The St. Louis Cardinals made their first move toward upgrading their offense on Tuesday, trading right-hander Blake Hawksworth to the Los Angeles Dodgers for shortstop Ryan Theriot.
Theriot became expendable earlier this week when Los Angeles signed Juan Uribe, who can play multiple infield positions like Theriot, but has a little more pop.
Theriot, who holds a career batting average of .284, represents a significant offensive upgrade for a team that got a combined .244 out of their middle infielders in 2010, and a .221 mark out of their shortstops.
Theriot also has 165 of his 589 starts at second base, where he could spell Skip Schumaker against lefties. Schu holds a .220 career average against left-handers, and a .303 average against righties. Conversely, Theriot holds a .302 average against lefties, and a .277 average against righties.
A former Cub, Ryan also has experience in the National League Central. He holds a .303 average against NL Central pitchers.
At this point, Theriot will likely lead off, although he will need to improve his .323 on-base percentage from last year, a career low. Theriot brings speed to a previously plodding lineup, as he's stolen at least 20 bases in the past four seasons. Last year, Albert Pujols led the team with 14 steals.
Now that Theriot projects as a starter in the middle infield, either Brendan Ryan or Skip Schumaker may be expendable next week at the Winter Meetings. The Cardinals would still like to improve their offense, and may package one of their middle infielders in a deal.
Then again, they may decide to head into 2011 with a deep middle infield consisting of Ryan, Theriot, and Schumaker, all relatively low-cost options. Theriot is under contract through 2012, and made just $2.6 million in 2010.
The Cardinals will send Blake Hawksworth to L.A. in the deal. Hawksworth experienced some success as a swingman for the Cardinals in 2009 and '10, but the Cardinals had a surplus of right-handed relief.
In a not entirely unrelated move, the Cardinals may have solved another issue, signing left-handed reliever Brian Tallet to a one-year deal. Tallet was released by the Blue Jays last month, and the Cardinals, who were looking for a left-handed specialist to replace Dennys Reyes, snatched him up.
Tallet had a 6.40 ERA last season, and coughed up 20 homers, but he also held left-handers to a .176 average. The Cardinals plan to employ him as a specialist, so he may have more success in limited action.
Theriot and Tallet were teammates at Louisiana State University, where they won a national title in 2000. The Cardinals are hoping that they can duplicate that success in the majors.