It’s Defense, Stupid


I’ve talked about the Cardinal defense briefly in my first post, but after yesterday’s fiasco in Pittsburgh I think a broader critique is in order.  First off, I’ve heard ad nauseum how the Cardinals purposely sacrificed defense for offense and that fans shouldn’t be surprised by what they’ve seen from the Cardinals defense.  Some have said they didn’t expect it to be this bad.  I had no illusions that it wouldn’t be this bad.  My beef is that the Cardinals shouldn’t have sacrificed defense for offense in the first place.  It wasn’t necessary.  The Cardinals didn’t NEED to look for another shortstop for instance.  The one they had was perfectly acceptable.  Sure, he didn’t hit up to expectations but there was evidence that at least some of that offensive drop off was due to wrist surgery, an issue that would improve over time.  No, the Cardinals didn’t need a new shortstop, but they wanted one.  Why?  Well, if you believe the talk at the time, it was because the current one was annoying some of his teammates and probably his manager as well.  Nothing much concrete was ever given out as to the cause of this annoyance, other than there was a problem with punctuality.  Now, I don’t condone lateness.  I am very much a punctuality freak myself.  But when you are talking  about a multibillion dollar industry, where talent is at a premium, does lateness qualify as a hanging offense?  When I look at teams that put up with the shenanigans of the likes of Carlos Zambrano and Nyjer Morgan, or have to deal with problems such as substance abuse by their players, it makes me wonder whether the Cardinals organization has a problem with extreme finickiness.  I mean come on, you trade a top defensive shortstop away when there is a dearth of talented shortstops to replace him because he was late?  If we had been able to get anywhere close to Brendan Ryan’s equal in replacement then I would understand, but it was clear before the trade was made there was no such person available.  So we now have what can be politely be referred to as The Shortstop Problem.  And what a problem it is.  The way I see it the Cardinals have three options.  Keep the status quo, which for most fans is not an option.  Replace Theriot with Descalso or Punto and move Theriot to second base.  Or, trade for another shortstop.  I doubt the third option is even on the radar of the Cardinals Front Office.  I strongly vote for the second option.  However, The Shortstop Problem was avoidable in the first place, and that is the prescient point.  Moving on.

The Shortstop Problem is the Cardinals’ most glaring defensive problem, but there are other issues with the defense which are mostly problems of execution.  Colby Rasmus is the most popular whipping boy of Cardinals fans, and there is no doubt that he has not shown his promise in centerfield so far.  Cardinals fans want to trade him, some want to trade him so bad they are willing to take a bucket of baseballs and a bat boy in return.  I don’t think a trade is wise at this time.  Trading players is like trading on the Stock Market; you sell high.  Colby Rasmus is not on a high at the moment, so trading him now is not likely to get the return on investment to make it worth it.  I know some Cardinals fans don’t think he will get better, but he will.  And when he does, if the team sees the need to trade him, perhaps in the offseason, a much better trade is likely to present itself.  And that is all I am going to say about that.

As far as the rest of the defensive problems are concerned, I wonder how much of that is a result of a general attitude that defense is not as important as offense and therefore less of a priority is given it.  I don’t see this as an issue endemic to the Cardinals but one that is prevalent all over Major League Baseball.  Players don’t become All Stars, for instance, because of their defense.  Very few players are elected to the Hall of Fame for their defense either.  Ozzie Smith is one notable exception and there are some others as well, but offensive numbers are the ticket to the Hall, no ifs, ands, or buts.  Even defensive accolades such as the Gold Glove are not awarded based on pure defensive numbers.   Some teams put more of a priority on defense than others and it shows.  The Cardinals clearly don’t fit into that category.  Offense is great, no doubt about it, but the lack of good defense loses games, as we have seen, and those losses could be the difference in playing in October or sitting at home.  Defense does matter, and I will continue to say THAT ad nauseum.

I am not saying that the Cardinals don’t care about defense.  I’m sure they do.  But they clearly need to care more. Most of the Cardinals’ defensive woes are in the execution.  Execution gets better with hard work.  For a team that values hard work, that shouldn’t be a problem should it?  I continue to hope not.