The Nooner #19: Upgrading at SS could be a mistake.
Sunday, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals may be focusing on an upgrade at shortstop this offseason. This would presumably keep Skip Schumaker at second base and a Jon Jay/Allen Craig platoon in right field, barring any other acquisitions. And I don’t think I like it.
First, let me say I do not dislike Schumaker or the potential of Jay or Craig at all. I also realize Brendan Ryan’s 2010 offense left much to be desired, and to expect him to get back to his 2009 numbers is probably unreasonable. But I do think Schumaker’s 2010 offensive numbers were an aberration, too, and it’s reasonable to expect him to be closer next season to his career slash line (.291/.349/.383) which is passable–not great–for a leadoff hitter. The biggest reason an “upgrade” as SS would hurt the Cards, however, is defense…even if Ryan’s 2011 offensive numbers are identical to his disappointing 2010.
Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and the numbers support that whether you like “counting stats” or advanced metrics. None of the available shortstops would represent an upgrade on defense…which, assuming Schumaker is still playing at second, would further weaken the middle infield of a team that pitches to contact almost exclusively. So, yes…someone like Miguel Tejada would certainly be an offensive upgrade over Ryan. But that would downgrade the defense at SS, which would consequently make Schumaker’s already shaky D even worse, and the Cards would be relying on two unproven commodities in right field.
The best move, in my opinion, would be to first listen very closely to what the Florida Marlins want for Dan Uggla. I know that’s kind of a no-brainer, but assuming the Marlins aren’t asking for the moon in return, Uggla would be perfect for the Cards: 1) his defense wouldn’t be any worse than Schumaker’s, but his offense would be a major upgrade even if Schu does snap back to form; 2) they can move Schumaker back to right field, his best defensive position, and keep Ryan’s stellar D at short; 3) Uggla would almost certainly be a Type A free agent after 2011, and though the Cards likely won’t be able to pay him beyond that they can do it this year…plus they’d get the compensation picks for him if he refuses arbitration (all but a given). If long-term stability and depth is the priority of the team, then they need to sign Juan Uribe to play second base & still move Schumaker to right. Uribe plays good defense at 2B, SS, and 3B…so if someone is injured or ineffective–like what happened this season–there’s someone capable that can slide in. He’s not the power threat Uggla is, but he will hit 15 homers with decent average & on-base numbers. That, too, is an upgrade over Schumaker. And a middle infield featuring Uribe and Ryan may be one of the best in the game.
Ryan’s offensive struggles hurt the 2010 Cardinals because they were compounded by Schumaker’s similar struggles early in the season and an overall dearth of production at third base. A healthy David Freese and an average Skip Schumaker would lessen the impact of Ryan’s numbers, as would more production from an offensive upgrade at second base. But how can the Cardinals’ front office think that a little more offense at the expense of a lot of middle infield defense would help the team at all?