With the St. Louis Cardinals in
dire need of pitching help, it seems more and more likely that David Eckstein
will be allowed to go elsewhere via free agency. In Eckstein’s three years in
St. Louis, he has become a fan favorite and
enjoyed the best three year success of his career.
Eckstein came to the Cardinals in
2005 after being non-tendered by the Anaheim Angels. Eck took over for Edgar Renteria and was
named the starter for the National League at the 2005 All-Star Game. For the year, Eckstein appeared in 158
games while hitting .294/.363/.395 as the Cardinals’ leadoff
The 2006 Cardinals kept Eckstein
in the leadoff role but as injuries diminished his playing time, he appeared in
only 123 games. Eckstein once again
found himself at the All-Star Game, named as a replacement for the injured Jose Reyes. In the postseason, Eckstein
earned his second World Series ring and the Series’ Most Valuable Player
2007 saw more injuries for the
feisty shortstop, who appeared in a career-low 117 games. On the positive side, Eckstein hit over
.300 for the first time in his career. But he turns 33 years old in January and
with injuries mounting and his games played diminishing, the Cardinals could be
looking to make a change.
So what are the alternatives for
the Cardinals? Let’s take a look,
starting with the in-house candidates.
Ryan was called up from Triple-A
Memphis to add depth and provided more offense than expected, forcing Tony La
Russa to keep him in the lineup because of his production. In 180 at bats, Ryan hit .289/.347/.406
while splitting time between second base, third base, and shortstop. Ryan was credited with 99 chances at
shortstop, committing three errors, and posting a .970 fielding percentage. The jury is still out if he can be an
everyday Major League shortstop but his production earned him a shot at the
Miles performed respectably in
Eck’s absence, starting 33 games at shortstop. For the year, Miles hit
.290/.328/.348. In 176 chances at
shortstop, Miles committed nine errors.
Miles doesn’t get on base enough for a guy with such little power to be
an everyday player.
A long shot, but
Martinez is the best candidate at the
current time in the Cardinals’ Minor League system. After a breakout 2005,
Martinez struggled in 2006 and the
beginning of 2007.
Martinez was promoted to Double-A
Springfield to replace an injured Tyler Greene and all he did was hit, finishing
with a line of .300/.337/.472.
Martinez has above average range and a
strong throwing arm. He definitely
had to catch the organization’s attention with his strong performance in the
Texas League but still needs time to develop.
One of the premier players in
baseball, Rodriguez is sure to opt out of his current contract. He is rumored to be asking for $30
million a year for over a decade. I
believe the Cardinals will pass.
The soon-to-be former White Sox
shortstop provides good power but little else. Uribe averaged 20 home runs and 70 RBIs
during his four years on the Southside.
On the downside, the Sox have seen his average steadily drop from .283 to
.234 this past year. Uribe had a
career-high 112 strikeouts in 2007.
Izturis is a very good glove man
but offers little at the plate. In
314 at bats in 2007, Izturis hit .258/.302/.315. Yes, that is correct, he slugged
.315. Izturis would provide a
solid defensive backup if the Cardinals decided to go with the youngster, Ryan.
On his first tour of
Louis, Clayton replaced crowd favorite
Ozzie Smith. Could he now come back
and replace crowd favorite Eckstein?
Probably not at age 38 next season, but like Izturis, Clayton could
provide veteran depth for Ryan.
Clayton still plays solid defense but Royce will not provide much at the
The popular former Cardinal left
via free agency after the 2004 season and has been rumored to still be of
interest to the Cardinals. Renteria
will be in the last year of the 4-year/$40 million contract he signed with
Boston. Edgar struggled mightily with the Red
Sox in 2005, but has regained his form after he was traded back to the National
In 2007, Renteria lost time due to
injuries, but had a big-time year.
Appearing in 124 games, Edgar hit .332/.390/.470. The .332 average ranked third in the
National League. Renteria is still
a solid fielder who will turn 33 during the 2008 season. Yunel Escobar stepped up and proved
ready to take over at short for the Braves while Renteria was out. The Braves are rumored to want to get
Renteria’s contract off the books and let the younger and cheaper Escobar to
Tejada is coming off his worst
season since 1999, missing 29 games due to injury. The 31-year-old hit .296/.357/.442 with
only 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in.
In 2006, Tejada hit .330/.379/.498 with 24 home runs and 100 runs batted
in so if healthy, he should bounce back.
Defensively, Miggy has decent hands but not very much range.
If healthy, Tejada definitely
provides the right-handed power bat the Cardinals are looking for. While the former American League MVP
(with Oakland) has two years and about $26
million left on his current contract, the price to acquire him via trade could
Barmes was replaced as the
Rockies’ regular shortstop by possible
Rookie of the Year, Troy Tulowitzki.
He appeared to be the Rockies’ shortstop of the future after
hitting .289/.330/.434 in 81 games during the 2005 season. However, he came back in 2006 to hit
only .220/.264/.335 in 131 games.
Barmes saw minimal action in 2007 due to Tulowitzki’s emergence. He could be brought in to provide cheap
competition for Ryan.
Hu is an emerging prospect in the
Dodger organization but is blocked by Rafael Furcal. He has always been known for his skills
with the glove but this summer his offensive skills emerged as well. The
22-year-old started the year at Double-A Jacksonville and hit .329/.376/.508 in
357 at bats and continued this trend at Triple-A Las Vegas, hitting .319/.337/
.508 in 199 at bats. Hu hit
.241/.241/.517 with two long balls in 29 big league at bats.
The native of
Taiwan represented the Dodgers in this
year’s Futures Game and was named the MVP.
Hu is a superb in the field with super range and a very strong arm. He provides a lot of speed at the top of
the lineup and could take over in the leadoff spot. The Dodgers may hang on to
Hu and make Furcal available, as the veteran will be a free agent after the 2008
Furcal is due $13 million in 2008;
the last year of his current contract.
Furcal was bothered by a nagging ankle injury throughout the season. 2007 was his worst season since
appearing in only 79 games in 2001.
Even with the ankle injury, Furcal was 25-for-31 in stolen base
attempts. The 2000 Rookie of the
Year and 2003 All-Star does make a lot of errors in the field but has good range
and one of the strongest arms at the shortstop position.
Aybar is an electric switch hitter
who is blocked by Orlando Cabrera in Anaheim. He hit .237/.279/.289 in limited action
for the Angels in 2007. In six
Minor League seasons, Aybar has put up a .311/.357/.453 line. He reminds me of Furcal, just with a
little less pop. In the field, he
has plus range and a plus arm. A
free swinger, Aybar needs to increase his walk rate and cut down on his
strikeouts. Aybar was rated as the
Number 61 prospect on <i>Baseball
America’s</i> 2007 Top 100 Prospect
Ben Zobrist (Devil
Like Barmes, Zobrist is blocked by
an emerging shortstop and the Devil Rays are loaded with infield prospects on
the way up in their system. He hit
.279/.400/.455 at Triple-A Durham.
In 340 Minor League games, he has an on base percentage of .428. Zobrist
grew up less than three hours from St.
Illinois. Zobrist, even though he has yet to
hit much at the Major League level, would provide good competition in camp for
From this list, my preference
would be Hu. I have seen him play
several times and he is electric on defense and provides good punch at the
plate. Renteria is the sentimental
favorite and a rumor has been circulating involving Anthony Reyes going to
Atlanta. Zobrist is a local product who provides
solid defense but just hasn’t been giving a lot of opportunity at the big league
level. But in the end, I could see
the Cardinals bringing in a cheap veteran to back up Ryan.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via
email at email@example.com.
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