When veteran infielder/outfielder
Felipe Lopez was released by the Washington Nationals last Thursday after they
were unable to trade him and the St. Louis Cardinals dropped Matt Clement,
opening up a spot on their 40-man roster, I posted
this on our Insiders message board on Saturday:
“The Nationals released Felipe
Lopez the other day. He fits TLR's profile to a "T". Speedy switch-hitting
middle infielder who can also play in the outfield. I don't know if he can
pitch, but adding him would enable them to send struggling Brendan Ryan down.
(Ryan is hitting under .130 since July 1.)”
That is precisely what happened on
Tuesday as the Cardinals added the 28-year-old Lopez for the 2008 stretch run
and created room on their 25-man active roster by sending struggling second-year
infielder Brendan Ryan down to Triple-A Memphis.
After Tuesday night’s
extra-innings game, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he made his
move on Lopez earlier that afternoon. “Right after he cleared, we put in a call
to his agent and expressed our interest,” the GM explained.
Mozeliak summarized his view of
the new Cardinal. “Defensively he is a plus player and offensively he could be a
plus to our lineup.”
Manager Tony La Russa didn’t mince
words when asked what Lopez brings over Ryan. “He provides a better player for
that spot… It is a better fit,” the skipper said.
La Russa went on to say that he expects the newest Cardinal to be in uniform for Wednesday night's game two of the Dodgers series at Busch Stadium.
As recently as mid-June, Lopez
enjoyed a ten-game hitting streak for Washington, but overall, was batting just .234
with a .305 on-base percentage at the time of his release, as the NL-worst Nats
decided to go with younger players.
In his eight years as a major
leaguer, Lopez has posted a .256/.325/.388 (BA/OBP/SLG) line in 3045 at-bats
over 830 games. The switch-hitter most often appeared in the leadoff spot in the
batting order, both in D.C. and over his career.
Making contact seems to be an
ongoing challenge for Lopez, with a propensity to chase balls outside the zone
and like many, he struggles with breaking pitches. Lopez can drive the ball,
especially from the right side of the plate.
Lopez began the 2008 season in
left field for the Nationals as an injury replacement, then assumed the starting
second base job in mid-April ahead of former Cardinal Ronnie Belliard.
Defensively, Lopez has appeared at
shortstop about 75% of the time over his career, with extensive experience at
second base as well. Following Tuesday night’s game, manager Tony La Russa noted
that hitting coach Hal McRae is familiar with Lopez and advised he can also play
third base if needed. Lopez has 82 major league games at that position under his belt.
His only MLB outfield experience is with the Nationals this
Lopez uses his above-average speed
to cover a lot of ground up the middle, but lacks the soft hands of a Cesar Izturis. He has a strong arm, but his throws can be inaccurate
After making $3.9 million in 2007,
Lopez and the Nats could not agree on a contact amount for 2008. After going to
an arbitration hearing in February, the ruling came down in favor of the club’s
$4.9 million offer instead of Lopez’ $5.2 million request.
The Cardinals get a bargain, as
they will only be responsible for a pro-rated share of the major league minimum
salary, totaling approximately $115,000, with the Nationals liable for the
The native of Puerto Rico had
joined the Nats from Cincinnati as part of a big eight-player trade
in June, 2006. Outfielder Austin Kearns was the other major name included in the
deal. Lopez began his MLB career at the age of 21 with the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays, a teammate of current Cardinal Chris Carpenter for two seasons.
Lopez’ best year was with the 2005
Reds, when he was named a National League All-Star and was awarded a Silver
Slugger, denoting the top offensive player at his position in the NL. That year,
he slammed 23 home runs and drove in 85 while batting .291, all career bests.
The next season, Lopez’ 44 stolen bases ranked fifth in the Senior Circuit.
The Scott Boras client will be
eligible for free agency following the 2008 season. Lopez came into the year
with five years, 27 days of major league service time.
Brian Walton can be reached via
email at email@example.com.
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