Thursday, November 18, 2004

Filling in More Gaps

Yesterday, we dealt with internal pitchers the Cardinals could call upon to plug holes on the 2005 roster. Today, we'll deal with position players. First, however, I would like to post some Park Factors that I found for minor league stadiums.

A simple google search resulted in this link from Baseball America. It's not the most detailed list of park factors ever, and the information isn't very descriptive. However, we can guess a couple of things from the web page.

I assume that 1000 would be neutral. Therefore, the Pacific Coast League (not the International League) inflates offense by 7%. At the same time, however, the Memphis Redbirds play in a park that retards offense by roughly 5%. I am not going to take the time to break down the games of the AAA club in order to figure out if Haren's numbers were helped by his home park or hurt by his road schedule - I just wanted to post what I found in a limited amount of time for anyone that may be interested.

OK, back to the point of this post. Let's look to see what, if anything, the Cardinals have in their farm system which might be used to fill out this year's roster. Specifically, what position players could the Cardinals call upon?

Starting Middle Infield

As mentioned previously, the Cardinals are on the market for starters at both 2nd base and shortstop. St. Louis is going to try to bring back Edgar Renteria, but he may not be affordable when the dust clears. Unfortunately, the Cardinals aren't exactly stacked with major league ready talent up the middle. They do, however, have a couple of options if they find themselves in a pinch financially.

Bo Hart

We all know about Hart, the guy who plays with a lot of his last name. He didn't get much of a chance to play in the majors this season, posting a -1 OPS+ over just 13 at-bats. In the minors, however, he wasn't half bad. Over 116 games with Memphis, Hart hit .299/.351/.440, giving him a 791 OPS. What's more, Hart played 21 games at shortstop during the season, making him quite flexible.

Of course, a 791 OPS in the minors doesn't translate well into the majors. What's more, Hart only drew 25 walks over 445 at-bats, which is not a good sign. Hart's defense can make up for his offense, but only to an extent. In my opinion, Hart would not be a great option to start for the Cardinals at 2nd base this season, unless the Cardinals have managed to lock up both Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson and need to save some money. He could, however, be a viable backup middle infielder.

Scott Seabol

Since I don't follow the minor leagues intently, I was surprised to see that Scott Seabol actually played 44 games at 2nd base this season in Memphis. On the year, he hit .304/.356/.539, 895 OPS with 26 doubles and 31 home runs. The bulk of his playing time was at 3rd base rather than 2nd.

Seabol will turn 30 this May, and the former Yankee prospect only has 1 major league at-bat in his career. (He made an out.) Could he be a viable option for the Cardinals to start at 2nd this season? Would his extra power over Hart offset the probable drop off in defense? And for that matter, would he be any worse defensively than Womack or Anderson? It sounds like a long shot for Seabol to be starting for the Cardinals at 2nd base in 2005. If anything, he may have a shot to make the bench as the right handed power bat the Cardinals should be looking for.

Bench

I expect the Cardinals to be looking for 4 bench players this off-season. This assumes that the Cardinals will bring back John Mabry, who will join Roger Cedeno who is already under contract. This leaves the Cardinals shopping for a backup catcher, backup centerfielder, backup middle infielder, and a utility player and/or power hitting right handed bat.

As far as middle infielders go, Bo Hart is the only true candidate in the Cardinals system that would be ready to step into that role. From a utility player standpoint, Scott Seabol really appears to be the only obvious player the Cards have that could come up and play multiple positions. That leaves us looking at backup catchers, backup centerfielders, and power hitting right handers.

Backup Catcher

Cody McKay

In a word? Horrible. That's what McKay was in limited time on the end of the St. Louis bench. In fact, if his name was Cody Williams, I doubt he would have even been on the roster this season. Over 74 MLB at-bats, McKay posted a 39 OPS+. Yes, he was only 61% worse than an average hitter last year. He did fare a little better in the minors, hitting .278/.323/.444, 767 OPS over just 90 at-bats.

McKay's potential value is in the fact that he can not only catch, but play 1st and 3rd plus provide a left handed stick off of the bench. Considering, however, that Mabry and Cedeno already give the Cardinals left handed bats, and that Mabry also plays 1st and 3rd? That's a moot point. What's more, McKay's defense last year was suspect, especially at 3rd base. My recommendation? Convert him into a full time knuckleball pitcher.

Mike Mahoney

Hitting ever so slightly better than McKay for Memphis last year was Mike Mahoney. The 32 year old Cub retread hit .300/.357/.422, 779 OPS. As a major leaguer, he has 40 career at-bats with a 63 OPS+.

Mahoney isn't a much better option than McKay. He hit slightly better, but at his age isn't likely to improve whereas McKay could. McKay also provides a bit more flexibility to the bench. Personally, I'd rather not see either one of them on the roster next year. If someone were going to poke my eye with a stick to make me choose, I'd potentially take the stick.

Backup Centerfielder

Colin Porter

So far as I can tell, there's really only one internal option for this. Porter got 35 at-bats for the Cards this year, posting a 93 OPS+. Over his career, he has 68 major league at-bats with a 50 OPS+. In the minors this year, Porter was actually a worse hitter than Hart or McKay, amazingly enough. He hit .261/.316/.424, 740 OPS. His bright spot in the minors was the fact that over 94 games in the outfield, he only committed 1 error.

Porter has a few things going against him. Obviously, his offense doesn't look very impressive if he had problems out hitting Hart and McKay. He turns 29 next week, making it unlikely that he'll ever be a very good major league hitter. And he's yet another left handed bat. If (heaven forbid) the Cardinals were in fact to use McKay as the backup catcher next year, Porter would be minimally the 4th left handed bat on the bench.

Right Handed Power Bat

John Gall

Gall's name came up a lot last season between the All-Star Break and the trade deadline. The Cardinals kept talking about wanting to add some power from the right side, while Cardinal fans kept asking "why not John Gall?" Some in Memphis claimed the guy's power reminded them of Pujols. Of course, once Larry Walker was acquired all of the Gall call up talk seemed to go away.

On the year, Gall hit .292/.350/.490, giving him an 840 OPS. Over 506 at-bats, he hit 34 doubles and 22 home runs. He also drew 48 walks and struck out 68 times. While I'm not seeing Pujols type power here, he did put up respectable numbers. And while his walk numbers aren't as high as you would like to see, his strikeout totals were pretty low for a guy with 58 extra base hits.

Gall has multiple things working against him. One, he turns 27 next year and doesn't have a major league at-bat. That doesn't bode well for his future. Two, his natural position is 1st base, and the Cardinals have a guy there that they kind of like. Three, apparently his defense in left field is so bad that they didn't trust him enough to call him up in September.

At this point, I think Gall should be considered to be a prime candidate for a trade. The Cardinals have other options at the positions that Gall plays, and it's likely that his production in the majors may never match his hype at this point.

Dee Haynes

Haynes is similar to Gall - he's an outfielder who hits right handed, turns 27 early next year, and has never had a major league at-bat. I am not certain as to why (injury rehab?), but Haynes started out this season in AA Tennessee. Over 103 at-bats, he hit .243/.328/.350, with just 5 extra base hits. He was then promoted to AAA Memphis where his fortunes turned around a bit. Over 182 at-bats, he hit .335/.359/.593, giving him a 952 OPS.

There are plenty of concerns due to his hitting last year in Memphis, despite that nice looking OPS. For one thing, he only hit 5 doubles. For another thing, he only drew 7 walks. And like Gall, his age concerns me, as by now he should have been in the majors at some capacity.

Conclusions

Unlike the pitching side of things, the Cardinals still have a weak farm in regard to hitting options. With John Nelson still a year or more away from being ready, the Cardinals do not have a legitimate player ready to take over at shortstop in 2005. At 2nd base it's not much better, as Bo Hart and Scott Seabol could be used as starters, but would both likely be below average at the position.

Internal options for the bench appear to be even worse. For a backup catcher, the Cardinals should focus on free agency. Even if Mike Matheny isn't willing to sign somewhat cheap, the Cardinals could probably find someone for the league minimum that would be better than McKay or Mahoney. For a backup middle infielder, Bo Hart could suffice, assuming he was not given many at-bats.

For a centerfield backup, the Cardinals would probably best be served to work on Roger Cedeno this Spring. He did play there as recently 2003, and is roughly an average defender over his career in center. If Edmonds does happen to go down due to a long term injury, Porter could be called up to serve as an emergency option.

Finally, there is the issue of a right handed power bat. I personally don't think that Gall or Haynes are going to do the trick. They are unlikely going to be able to get the kind of production we got used to from the Eddie Perez' of the world prior to 2004. What's more, they'd be fighting with John Mabry and Roger Cedeno for scraps of playing time behind Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders. Yes, I said in a previous post that there would be at least 80 starts available for backup outfielders, but that's not a lot of playing time if you split it between 3 or 4 players. In my opinion, the Cardinals should be on the market for someone that can hit for power from the right side. What's more, Gall and Haynes should be trade bait. I wonder if Arizona would be interested in a power hitting corner outfielder or two?

That brings us to the following outlook for the 2005 Cardinals at these vacant positions.

2nd base - Hart, Seabol, Free Agent
Shortstop - FA

Backup Catcher - Matheny, FA
Backup Middle Infielder - Hart, Luna, FA
Bench Slot 5 - FA
Bench Slot 6 - FA

The 5th and 6th slots of the bench would be to replace So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson, either of who could be back. Basically, in my opinion, one of those slots should be used to acquire a guy who kills left handed pitching, and does so for power.



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