On the surface the St. Louis Cardinals' decision to sign infielder Mark Ellis to a one-year contract might not look like much of a needle mover.
After all, if all goes well he'll be a 36-year-old back-up second baseman.
But the deal, reported Sunday by Fox Sports, is actually a pretty significant pickup for St. Louis in that it addresses two of the Redbirds' most critical deficiencies.
First, Ellis provides the club with some much-needed insurance in the wake of letting 2011 World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner David Freese and moving Matt Carpenter from second to third. Rookie Kolten Wong is expected to be the starter at second base. But he got off to a terrible start to his major league career at the plate last season with a .153 batting average in a very small sample size of at-bats, 59.
Now I'm not saying because he started slowly that Wong can't hit. What I am saying is that Wong hasn't proved at this point that he is ready to be a major league starter. If he needs another couple hundred bats in the minors in 2014 to make the transition to big league ball, the Cardinals can now afford to give them to him. If he gets off to a slow start, the Redbirds have a safety valve to take off the pressure while Wong gets his feet beneath him.
Second, the Cardinals have been terribly vulnerable to lefty pitching the past few seasons. It seems like far too often when the game is on the line the Birds couldn't produce a right handed pinch hitter. Daniel Descalso, Matt Adams and Wong had to face a situational lefty because there were no other options.
Ellis is a righty hitter who can handly the southpaws when needed. He's hit .276 against them for a career.
If Wong does perform, there is still plenty of room for Ellis who could platoon at second base. According to an ESPN story in September, Ellis had 12 defensive runs saved as a second baseman in 2013 that ranked second only to Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. The story went on to call Ellis "the least-flashy, least-obrusive, lowest-maintenance everyday player on the Dodgers and, without many people knowing it, he's among the most valuable"
The ESPN story went on to say that "on a team of brilliant athletes, $20 million-per-year salaries and puffed-out chests, Ellis falls under none of those categories. He's just a good player in all the ways most people don't bother to track."
In short, Ellis is a team player who can get the job done at the plate in at the field. He'll help to give the young Cardinals the most complete roster they've had in years.
Is it time to play baseball yet?