Keeping Brendan Ryan is Not the Worst Option for the St. Louis Cardinals

Tim FitzgeraldContributor IDecember 10, 2010

ST. LOUIS - MAY 22: Brendan Ryan #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals fields a ground ball against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Busch Stadium on May 22, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Angels beat the Cardinals 10-7.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When the Cardinals acquired Ryan Theriot from the Dodgers and proclaimed him their staring shortstop, the question arose of what to do with former starting shortstop Brendan Ryan.  

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, has explored trade options for Ryan to get either a big leaguer or depth for the minors.  Teams that were looking for shortstop help like the Orioles, Padres and Pirates, filled their needs through other acquisitions of more established players.  

The other option is keeping Ryan as utility infielder for the 2011 team.

Ryan’s play has lead to me yelling out loud at my television on a number of occasions. 

Often in awe.  Just as often in anger.  

So many times I’ve wanted Ryan to just put the ball in his pocket instead of trying a difficult, unnecessary throw.  He has great range and a strong arm, but is erratic.  

For too long, his default throwing motion was a sidearm, slinging action.  His thinking was, if his throw was off, he’d be better off missing to the side rather than throwing over the first baseman.  I never liked that theory, as it incorporates planning to fail.  

Last year, he took his troubles at the plate into the field.  He searched for the proper feel at plate instead of sticking with an approach and just locking in on the ball.  

Much has been made of how his quirky, hyperactive personality blends in the clubhouse.  I’m personality more bothered how personality leads to his unfocused play on the field.

I would think he’s probably a great guy and fun to hang out with, though it may be difficult to be around that kind of personality 162-plus days in your workplace.  I’d most likely be one of his teammates that has told him to sit down and shut up at some point.

Tony La Russa says his personality and maturity level is not the reason for him being on the trade block, and that he’s matured. 

And I believe him. 

Ryan has grown up quite a bit, and has mellowed out. 

It just takes a while to come down from a sugar buzz of Ryan’s magnitude.

But his game hasn’t fully matured either, as he’s slowly grown as a player.  

That, however, is part of his upside.  He’s still a young player. It’s one of the reasons him being a Cardinal in 2011 isn’t a bad option at all.

The parts of his game he needs to fix, such as plate discipline, smarter decisions in field, and base running, are things a young, part-time player usually improves on if he becomes a regular.  

He has the range and strong arm, good speed, and has hit well every other season in the bigs.  And he’s most likely going to remain inexpensive this season.

If Skip Schumaker or Theriot struggles during the season, he’s there to fill in.  Schumaker is a clubhouse—and La Russa—favorite.  He’s a hard worker and smart player who normally gets on base and makes good contact.  

But he’s still new to second base.  He needs to shuffle his feet more on his throws instead of planting and throwing like and outfielder and he must improve on bending down to get grounders.

Though I like the acquisition of Theriot, he had his worst year at plate last season, and doesn’t have the defensive range of Ryan.  So there’s a need for a backup plan at both of these positions.

Spring performances can’t be ignored either if one of the starting middle infielder struggles mightily and Ryan plays well.

He would also be very helpful to a Cardinal team that had an uncharacteristically poor year in the field last season.  Based on the reputations of the players added during the winter meetings and the positions they will be playing, the Cardinals have downgraded defensively.  

Picture a La Russa-style, late-inning defensive change while ahead by a couple runs.  Ryan can come in to play short, with Theriot moving to second, and Skip heading out to right field for the newly-acquired Lance Berkman.  It’s a lot better than bringing in Aaron Miles, right?

I felt shortstop was the higher priority for an upgrade this offseason.  Schumaker has at least hit consistently at the major league level.  Last year was his worst full season in the big leagues, and was probably an aberration.  

Schumaker can play second base and all of the outfield positions.  He also and makes more money, so it wasn’t as important or as feasible to jettison Skip.

I’ve been pretty hard on Brendan Ryan in the past. 

He’s frustrated me with his inconsistent play and poor decisions.  

But he can bring value for the Cardinals as a player on the 2011 team, and I’m certainly in favor of him sticking around—as many Cards fans probably are.

This relegation to a utility role could be just the motivation, and kick in the pants he needs, which makes Ryan a nice option for the Cards to keep in their pocket.