St. Louis Cardinals: What They Need To Reach the Top

Joel KochSenior Analyst IJune 1, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 29:  Erik Bedard #45 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the game on April 29, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals are not scuffling, but they aren't red hot either.

The Cardinals have two big holes to fill sooner rather than later, and by "later" I mean the July 31st trade deadline.

The first hole that needs to be filled is a third head to the mighty pitching dragon.

Chris Carpenter is an ace—he bleeds dominance. Adam Wainwright is in that same class as well, when he is right. The only downside is that both have their problems—more so Carpenter than Wainwright.

How to fix this? Erik Bedard. There's a downside and upside on Bedard, but we'll start with the upside.

Bedard is left-handed—something the Cardinals have missed for several years—and has a very good fastball. His curveball hasn't been as good since his surgery last year, but his change-up is decent.

The upside is that in St. Louis, he would be working with Dave Duncan, which would greatly help Bedard with his post-surgery mechanics.

The downside to Bedard is that he's started more than 30 games only once in his career, and he didn't throw 200 innings in that year (196). He is also on pace for slightly more than 160 innings this season (averaging five innings per start).

The upside on the downside? Duncan again. He is a master of reinventing pitchers (take Joel Pineiro, for example), and could help Bedard with his mechanics while improving that innings average. He can also give Bedard a better change-up.

In other words, Duncan can make Bedard worth that large free agent contract he will receive.

The second player the Cardinals need is Adrian Beltre, also a Seattle Mariner.

I know what you're thinking because I thought the same thing when I heard his name— Beltre hasn't been any good since he had that breakout 2004 campaign.

You have a valid point, but that is before we look inside the numbers. If you take out that 2004 breakout year, Beltre has never hit over .300, hit more than 26 home runs, drove in more than 99 runs, or scored more than 88 runs.

Not the bat you would be looking for to protect Albert Pujols, but we need to dive deeper in his stats, and that means all of them.

First off, let us look at his fielding stats.

Using FanGraphs as my guide, Beltre has been a good fielding third baseman. He is tied for fourth among Major League third basemen this season with Joe Crede and Ryan Zimmerman for range factor per nine innings with a 3.0.

He ranks sixth among MLB third basemen in expected outs with 90 (Andy LaRoche leads with 101), leads with a 1.3 in double play runs, leads with 9.6 in range runs, leads with a 9.3 ultimate zone rating, and is second behind Crede (33.5) in ultimate zone rating per 150 games with a 24.3.

In other words, Beltre is pretty good with the glove at the hot corner.

Now, for his offensive inside numbers.

Beltre is hitting .232/.265/.330 (AVG/OBP/SLG) on the season with just three home runs and 21 RBI. At first glance, those numbers are horrible. But after taking a look at some different factors, those numbers don't seem so bad.

First and foremost, the Mariners suck. There really is no better word for it. When your team is awful, you lose motivation. You hate to use it as an excuse (especially in the walk year of your contract), but it's true. Beltre is struggling because his team is bad.

Another reason why his numbers are so bad is that he can't seem to hit at Safeco Field. The pitcher's park is killing Beltre. He is hitting a very pedestrian .149 at Safeco, with an even worse .407 OPS.

He has only one home run and eight RBI at home. On the road, he is hitting .303/.333/.422 with two home runs, 13 RBI, seven doubles, and 15 runs scored—all of this in just four more games and 15 more at-bats.

For his first four years in Seattle, Beltre has had very interesting home/road splits. At home, he averages a .255 batting average over almost 75 games with a line of .311/.419/.730.

He also averages 38 runs, 13 doubles, 11 home runs, and 39 RBI per season at home.

On the road? Not surprisingly, Beltre fares much better, with a .277 batting average over 76 games, with a line of .327/.488/.815. Also included are his averages of 42 runs, 23 doubles, 13 home runs, and 49 RBI on the road.

If you are interested in his average numbers in his first four seasons with the Mariners, they are as follows: .266 (158/593.5) batting average, .319/.453/.772, 80 runs, 36 doubles, 24 home runs, and 88 RBI.

Have I changed your mind yet? Beltre is one of the better fielders at the hot corner and is a good hitter away from the nightmare known as Safeco Field.

His average numbers with the Mariners are also good looking, good enough to make pitchers think twice about walking Pujols.

In other words, Beltre would make the Cardinals' lineup that much deeper and give Pujols better protection.

Knowing the players the Cardinals need, it's time for the deal. This deal will be difficult for several reasons:

  1. Beltre has a limited no-trade clause and the only known teams on the list are the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
  2. The Mariners traded a lot of good players for Bedard and are looking for a good package in return.
  3. Beltre is in the walk-year of his contract, and is owed more than $9 million for the rest of the season.

So, how do we arrange the deal to make the Mariners happy? Easy. We'll break this into two deals so that you can see how I view Beltre and Bedard in a trade.

For Beltre, the Cardinals would trade Chris Duncan and Brad Thompson.

For Bedard, the Cardinals would trade Casey Mulligan, Charles Cutler, Adam Reifer, Pete Kozma, and Mitchell Boggs.

Beltre, while a good fielder and a better hitter away from Seattle, is not worth top prospects or good players still well under club control.

Duncan would benefit from a change of scenery and would provide more pop from left field. He could also serve as a designated hitter.

Thompson could fill a rotation spot for Seattle, or work out of the bullpen.

The Bedard deal is a different story. While he is about to become a free agent, he is still worth a large package, but not made up of many top prospects.

The reasoning behind that is he has not proved durable, has never pitched in the postseason (or in a pennant race for that matter), and is less than a year removed from shoulder surgery.

He is, however, worth a large package of good players. He is left-handed, can be very dominant, and could be a Type A free agent going into the offseason. And if he can continue to pitch as he is, he will sign a large free agent contract and teams would be scared off by the Type-A status.

Mulligan is a converted catcher and pitched well at low Single-A Quad Cities. He has been hit hard at high Single-A Palm Beach, but is still talented as a pitcher. He doesn't throw as hard as Jason Motte, but he has better off-speed stuff and has more movement on his 90-92 mph fastball.

Reifer is a Major League closer in the making who has decent off-speed stuff with a good fastball. Opponents have hit him well this year, but he will turn it around. He could be up as soon as next season, and he'll be very good.

Cutler is a designated hitter in the making, but can serve as a catcher. He has a nice stroke and is mashing the ball at Quad Cities. If moved along a nice rate, he could be up in late 2011 or early 2012 and serve as a left-handed power source for the Mariners.

Kozma isn't exactly an "all glove, no stick" shortstop. He is very baseball smart and could end up hitting over .270 at the Major League level, but he'll never be a home run threat. He is very solid with the glove and is currently at Double-A Springfield.

At his current pace of movement up the organizational ladder, Kozma could be a 2010 September call-up.

And finally, Boggs. He pitched decently for the Cardinals last season when he was in town. He worked hard in the offseason and during spring training and fared very well this season. His walks were a little high, but that is mostly because hitters lay off of his curveball on two-strike counts and he ends up picking up a lot of balls.

Boggs's change-up is decent and his fastball is good. When he learns how to pitch instead of throw, he will be a No. 3 starter. He could fill a rotation job this season if needed.

St. Louis needs Beltre and Bedard. With those two guys, the Cardinals are legit contenders for the National League Central, if not the favorites.

Without them, they are a contending team that would still need breaks to go their way and for other teams to scuffle more than them.

What do you think?


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