throwing. When was the last time you saw a Cardinal outfielder do this. I’ll bet you watched that more than once, didn’t you ? I know I did. Yeah, the last time we saw a throw like that was when that same guy wore a Cardinals uniform. You know, if the Bourjos deal doesn’t work out ….. nah, that would never happen.
Maybe Peter Bourjos isn’t exactly Rick Ankiel, but he is one of the best young defensive outfielders in the game today, and something the Cardinals do not have – a legitimate center fielder. As you can see on this play, he hustles to the ball and makes the proper throw resulting in an out instead of another run scoring opportunity for the other team. In a close game, runs you prevent can be just as important as the ones you score – something Cardinals fans don’t say because that just isn’t a part of their game at the moment. It might also be one of the reasons the Cardinals have a poor record in close games.
To Next Year ….. and Beyond
More than anything else, a deal to acquire a player like Peter Bourjos signals a change in direction by the front office, and frankly, it is one that should have already happened. It means that the Cardinals are now interested in multi-dimensional players instead of range limited power hitters. Sure, it’s nice to have a lot of power in your lineup, but too much of it, especially when it comes at the expense of defense, is not a good thing. If we learned anything from last season, it should have been that.
Let’s look ahead just a couple of years and play a what if. Right now, the outfield is made up of a power hitter (Holliday), a good but not great corner outfielder in center (Jon Jay) and a veteran power hitter entering his end of career decline (Carlos Beltran). In a couple of years, it might look like Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos and Oscar Traveras. It has been a couple of decades since the Cardinals fielded outfield with that much run creation as well as run prevention. If interest in Bourjos signals a change in this direction, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.
Now we are at the sticky part of the deal, what do you have to give up to get such a talent. It was former Cardinals General Manager, Bing Devine, that believed you have to give up good talent to get good talent, and that might be what is required to make this happen. That good talent surrendered might have to be Marc Rzepczynski, that that would be a shame. Zep has proven himself to Cardinals fans on the biggest stage imaginable, so we know what he can do. That’s the reason the Angels are interested in him – they are no fools. The tough part is that the Cardinals are not exactly knee deep in quality lefties, and certainly none with the experience of Rzepczynski. Brian Fuentes is a low risk tryout that we hope will come in and be the Arthur Rhodes of 2012. Properly managed, he might actually be that, or at least close enough for one of the playoff spots. Barret Browning has been a most pleasant surprise, but we don’t know how he will hold up during the long month of August in a divisional race.
The tripping point for me is that Bourjos could be an every day impact player, especially if he returns to his 2011 level. If the Cardinals rotation can keep the bullpen innings down, and a gold glove type center fielder can go a long way to making that possible, the Cardinals might just be able to make a run at the Reds and Pirates without Rzepczynski.
Bottom line, if John Mozeliak can make this deal without giving up Trevor Rosenthal, John Gast, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez or Shelby Miller, he should do it in a heartbeat. And then follow that up with more post-PED type of multi-tool players (and another lefty for the bullpen).
This is all speculation, and should just be treated as such. I fully expect some other team to offer far more than the Cardinals, but if it does happen, there is reason to be just as excited about this deal as the one this time last year.