Question Mark in the Outfield

Justin HulseyCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2010

It is almost a chore to find a weakness in this team. The Cardinals have the game’s best player in Albert Pujols. They have the National League’s best 1-2 pitching punch in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. They arguably have the MLB’s best defensive catcher in Yadier Molina. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that they resigned slugger Matt Holliday. The best part of all of this is that, if there becomes a glaring hole in the lineup, the Cards have the resources and money to fill those holes. With that in mind, there is one problem that sticks out amoung all the rest.

No, it is not that fifth starting pitching role. I actually think that isn’t as big of a problem that people are making it out to be. Kyle McClellan, Jaime Garcia, and Rich Hill are all capable of being a Major League starting pitcher. My concern is depth in the outfield.

Let’s take a look at who we have right now:

Colby Rasmus
.251 average, 16 HR, 52 RBI in 147 games last season
.260 average, 17 HR, 55 RBI projected for 2010
Nobody really knew what to expect in his rookie season. I think the plan was for Rasmus to be in a platoon role and back up Rick Ankiel. Not so much. After Ankiel’s game totally went to hell, Colby was forced to be the starting center fielder and that didn’t go over so well. In the second half of the 2009 season, when Rasmus was in the full-time role, he batted .216 with five home runs. Unfortunately, that has sophomore slump written all over it. Not to mention, Rasmus sucked versus left-handed pitching. He hit at a horrible .160 clip with only three homers.

Ryan Ludwick
.265 average, 22 HR, 97 RBI in 139 games last season
.267 average, 23 HR, 98 RBI projected for 2010
Last year was definitely considered a disappointment by many. After a .299/37/113 campaign in 2008, most Cardinal fans were expecting another all star season by Luddy. Do not get me wrong, his 2009 was nothing to frown over. Then again, it wasn’t anything to write home about by any stretch of the imagination. His lingering hamstring injury plagued him for most of the year and everybody will be keeping an eye on it this season. If I was asked to describe his game in one word it would be “streaky”. Ludwick has stuck out 252 times over the past two seasons. He is undisciplined at the plate, which suggest he is undisciplined at the plate and that is probably the main reason he is prone to streaks.

Matt Holliday
.313 average, 24 HR, 109 RBI in 156 games last season
.305 average, 30 HR, 107 RBI projected for 2010
I have nothing bad to say about his guy. Although, I think I speak for the entire Cardinal Nation when I say that he better make it worth all of the millions we spent on him this offseason.

After those three, we have… well… not much. Skip Schumaker is perfectly capable of playing in the outfield but he is our starting second baseman. Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Joe Mather, and Nick Stavinoha are all on the bubble of even being on the Major League roster. Who can honestly say they are comfortable with them playing in the outfield for us?

So what happens if Rasmus, Ludwick, or Holliday gets injured or just has an off-year? Do we move Schu to the OF again? That gives us an infield that consists of a 34-year-old Julio Lugo, Felipe Lopez, an unproved and inexperience David Freese, and an injured Brendan Ryan. Sorry, but that infield is nicht so gut.

Free Agent pool, you say? How about not. The only MLB outfield free agents available are Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, and Gary Sheffield. All of which are over 35 years old. Dye sounds like a pretty good option except I’m sure he will ask for too much money and probably a starting gig, Darin Erstad batted .194 last season with the Astros, and Sheffield won’t be a Cardinal considering the last thing the team needs is another roid-user in town. So what do we do?

The best option is Allen Craig. He is probably the most pro-ready player on my prospect list and definitely had the best 2009 season out of all the Cardinal’s minor league outfielders. His .322/26/83 season in Memphis was pretty impressive, but I have doubts about him being ready to play in St. Louis on a regular basis.

That may be exactly what has to happen though. The Cardinals cannot carry only three true outfielders on their roster (I don’t include Skip in that group because he is obviously our second baseman). Unless the Front Office has a better option, it looks like we are going to see a lot of Mr. Craig this season. I sure hope he’s ready, because he is one play away from being a Major League starting outfielder.

- Jay