Just when the Cardinals offense starts to come around, the bullpen implodes. What else could go wrong?
The Birds, once favorites to win the National League Central, now find themselves in a three-game hole as the trade deadline approaches. It's certainly not an insurmountable deficit. But there is no doubt that the Cardinals are going to have to do something to shake things up if they hope to win.
Here are a few possibilities that I'm not necessarily endorsing, just throwing them out there for discussion:
-- Trade the future for help in the here and now.
Do they go after a pitcher or a hitter? The market for the big names seems to be out of the Cardinals reach. Cliff Lee has a ton of suitors, Danny Haren is supposedly off the market following Arizona's GM swap and St. Louis area native Mark Buehrle not only saw his five and 10 rights vest last week, but his rotation mate Jake Peavy went down to a pretty serious injury, so the White Sox can't afford to let Buehrle go. That leaves peripheral candidates on the market. And I'm not sure another Jeff Suppan sort is better than what the Cardianls already have in house. And I wouldn't give a premium to get a fourth or fifth starter.
Middle infield is another area of deep concern. Brendan Ryan is back below the Mendoza line. Skip Schumaker is hitting in the .250 range. And BOTH of them have been terrible on defense. Ryan has an unbelievable 12 errors already this season at second base -- and he hasn't even been playing full time. Schumaker is close behind with 11 miscues. Without a doubt, this is the worst Cardinals middle infield of the last 30 years. The knock on a guy like Florida's Dan Uggla is that he is a butcher with the glove. But at least he hits the ball... Arizona's Kelly Johnson could be available at second base. But Stephen Drew is apparently on the no-no list.
-- Call up the kids
I don't get it. The Cardinals shipped Allen Craig to the minors because they didn't have anyplace to play him. Now our starting right fielder is on the disabled list and Craig's .300 bat with power is still in Memphis tearing up the Pacific Coast League. Why not give the guy a shot? Since he was already called up this season, his clock's ticking. The only reason I can imagine the Birds don't call him up is because he's trade bait and they don't want to take the chance that he continues to have problems with major league pitching. Meanwhile, Randy Winn has proved to be a butcher in the outfield and he isn't hitting as well as Jon Jay. Why keep Winn around? The guy has ZERO power and is little more than a fifth outfielder with limited offensive potential.
-- Do nothing
It's the least palatable of the options because this team is underachieving so badly. But the Cardinals have what it takes -- at least on paper -- to win. Maybe the best option is hoping they somehow start to play like they are capable of playing... This club has FIVE all-stars. What other team has so many of baseball's best and brightest but can't manage to put together a modest winning streak?
-- Make an example of someone
The Cardinals seem far too comfortable in their losing ways. Dating back to the last month of the 2009 season, they're five games under .500. That's a pretty good-sized sample to dismiss as a fluke. It appears the team is too comfortable under manager Tony La Russa who used to be a dugout tough guy but now is mostly known as being loyal to his players to a fault. Case in point: Skip Schumaker has been awful at second base but La Russa won't move him because he admires Schumaker's willingness to learn a new position on the fly and be a team player. So, shake up the club by making an example of him. Get rid of him. No one would see that coming and maybe the rest of the club would realize this isn't summer vacation. Everyone's job is up for grabs every day. Then maybe they'll bear down and take their jobs seriously. Why Schumaker and not, say, Brendan Ryan? Because Ryan has always been a La Russa whipping boy... And he can't hit .200 this season. No one would be surprised by that move. But I think it would make people in the clubhouse angry if the club ditched Schumaker.
-- Become sellers
I love Chris Carpenter. But the guy has had major arm problems and he's 35 years old with a season and a half of big bucks left on his contract. Why not join the Cliff Lee, Danny Haren fray and offer Carpenter up for prospects -- or a middle infielder who could help the offense and the defense? Maybe the Cardinals could swap Carp to the Phillies, Yankees or Twins for enough prospects to work out a deal for Haren or Buehrle over the offseason... It would be a white flag move, and I am not a big fan of surrendering when you're still in the hunt, but there is an argument that by sacrificing 2010 that the Birds could make 2011, 2012 and 2013 look a whole lot brighter.