Filling the Holes: St Louis Cardinals Roster Analysis: Part 1

Using the Oliver projection system available at the Hardball Times, I have compared the NL Central’s teams by position to determine the St Louis Cardinals main areas of interest for this offseason. As we all have heard numerous times, Albert Pujols‘s departure freed up a good size portion of money for the Cardinals for this season and beyond. What to do with that money, however, is the challenge facing John Mozeliak and his front office team. Today I will discuss potential areas for improvement in the starting lineup. On Tuesday, I will look at the pitching staff and the bench.

In order to get a better feel for the Cardinals areas for improvement, I created the following table to look at all six NL Central teams rosters and ranked each team by position to see which had the most balance. Obviously this isn’t an exact science as players don’t always hit their projections, but it at least gives up an initial point for analysis.

Most areas of the starting lineup can be ignored. The Cardinals have a top three player in the division at catcher, first base, third base, and left field. That leaves second base, center field, and right field as areas for potential improvement.

Second base is a questionable position. As it stands now, Daniel Descalso is slated as the starter. Descalso presents a solid defensive option, but he hasn’t been an offensive contributor since his time at AA. The issue with second, though, is there are really no viable options through free agency. The only interesting candidates are Brooks Conrad and Felipe Lopez and neither present a tangible upgrade. The only player of interest that could be available through a trade is Gordon Beckham, but between his inconsistent play and the impending arrival of Kolten Wong make a trade less feasible. I think the best option here is to stick with Descalso.

Center field and right field carry the same importance this offseason. They are both currently slated to be filled by serviceable players, but could see some improvement. Jon Jay and Allen Craig are currently penciled in as the starters, but Jay is coming off of a season and a half that has seen him post very high BABIPs and Craig could miss the first month of the season. The best solution is to sign a player who can play both positions. The player in question could cover Craig for the period of time that he is out of action, start in right field while Craig covers Lance Berkman’s off days, start in left to cover Matt Holliday’s off days, and start in center to cover Jon Jay. The four names that jumped out initially were Cody Ross, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Beltran, and Coco Crisp. Ross and Fukudome don’t present very noticeable upgrades, so we are left with Beltran and Crisp. Crisp presents the cheaper option, but he is also very injury-prone and is anemic against lefties. UZR is also not very high on his defense, so if he falters at the plate there would be no way to get value out of him. A lot of ink has been spilled about Beltran’s fit with the Cardinals and I am also on board with this idea. If the Cardinals could get him on a maximum three year deal worth 7 to 10 million annually, he could be a great solution to a team that will lose offense with the departure of Albert Pujols. Even if the contract maxed out at 3 yrs/$30 mil, Beltran would need to put up just under 7 WAR over the life of the contract to present positive value. He is projected for 2.1 WAR and put up almost a 5 win season last year, so he could definitely hit the numbers.

Looking over the trade market, there really aren’t a lot of names that would be noticeable upgrades over Jay or Craig. Mitch Maier, Denard Span, Chris Coghlan, or Melky Cabrera, but none of their career numbers or projections are very overwhelming. I definitely think signing Beltran is the best move for the Cardinals in 2011.

What are your thoughts? Can you identify a better option for second, center, or right? Is there another position in the starting lineup that could use an improvement?

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Tags: Allen Craig Brooks Conrad Carlos Beltran Coco Crisp Cody Ross Daniel Descalso Felipe Lopez Gordon Beckham Hot Stove John Mozeliak Jon Jay Kosuke Fukudome Lance Berkman Matt Holliday MLB St Louis Cardinals

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