Punto is a switch-hitter, who had strong seasons in 2006 and 2008, but has been disappointing since. He batted .238 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .302 slugging percentage in 2010.
What he does bring is a solid glove. He holds a career UZR of 29.9 in 285 games at third, and, if starting third baseman David Freese is unable to return from ankle surgery on schedule, Punto can fill in.
"It addresses a couple of things for us," said general manager John Mozeliak. "One thing that we believe is he's a very, very good defensive player at second, short and third, and will certainly give us protection there should we need it. We also see value in him being a switch-hitter, to give [manager Tony La Russa] a little more flexibility that way as well."
Punto has a UZR of 7.9 in 252 games at second and 27.2 in 257 at shortstop.
"And overall our hope is that David Freese is going to be our everyday third baseman, but if there is a problem there, we certainly know this man is capable of playing there every day."
When Freese is healthy, Punto will back up second, shortstop and third. That means that Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene will have to compete for a job this spring. Mozeliak says that Ramon Vazquez, who signed a minor league contract earlier this offseason, will also be part of the competition.
"To his credit, [Punto] just really wanted to be a St. Louis Cardinal and really pushed for it," Mozeliak said. "Nick's thrilled about coming here. I always think when people show this kind of interest, it's always beneficial to the club."
Signing Punto is low-risk, high-reward. Bill James and ZiPS predict a very slight offensive improvement for Punto in 2011, but, like most insurance, he should be reliable when called upon. If he does anything more than what he did last year, this would be a great signing for Mozeliak.