St. Louis Cardinals Welcome Back Felipe Lopez

Cole ClaybournCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2010

PHOENIX - MAY 12:  Felipe Lopez #2 of the Arizona Diamondbacks at bat during the major league baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds at Chase Field on May 12, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Reds defeated the Diamondbacks 3-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After an off-season full of speculation surrounding infielder Felipe Lopez signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, the deal finally became official on Friday.

The club agreed with Lopez on a one-year, $2 million contract with incentives on Friday, despite recent reports that the Cardinals weren’t looking to add another infielder before Spring Training.

Lopez played forty three games with the Cardinals in 2008 where he hit .385 with four home runs and 21 RBI.

Talks between the two heated up about a month ago, but slowly fizzled out until the past couple of days. Lopez fired his former agent, Scott Boras, around three weeks ago, likely as a result of the talks between him and the Cardinals dying out.

Many reasons factored in to the Cardinals’ interest in Lopez. The main reason seems to be the uncertainty around shortstop Brendan Ryan’s wrist injury. The Cardinals are hoping to have Ryan healthy by Opening Day, but he’s still unable to throw a ball properly or swing a bat. Lopez will fill in for Ryan until he’s healthy and then likely play all over the infield, and possibly some outfield.

The other reason is for insurance at third base. David Freese will be taking his first stab at a starting role this season and it’s unsure whether he’ll succeed or not.

But Lopez could very well end up being the outright starting third baseman once Spring Training is over. He hit .310 in 2009 with the Diamondbacks and the Brewers and clubbed nine home runs and 57 RBI.

For all intents and purposes, Lopez is a glorified Mark DeRosa, who was let go after starting at third base for half a season in 2009 with the Cardinals. He’s a guy that plays all infield positions, plus the outfield, and brings a much needed left-handed bat to the lineup with the ability to hit right-handed as well.

He defines versatility, something La Russa always wants in his clubhouse. He essentially fills in for DeRosa as the utility guy, but with less miles on him.

So what does this mean for the Cardinals’ lineup?

Lopez doesn’t just give the Cardinals versatility on the defensive side. The club has several options offensively now with Lopez in the lineup.

If Freese was to start, he’d likely be a season-long mainstay at the No. 6 hole in the lineup, but Lopez can hit just about everywhere. He can be a solid No. 2 hitter in front of Pujols, which wouldn’t be a bad idea, with his career .338 on-base percentage. He can also hit fifth or six, as he’s shown that he can produce offensively and hit for power, or he can hit toward the end of the lineup, if La Russa wants security there.

The best fit for the Cardinals and what would make the most sense would be to hit him second in front of Pujols. Aside from his high on-base percentage and batting average, Lopez also provides speed, something the Cardinals didn’t have much of last season.

Although he had just six steals last season, he’s had three seasons where he stole 15 bases or more, highlighted by a 2006 season where he swiped 44 bases.

More runners in scoring position in front of Pujols and Matt Holliday equates to more runs producing opportunities, which will hopefully lead to many more wins.

This would also bump Colby Rasmus down to the sixth spot where he may be a little more comfortable. He said last season that he felt better hitting lower in the lineup.

The Cardinals already had one of the better lineups in the National League and have now effectively increased their chances of repeating as NL Central champions with the signing of Lopez.

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