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3 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Tom Verducci
April 06, 2009
Still Short of A Full Deck The skipper's sleight of hand can't compensate for a lack of lefty starters and a shaky pen
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April 06, 2009

3 St. Louis Cardinals

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SKIP SCHUMAKER 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 228 .302 8 46 8
RICK ANKIEL CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 70 .264 25 71 2
ALBERT PUJOLS 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 1 .357 37 116 7
RYAN LUDWICK RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R-L 26 .299 37 113 4
TROY GLAUS 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 176 .270 27 99 0
CHRIS DUNCAN LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 194 .248 6 27 2
YADIER MOLINA C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 185 .304 7 56 0
KHALIL GREENE SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 203 .213 10 35 5
BENCH
JOE MATHER IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 261 .241 8 18 1
COLBY RASMUS (R)* OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 196 .251 11 36 15
BRENDAN RYAN IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 306 .244 0 10 7

Still Short of A Full Deck
The skipper's sleight of hand can't compensate for a lack of lefty starters and a shaky pen

ABOUT A week before outfielder Skip Schumaker left his home in Southern California for spring training, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called him with a surprise. "We're going to try you at second base," the skipper said. Replied Schumaker, "I'm willing to try it." But after he hung up, Schumaker, who had played some shortstop in high school and college but never second base, began to worry. "Fear, anxiety, nervousness ...," he says. "All of them went through my mind."

Only La Russa, a guy who bats his pitcher eighth and who took an 83-win team with an emergency rookie closer to a world championship in 2006, would think nothing of moving an outfielder to second base for the first time in the player's life. The switch has no direct historical precedent, according to sabermetrician Bill James. The most similar conversions, James found, were those of the 1946 Cardinals, who moved Red Schoendienst from the outfield to second base (but Schoendienst had been a minor league shortstop); the 1972 Dodgers, who moved Bill Russell from outfield to shortstop; the 1992 Astros, who moved Craig Biggio from catcher to second base (his debut at the position); and the '98 Cardinals, who moved Joe McEwing from outfield to second base (but McEwing did have minor league experience at the position). There has been nothing quite like the Schumaker makeover. Talk about coming out of leftfield.

La Russa needed a second baseman after St. Louis released Adam Kennedy in February. With Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Brian Barton and top prospect Colby Rasmus providing outfield depth, La Russa saw second base as a way to keep Schumaker—who hit .302 last season—in the lineup. "I'm not saying it's going to work," La Russa says, "but it's not crazy."

In 13 seasons under La Russa, the Cardinals have carved out a reputation as one of the majors' most resourceful organizations, which has emboldened their creativity but sometimes, as when they made no major free-agent signings this winter (or last), tests the patience of their fans. Last year the team's biggest winner was a career 63--74 pitcher whom the Cards signed in the middle of March (Kyle Lohse, 15--6). Their ERA leader was a converted reliever who, in five seasons with three other organizations, had never started a big league game before St. Louis acquired him in 2007 (Todd Wellemeyer, 3.71). Its only lefthanded power came from a converted pitcher (Ankiel, 48 extra-base hits). And the guy who tied Albert Pujols for the team lead in home runs was signed as a minor league free agent in '07 with metal rods in his hip and wrist plus scars on a twice-rebuilt knee (Ludwick, 37).

Last season, at age 30 and with his fifth organization, Ludwick finished third in the league in slugging and, in December, became a first-time father when his son, Stetson, was born. It was a storybook season for a star-crossed player who thought that his life, not just his career, might be endangered when he smashed into a wooden outfield wall in 2002. "The doctors saw a mass in my hip on the MRI," says Ludwick, who had 34 career home runs before last year's breakout. "At first they couldn't tell what it was, but until they ran more tests the next day, they thought it could be a cancerous tumor. They said it might require an amputation." Ludwick eventually was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his hip.

Ludwick's big 2008 helped St. Louis become an unlikely contender. They'll need more inventiveness this year. The club still doesn't have quality lefthanded pitching (righties threw 94% of its innings last year); Ankiel, as astounding as his conversion has been, struggled against lefties; shortstop Khalil Greene, who played his way out of San Diego by hitting .213, is yet another flier; and the bullpen, which last year had a 5.01 ERA in save situations, remains unsettled. La Russa has no clear-cut closer but, in typical house of Cards fashion, can hand over the ninth inning to a rookie (Chris Perez), a guy coming off two elbow surgeries (Josh Kinney) or a converted catcher (Jason Motte). Such is life with the Cardinals, who in Pujols have the surest thing in baseball but otherwise never know when the next Schu will drop.

CONSIDER THIS A Modest Proposal ...

Pitching coach Dave Duncan has had a lot of success retreading pitchers whose careers have stalled because of injury or ineffectiveness. Where the Cards go astray is committing big money to those projects rather than moving on to the next ones; that leaves them on the hook for contracts like those of Chris Carpenter (five years, $63.5 million), Joel Piñeiro (two years, $13 million) and Kyle Lohse (left, four years, $41 million), in which the cost outstrips the performance. Instead, St. Louis should be on the lookout for the next Carpenter—or Piñeiro, at least—such as journeyman righthander Paul Byrd or former Braves southpaw Chuck James, both of whom have been effective at times, but whose teams gave up on them. The value is in finding and fixing guys, then letting someone else pay the big bucks for the work they gave you.

THE NUMBERS

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