Why the MLB still has a steroid problem

Mark McGwire has been passed over for the Hall of Fame for likely the sixth time. Rafael Palmeiro the second. It seems that the Baseball Writers of America Hall of Fame voters don’t want to vote alleged steroid users into the Hall of Fame. Can I blame them? Not really. However, what I will blame them for is keeping someone out of the Hall of Fame based purely on suspicion alone.

Now I am doing some reading tonight and I run across the NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk website where they have an article by Craig Calcaterra entitled “Three more Hall voters accuse Jeff Bagwell of being juicer.” What?

Inside the article, we go on to learn that at least three writers, Philip Hersh and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune and Scot Gregor of Chicago’s Daily Herald, apparently believe that Jeff Bagwell used steroids.

Bagwell, now 43, is the holder of a career .297 batting average, a career on base percentage of .408, and a career slugging percentage of .540. He hit 449 home runs in his career, got 2314 hits and 1529 RBI. He was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1994 NL Most Valuable Player. He played his entire 15 year career for the Houston Astros before announcing his retirement in 2005. His name has never been publicly linked to steroids.

So the question has to be asked where did these writers get these doubts? Do they have information, like Calcaterra suggests, that isn’t up to the snuff of ethical journalism to publish but is enough to make them question? And if they have it, why don’t the other writers, considering that none of the three covered Bagwell on the beat in Houston? Are they looking at the numbers and questioning his slugging ability? What is it that makes them believe that Jeff Bagwell may have used steroids? And why three Chicago sportswriters?

Well, part of the problem is that the BBWAA has taken it upon themselves to be the protectors of the sanctity of the game. No cheaters here! Well, except Gaylord Perry and guys who used amphetamines to gain that extra boost before a game since the 1940s.

Gaylord Perry is renowned for his spitball, which was illegal. He will readily admit that he threw it in games. Nobody is suggesting we remove him from the Hall of Fame.

Also, in the 1940s as “greenies” or amphetamines became common use as players tried to keep up with the demanding travel schedules as baseball became a more national game. They were used until they were banned within the last decade. It’s estimated that between 50 and 80 percent of players have used amphetamines. Odds are most in the Hall of Fame have too. In fact, considering the reputation that players like Mickey Mantle had for partying hard, it’s pretty safe to assume that he used them as well. Where are the calls to remove him from the Hall based on speculation?

Many have tried to argue with me that amphetamines aren’t “performance enhancing” because they don’t make you a better ball player. But they do enhance your performance because they make you as good as you are, longer. Your numbers are going to be inflated because you’ll be better in successive games as the season wore on than you otherwise would have been without them.

As baseball fans, we are romantic about the game and about the past. It’s hard not to be! However, we are naive to think that our era of baseball, the steroid era, is the only one tarnished with cheaters who used their illegal advantage to put up high level numbers and gain Hall of Fame consideration. The other eras of baseball are not pure and never were. People have been using whatever means necessary to gain an advantage as long as the game of baseball has been around.

And here’s the problem with keeping players out based on speculation, media members have been known to sit on stories for players that are well-liked or that are good to them. How do we know that a guy like Ken Griffey Jr or Cal Ripken Jr didn’t use in their careers? They are both very well liked by fans and media and you could see a reporter to two turning a blind eye, not wanting to ruin their careers.

While speculation surrounds nearly ever other power hitter (apparently, including Bagwell) of the steroid era, many hold Ken Griffey Jr up as the gold standard of a steroid-free power hitter. So why is Ken Griffey Jr, the holder of 630 career home runs, played 22 seasons in the big leagues, not questioned about steroid use? His final seasons were slowed by a succession of knee injuries, potentially a guy putting on too much upper-body strength? We can even question his development too. How does a guy go from averaging 22 home runs a year for the first four years of his career to averaging 44 a year over the next eight? That even includes 17 in a part-season bringing the average down.

I can raise suspicion around many players in baseball. I can throw stats at you that would raise eyebrows. Does that mean we should keep them out of the Hall of Fame too? Are players from the steroid era in danger of being “too good” that we can’t consider that they didn’t use? Steroid users that have talked to the media about what they’ve seen say that it was prevalent throughout baseball in the 1990s. Both pitchers and hitters have been caught.

Questions like this is why I think the Baseball Writers Association of America needs some sort of hard criteria generated for voting people into the Hall of Fame and their eligibility. Until we do, every year until steroid era players are removed from the ballots, the steroid debate will reignite and everyone will be reminded of it. There will be no getting past it for a decade or more.

My proposal: If you have tested positive for steroids during your playing career, you are no longer eligible for the Hall of Fame. Maybe twice to give you the benefit of the doubt of taking a product that has an unlisted illegal ingredient. It happens more than we would like to believe.

Of course, there are follow up questions to this proposal to deal with special circumstances. Let’s tackle those.

What about Barry Bonds and the players who didn’t test positive during their playing career because it wasn’t tested for? Unfortunately, there is no way to prove for sure that they used steroids. All we have is speculation. They get in.

What about Mark McGwire and guys like them who admitted having used steroids, but never tested positive? They get in too.

Whoa, Jon, they admitted it! You gotta keep them out!

Well, the first problem there is that they self identified as users. I think that deserves some credit. Beyond that PR people know that the quickest way to get over a story is to admit it, move on, and hope something else big comes along soon after. Think about the interview Mark McGwire gave after he was hired to be the hitting coach of the Cardinals, an interview he is widely believed to have been required to give as a condition of the job.

Everyone suspected McGwire had used. Most forget that he had already admitted using steroids over a decade ago, I remember reading that as a kid after the home run race of 1998. To get over the story, you follow the path of least resistance. If McGwire had sat in front of Bob Costas that night and maintained that he’d never used steroids would anyone on Earth have believed him? We all know the answer is no. That right there is enough reason to question the admission.

Guys like Rafael Palmeiro who tested positive during his playing days for using steroids, to me, his entire career is now in doubt. Did he start following the Congressional hearings where he pointed his finger to the cameras and said he never did steroids? Or did he lie to protect his reputation? We have proof that he used. He gets kept out.

America’s justice system was built on the foundation of “Innocent until proven guilty.” As a result, no simple speculation should be enough to destroy someone’s Hall of Fame chances. Baseball is touted as the American Pasttime. They should institute that same “Innocent until proven guilty” mantra and let guys who never were proven steroid users into the Hall of Fame.

Until baseball chooses to address this issue, they’ll continue to get run through the mud every year for their failures during the steroid era. It would be in their best interests to sort this out as quickly as possible without screwing players who may have never actually used. Punish the proven users, not the suspected users because suspicions can easily be wrong.

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UCB Project: Top Stories of 2011

This month’s United Cardinal Bloggers project is to break down what we thought the top-5 Cardinals Stories of 2011 were. Albert Pujols‘ departure and the Cardinals winning the World Series will be two very big stories that my fellow bloggers will likely be hitting on today. But those are easy. That’s the low hanging fruit. What really contributed to the Cardinals being there in October and getting their chance to come through and why? That’s what I’m going for.

#5. Adam Wainwright out for the season after Tommy John

Those dreaded words crossed my Twitter feed in February, just three months after I embarked on my Cardinals’ blogging mission. The names “Tommy John” and “Adam Wainwright” were mentioned in the same tweet. And to top everything off, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak was not feeling optimistic when he talked about Wainwright’s injury. And so we waited with baited breaths wondering how Wainwright’s doctor’s appointment in St. Louis would turn out. Would we lose our ace?

Many looked back to 2007 and 2008. Those were two seasons where we lost Chris Carpenter, then our clear #1 pitcher, for the majority of the season. He made 1 start in 2007 and 4 starts in 2008. The Cardinals finished 3rd in 2007 and 4th in 2008 in the NL Central. Was our season over before it began?

Many fans packed it in and it would have been easy for the Cardinals to dwell on the loss of Wainwright. But they moved on without the ace of their pitching staff determined to compete without him. That determination would come in handy throughout the season. Little did we know it would set the tone for the season. Whether it was Matt Holliday‘s appendix, a moth looking for a new home, Allen Craig‘s knee cap, or Albert Pujols’ wrist, the team was determined to give everything when it would have been very easy to mail it in without their key players. It would have been a good excuse that everyone would have bought. The Cardinals were a team ravaged by injuries all year.

The determination to get over the injury of Wainwright and move forward served the team well. From day one they were being prepared for a difficult season.

#4. The Search for a Closer

For a few years the Cardinals had been relying on Ryan Franklin to be the team’s closer. And I’ve been saying for just as long that Ryan Franklin isn’t a very good closer and we needed some insurance for him because it was simply a matter of time. However, I think the Cardinals were attempting to ride it out at least one more year with Franklin taking the ball in the 9th inning.

But when the season started and Ryan Franklin was ineffective, it threw the entire Cardinals’ bullpen into chaos. First it was Mitchell Boggs who got the 9th inning opportunities. Then he blew one and Eduardo Sanchez got a chance. Then Sanchez struggled to throw his slider for strikes when batters realized they could just take the pitch and Fernando Salas finally got the opportunity.

Salas, the only pitcher near ready to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals who had closing experience. Going into 2011 he was a perfect 44-for-44 in save opportunities between Springfield in 2008 and Memphis is 2010. Why he didn’t get the first opportunity is quite a bit of conjecture, but when the Cardinals needed a stabilizing influence in the 9th inning, they found it in Salas. He got his first save opportunity on April 28th. It was a little exciting with a hit and a walk, but he got the job done. He would save 10 games before blowing his first on June 1st. Over the summer he became a little homer happy, opening the door for Jason Motte who was having a dominant summer.

Jason Motte went from June 26th to September 6th, a span of 34 appearances and 26 1/3 innings, without allowing an earned run. It was enough to get Tony LaRussa to say he wanted to get Motte some time in the 9th inning role, but stopping short of naming Motte the team’s closer. On August 28th he got his first save as the team’s 9th inning man and racked up a total of 9 as the season went on.

#3. Wheeling and Dealing at the Deadline

Colby Rasmus was the future of the franchise. Or so we all thought going into 2011. He had a really good start to the season as well, with many, including myself, thinking that he had finally turned the corner and unlocked that potential. However, it wasn’t long before Rasmus was mired once again in a huge slump at the plate and was making big mistakes in center field. By July, most Cardinals fans were debating the merits of making Jon Jay the team’s starting center fielder. Apparently, so was Tony LaRussa as Jay started getting more and more playing time in center field.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ GM, had apparently been working on an extension with Rasmus that would have bought out his arbitration years. The team still viewed him as a major part of their future. They denied wanting to trade him, but everyone recognized that Rasmus would be the organization’s largest trading piece.

Despite the rumors of teams like Tampa Bay offering a very good starting pitcher for Rasmus, Mozeliak decided to take an offer that was viewed as lesser of the deals, but it did two very important things for the Cardinals. It filled holes in the rotation and the bullpen, something the other deals didn’t. Mozeliak knew Rasmus was his biggest (and likely only) bullet, he needed to it fix as many problems as possible. It also brought the Cardinals back draft picks for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel who left for free agency. They also got to keep Marc Rzepczynski, a talented left handed pitcher, something the Cardinals have been unable to produce on their own in recent years.

He wasn’t done. The Cardinals needed to improve the defense at short stop. Their plan to forego offense for defense during the offseason had come around to bite them when Ryan Theriot struggled to field his position as he had in the past. Mozeliak found a partner in the Dodgers who were willing to send them Rafael Furcal. All the Dodgers wanted was Alex Castellanos, and considering the Cardinals were facing a little bit of an outfielder squeeze at the top of their minor league depth charts, he was expendable.

When all was said and done, for the price of Colby Rasmus and Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos, John Mozeliak filled every hole on the 2011 Cardinals. It was a move that earned him Executive of the Year awards, but the Cardinals still needed help to get to the playoffs.

#2. September and the Hunt for a Cardinal Red October

Despite the additions, the team went just 15-13 in August and fell from half a game back of Milwaukee when the trades were made to 8.5 games back when August drew to a close. But that was mainly because Milwaukee was really good in August, going 21-7. It’s hard to keep up with a team who is that hot.

But the Cardinals would put together an 18-8 September, finishing as one of the hottest teams in baseball as they slipped into the playoffs on the final day of the season, courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Atlanta Braves. Many would say that the Braves choked up the playoff spot, but when you look at the fact they lost their #1 pitcher for the final two months of the season and their #2 pitcher for the final month, I have a hard time saying that. Where would the Cardinals have been this year if they’d lost Chris Carpenter as well? Nowhere pretty.

It was just what the Cardinals needed to get into the playoffs. As Daniel of C70 at the Bat said Wednesday night on the UCB Radio Hour, if the Braves win two more games anywhere in the season, they go to the playoffs and we don’t have this discussion and the trade of Rasmus seems like a huge mistake. What a kill joy.

#1. The Emergence of David Freese and Allen Craig

My top story of the season has nothing to do with the big names Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman (though Berkman did have an excellent 2011 season, way better than I expected). I attribute a lot of the Cardinals winning this World Series to the unsung heroes of this team. The Cardinals run into the playoffs and to the World Series Championship was a total team effort. There was no singular player’s performance, at least from a player you could expect.

Allen Craig, the subject of my largest sports man-crush right now, only had about 220 plate appearances for the Cardinals this season, but they were MVP quality appearances. His 2.9 WAR over those plate appearances projects out to 8.6 if he gets 650 plate appearances at the same rate. That’s better than some guy named Ryan Braun, who walked home with the National League MVP trophy. He also had RBI in 5 of the 7 games in the World Series. He had the game-winning RBI in game 1. He had a go-ahead RBI in game 2. His first inning home run in game 3 set the tone for the Cardinals. His 8th inning home run in game 6 was crucial to set up David Freese‘s opportunity. And in Game 7, his third inning home run put the Cardinals on top for good. He was definitely a worthy candidate as World Series MVP in my opinion. Well, were it not for this next guy.

It was a situation that all kids dream about. You play with the bat in the backyard and you call out the situation to yourself, “Bottom of the 9th. Game on the Line. Two out. Down to your last strike. You lose the World Series if you don’t get this hit. In comes the pitch…” It’s a triple off the wall to tie up the game! Even more incredible when you come up to bat 2 innings later and hit your first home run of the World Series to win the game in walk-off style to send it to Game 7. Then he goes and gets the game tying runs in the bottom of the 1st just two nights later in Game 7. Yeah, that’s David Freese.

It was the emergence David Freese and Allen Craig that really propelled this team. Your superstars can only do so much. Teams attempt to minimize the impact your superstars have on the game. Having players behind them who will make them pay too, that just makes things sweeter. And that’s what makes a team a winner.

Those are my top-5 stories. What are yours?

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Cardinals add Carlos Beltran

Is it Christmas come early for Cardinals fans? John Mozeliak delivered a two-year, $26 million contract for outfielder Carlos Beltran on Thursday night. The deal was announced by the team as pending a physical. The deal also includes a full no trade clause, likely a concessions for a two year deal instead of a three year contract like Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham both received.

Beltran has been in high demand since the Winter Meetings in Dallas. He reportedly received offers from the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Indians, Red Sox, and the Rockies kicked the tires before signing Cuddyer. According to a few baseball writers, the Cardinals kicked their negotiations into high gear on Wednesday.

Beltran, 34, has great potential to be an asset to the Cardinals. In 142 games last year between the Mets and the Giants, Beltran hit .300 with a .385 OBP, and a .525 SLG. On top of that, he added 22 home runs and 39 doubles. If you look at his 152 OPS+, which factors in park and league factors, it was the best season of his career.

However, he did spend a short time on the 15 day DL last season and has missed significant time in 2009 and 2010. That leads to my biggest concern, his durability. The Cardinals have gambled $19 million ($13 for Beltran, $7 for Rafael Furcal) in each of the next two seasons on these guys being healthy, but both have been injury prone. Add on to that, that Beltran is coming off of arguably his best season at the age of 34, the odds of him repeating or getting close to those numbers again are very slim.

How exactly Beltran figures to be used by the Cardinals is the big question. Will he get most of his playing time in right field, displacing or Allen Craig? Or will he get an opportunity to prove himself in center field and displace Jon Jay? With Craig’s recent knee surgery, he will be missing time this season, so the opening day outfield will likely be Holliday-Jay-Beltran.

Another question is where will he hit in the lineup. He could realistically end up anywhere between 2 and 5 in the Cardinals lineup depending on how new manager Mike Matheny puts his lineups together.

Additionally, I hate blocking Craig like they are. There is the potential that he can slide to first base (or left field with Holliday making the move to first) in 2013, but to me, Allen Craig’s 2011 season deserved a larger role this season and he won’t get it. I can’t see Beltran playing center field regularly enough for it and when Beltran is the second highest paid player on your baseball team, you can’t justify sitting him very often. An outfielder signing this season needed to be nothing more than a band-aid. You don’t wear a band-aid for two years, you only wear it as long as you need it.

If Beltran remains healthy, if Beltran remains productive, if Beltran can still occasionally play center field, then this is a good deal for the Cardinals. But it’s too many “if”s for me to feel comfortable with the move.

Now, let’s take odds on how long it takes for Adam Wainwright to come up behind Beltran and ask him if he’s swung yet.

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Cardinals sign two to minor league deals

The Cardinals added some minor league depth on Wednesday when they announced the addition of utility man Eugenio Velez and left handed pitcher R.J. Swindle.

Velez, 29, is potentially most noteworthy for his -77 OPS+ he posted last season thanks to going hitless in 40 plate appearances. A switch hitter, his best season came in 2009 for the San Francisco Giants where he put together a line of .267/.308/.400 in 84 games. He has played second base and all three outfield positions in his major league career between the Giants and the Dodgers.

Swindle, 28, last pitched in the major leagues in 2009 for the Milwaukee Brewers. In two seasons, he has thrown a total of 11 1/3 innings at the major league level and has compiled a 12.71 ERA. Last season with the Durham Bulls, Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate, he made 39 appearances and posted a 4.15 ERA. He does have a career 2.37 ERA in the minor leagues and could be considered as one of the Cardinals’ alternate options should J.C. Romero struggle in St. Louis this season. He is most notable for a 55 mph curveball he throws.

Both signings are simply minor league depth at this point.

Cardinals sign LHP Romero

In a move that will likely complete the projected bullpen for 2012, the Cardinals have signed LHP J.C. Romero to a one-year deal worth $750,000.

Romero, 35, pitched for the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies last season. However, he spent time in the minor league systems of the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals between those major league stints. Between the two teams he made 36 appearances with a 4.01 ERA. He will likely split the left handed specialist role with Marc Rzepczynski, who the Cardinals acquired via trade last season.

Romero has solid numbers against left handed batters in the last year, holding them to a line of .231/.318/.231. That’s pretty good, not as good as Rzepczynski though, and the Cardinals do have right handed relievers with better numbers against left handed batters, namely Eduardo Sanchez.

He has a reputation of being good against left handed batters, but has a habit of losing his control at times. Needless to say it should be an adventure. However, he is likely the second option out of the bullpen against left handers and the high leverage situations will likely (and hopefully) fall to Rzepczynski.

I think the most missed piece about his acquisition is that it adds another switch hitter to the lineup.

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UCB Roundtable

I asked my question earlier this week and should have posted it Tuesday, but I was busy trying to wrap up the necessary work I needed to do in order to make sure I can walk in graduation on Sunday. It’s been a long 8 and a half years trying to cram four years of school work into it. Finally almost ready to call it complete.

If you’re wondering what the UCB Roundtable is, it’s when us UCB writers kick around a question via our Google Group for a day. Each day a different writer poses the question and the rest of us answer and discuss it. It’s been going on for quite some time, if you want to see the cumulative post on the UCB site, here it is.

Anyway, my question for the day was: If you are the Cardinals’ GM, considering where we’re at financially and strategically, what free agent would you pursue to add to the team and why?

Here’s how it went.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 at the Bat:

The more I read about it, the more Carlos Beltran just makes sense, at least on a limited contract. Not sure if he’d do a one-year deal or not, but that’d be ideal. Beltran can (at least in theory) play center and also right, covers us while Allen Craig is out plus gives us some insurance in case Jon Jay slumps. His bat was stronger in the second half than in the first last year as he continued to get healthy. Switch-hitting helps the flexibility and it makes for fewer decisions for Mike Matheny. All in all, it seems like a perfect fit to me.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants:

At the current moment, I would go after Carlos Beltran but not for a long term deal. At his age, I would ask if he would even be willing to play right field even if he would prefer CF. At the same time, I would want to figure out a way to keep Allen Craig’s bat in the lineup once he fully recovers.

I’m assuming Skip Schumaker comes back and likely plays almost every day at second base.

I know Rob Rains brought up the idea of Derrick Lee to play first but that makes no sense as we would be platooning someone in the OF, which I thought was the reason as to why Rasmus was traded (along with his attitude).

Don’t get me wrong though… I’d love to see Rick Ankiel or Ryan Ludwick back but at the right price.

Ray DeRousse, Stlcardinalbaseball.com:

If I’m the GM, the only big thing we pursue is a lefthanded reliever, which we’d obtain through a trade given the dearth of lefties on the market.

The only other deal I’d like to make is nabbing Ryan Ludwick on the cheap to shore up our outfield depth and platoon with Jon Jay.

Mark Tomasik, Retrosimba.com:

I’ve pursue the best available left-handed reliever and best available starting pitcher. Cardinals need a proven left-handed reliever who is effective against left-handed batters in late-inning situations. I believe Cardinals need more starting pitching in case of an injury to one of the five in the rotation or in case a Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook is ineffective.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

We’ve been discussing a bit on Twitter this morning and i will say, four names jump out at me:

Nate McLouth
Ryan Ludwick
Rick Ankiel
Carlos Beltran

I believe this team would be best served by adding a sure outfielder on a short term deal while the younguns are learning a bit. Ankiel and Ludwick are more “bench bats” and extra outfielder types at this point. McLouth is an interesting “does he really have much to offer” and Beltran jumps off the page at me.

Beltran has a good chance to be 2012′s Lance Berkman. A short term, one or two year deal, that is not financially crippling but allows the team to grab some upside while he proves he is healthy and sets himself up for one more decent payday.

An Opening Day outfield of Holliday/Jay/Beltran that eventually becomes Holliday/Beltran/Craig would be a satisfying lineup to me. Install Daniel Descalso at 2nd and off we go.

Chris Mallonee, Birds on the Bat:

I like all the names Bill threw out except for Ankiel. Maybe that’s just a personal bias, but I feel like he had one great September and has been replacement level or just above since. But I think the Cardinals need to be smart and not try to make a “big splash” post Albert. Get a decent/good bat to absorb some AB’s and provide bench help until Craig gets back.

I think the Cardinals need to keep the flexibility they just gained from Pujols and wait for the big bat via trade or 2013 free agency. Inevitably there will be a spring training or early season injury or non-performing player (see 2011) and the team will need to have flexibility to meet needs that pop up early in the year.

Tom Knuppel, CardinalsGM:

McLouth signed with the Pirates already.

I like Ludwick as a cheap replacement if at all possible. No on Ankiel and I would take Beltran for no more than 2 years.

JE Powell, STL: Fear the Red:

I have to agree with the rest of my fellow bloggers on this one. I think Carlos Beltran is probably the best choice as long as it’s short term. If he can bat .280/20-25/80-85 I think he would be a good bat to have in the line-up. A near-full season of Allen Craig (assuming he can come back from the knee surgery with no lingering effects) and Beltran in the line-up would be a good outfield and I think would be a good replacement bat-wise for He Who Shall Not Be Named (and I don’t mean that snake guy from Harry Potter).

Malcom Pierce, The Redbird Menace:

I won’t break any new ground with my reply. Beltran’s the best option available. He can take over in RF and provide another quality bat to help fill the Pujols-sized hole in the lineup. And it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to see how well he can still handle CF, either.

Anything more than two years is a risk for a guy with his injury history and age, but I wouldn’t mind overpaying in a short-term contract. I’m not sure what else we can do with the money in the current market.

As an aside, I nearly hit my head on the keyboard today when Bernie Miklasz suggested that the Cardinals wouldn’t necessarily promise Beltran a starting job in the OF because of Craig and Jay. Carlos Beltran had a higher OPS than Albert Pujols last year. 219 somewhat overachieving plate appearances from Allen Craig shouldn’t even be a consideration when signing Beltran who, when healthy, is still one of the best hitters in the game.

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

Certainly Beltran makes sense, even if he is currently polling at Fungoes as the Cardinals’ #1 late-season public enemy!

Even playing only 142 games last year, Beltran gained 4.7 WAR (Albert Pujols has 5.1). Fangraphs’ fans project him to be worth at least three wins next year, and that’s estimated at a mere 124 games (that’s more than Jon Jay earned in just about as many plate appearances). He would not be an option to play centerfield, given that he’s only slightly better than Lance Berkman in right field. But he would indeed be the answer to what to do in Craig’s absense and may afford another second-base experiment by Craig when he returns.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham would be better fits. The Cardinals should avoid at all costs Ludwick and Ankiel, both of whom may give some fans some warm feelings, but neither of whom projects to be much more than a replacement-level player (Ludwick had 0.3 WAR last year, Ankiel 1.4)

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

If I may (and this is not aimed at Pip, just in general), why do we insist that players do not deserve a look based on their stats LAST year?

In 2010, Lance Berkman had a -0.2 WAR, in 2011 for the Cardinals (who took a chance on the guy based on past performance) Berkman posted a 5.2 WAR (that’s 0.2 less than the second coming that just went to Hollywood last season). Albert posted a 5.4 last season, by far the worst of his career, but got a very lucrative contract.

Stats are nie, they tell us how a player performed in the past. Why do we assume they can tell us how a player will perform in the future. If that was the case, we could never say anything about a “chance of scenery.”

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

That’s a good and fair point bill. To give a better shake to Ankiel and Ludwick, both of whom I wrote off using the small-sample size of last year’s stats. I’ll apply a 3-2-1 assessment (weighting last year at 3, two years ago double and three years ago as one).

Beltran: 3.1 average
Ludwick: 1.2
Ankiel: 1.0

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

Which, if I’m doing the math correctly, Jon Jay and Ludwick are fairly even? Might not be a bad, low cost pickup for a bench bat.

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

I’d put Jay well above Ludwick. Jay has had WARs of 1.4 (in a half season), 2.8 and projects for 2.6 next year.

Malcolm Pierce, The Redbird Menace:

You’re totally right about that Bill. “Last season” stats are sometimes given way too much weight. See especially: the contract Seattle gave Chone Figgins. I only compared Pujols and Beltran last year to ridicule the thought that Beltran should be a part time player anywhere. He’s not a better hitter than Pujols but I think he’s a starter on any team in the majors. Cards fans should be thrilled to see him replace Jay or Craig in the projected lineup as long as the contract is reasonable.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner:

I take the contrarian side of this discussion, not because of the first part of what you said (I do agree with that), but the reasonableness of his contract. Isn’t Scott Boras his agent?

I don’t want to see Beltran for 3 or 4 years in St. Louis and I don’t think he’s worth Lance Berkman money. We’ve already overpaid for Furcal (which I’m OK with), just don’t want to see us force a “name” on the roster. I don’t see him as an upgrade over Craig offensively, and defensively, I don’t think he’s an upgrade over Jay.

Save the money that the Beltran contract will require and pick up somebody of impact at the trade deadline, when more is known.

Pass on Beltran, find another lefty for the bullpen and then let’s get ready for Spring Training.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

For what it’s worth, Beltran is represented by Lozano…let that one simmer for a few minutes.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner:

Oh, goodness. That’s right, he switched agents heading into this free agency season. Wow, that would be… awkward.

And what is my take?

First off, I think Carlos Beltran is the absolute wrong fit for the Cardinals. He can’t play center field every day anymore. How do I know this? There doesn’t seem to be a single team that is pursuing him to be a center fielder. Everyone wants him on a corner and he’s even simply average there now.

Second, My choice would be Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick’s best years came in St. Louis and he’s had a couple really bad ones in San Diego. His numbers perked up after his trade to Pittsburgh a little bit. I think he’d make an excellent choice when you’re looking for someone to play for a month and then take a spot on the bench. He’s right handed (which immediately makes him a better choice than a guy like Ankiel) and he can play all three outfield positions. And he’s far cheaper and might be looking for a good year to reclaim some value.

Third, If you were bring Carlos Beltran in to start over Craig in right field, you find yourself blocking Craig for someone whose bat is just as good, but for probably more than 25 times the money. He’s not going to come in here cheap for one year to prove his health. That’s pretty much what he did last year when he established he was still a capable player. Berkman was coming off a horrendous year .248/.368/.413. Beltran is not, .300/.385/.525.

And if you block Craig, you simply find yourself once again in the location of not knowing what he can do. You can’t ask for more out of a player than what he did last year. His 219 plate appearances, if he’d gotten 650 plate appearances at those levels were MVP caliber and he is on par with the best hitters in the National League. He has earned his opportunity to start. I think you can justify bringing Pujols back and sitting Craig behind Pujols and Berkman, but I don’t see how you can justify to Allen Craig bringing in a guy like Beltran on a multi-year deal. If you do that, Craig needs to be dealt and he’s a guy I’d much rather have on my team.