Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Slim Pickin's

Polanco accepted arbitration from the Phillies (much to their surprise.) And Jerry Hairston - as far as I can tell - was not non-tendered by the Orioles. (Or is that - he was tendered?). The Cardinals could still end up with either or both of those guys, of course, but not without making a trade. What other options are left at this point?

David Eckstein

With the Angels overpaying for Orlando Cabrera, David Eckstein got the boot from Anaheim. Eckstein, who will turn 30 next month, is a scrappy shortstop who is the proud owner of a 2002 World Series Ring.

No one is going to mistake David Eckstein for Alex Rodriguez. But considering the options the Cardinals have left, he may be a nice fit for the team. Eckstein, a right handed bat, has a career .347 OBP, with a career OPS+ of 87. Of course, the OPS+ is misleading, as he's only exceeded 87 one of his four major league seasons when he had a 103 in 2002, thus skewing his average up. Eckstein has led the AL in hit by pitch twice in his career, and finished in the top 6 all 4 years. He's also stolen 16 or more bases in every season he's played, with a career success rate of 75%. With the glove, however, he leaves a little to be desired.

Fielding Percentage (Career)
Eckstein - .980
League Average - .973

Range Factor
Eckstein - 4.00
League - 4.11

Essentially - his range his slightly below average, while his error rate is slightly above.

What could you expect out of Eckstein? Think Bo Hart with a little more talent. Or maybe a combination of Fernando Vina and Rex Hudler. Nothing spectacular, but probably a fan favorite. And considering he made $2.15 million last year, he should be affordable as well.

Alex Cora

With the signing of Jeff Kent, Alex Cora became expendable, and thus was non-tendered by the Dodgers. Cora is a left handed hitting 2nd baseman who will turn 30 in October.

From an offensive standpoint, Cora has been hard to figure out recently.

2002 - .371
2003 - .287
2004 - .364

2002 - 120
2003 - 68
2004 - 98

Will the real Alex Cora please stand up? Similar to Eckstein, Cora finished 4th in the NL in hit by pitch last year. (The Cardinals could have the 2005 version of the bruise brothers - just a different style than Canseco and McGwire.)

Defensively, Cora is right around league average.

Fielding Percentage (Career)
Cora - .981
League Average - .983

Range Factor
Cora - 4.18
League - 4.34

Last year, which was just the 2nd season that Cora was a regular 2nd baseman instead of a shortstop, Cora showed progress as he was above average both in fielding percentage and range factor. His 5.1 defensive win shares at 2nd was 5th best in the NL. (Womack had 4.5 for comparison sake.) Over his career, Cora has played 338 games at short and 335 at 2nd, making him a versatile player. Cora made $1.3 million last season.


The Cardinals, in my opinion, could do a lot worse than Eckstein and Cora in their middle infield next season. Offensively? Last year Cora was a better hitter than either Womack or Renteria. Of course, he could revert to 2003 form. Then again, he could revert to 2002 form, making him a great asset. Eckstein will likely post a better OBP than Womack in 2005, but probably won't match Tony's 2004 mark of .349.

Of course, at this point we all know that the offense is going to perform based on Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and Walker. Any offense received out of the middle infield is just a bonus. So the more important question is - How would the team fare defensively? In an attempt to answer this question, I looked up the defensive win shares for Eck, Cora, Renteria, and Womack in the 2004 season, along with the number of innings each played in the field. I then calculated the number of defensive win shares each player created per 9 innings in the field. The results surprised me a bit.

2nd Base
Cora - .042 Defensive Win Shares / 9 Innings
Womack - .034 DWS/9I

Eckstein - .033 DWS/9I
Renteria - .033 DWS/9I

As expected, Cora was better than Womack with the glove. Surprisingly, though, Eckstein was just as good as Renteria. Obviously, defense is hard to measure with statistics. However, if Renteria really is awesome and Eckstein a chump, you would expect to see some separation there.

The bottom line? If the Cardinals could add Eckstein and Cora to their middle infield, they would likely - at worst - be a slight downgrade defensively over the 2004 Cardinals. What's more, they should be very similar from an offensive standpoint, with the potential to provide a slight upgrade if things fall just right. And considering they could likely be signed for less than $4 million total, the team would still have financial flexibility at the trade deadline to upgrade in weak areas.


At 12:07 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Bobo Hilario said...

Don't forget, Eckstein is really a second baseman, Anahiem moved him ove to fill a hole. So his lack of range would be a little less critical on the other side of the bag. I think the top three choices at second, in no perticular order ar Eckstein, Cora, and Grudzelanek.

Shortstop, who knows?


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