Cards' options at third will start with Freese

BY foxsports • October 28, 2009

By JOE STRAUSS, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Last season third base represented the Cardinals' greatest offensive frustration.

Next season the position provides a most obvious choice between pricey experience and more economic potential.

Only a week has passed since team Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager John Mozeliak, manager Tony La Russa and La Russa's coaching staff shared space for a two-hour organization meeting. Little was set in stone during the session but initial indications suggest the club will provide rookie David Freese the opportunity that circumstance denied him last winter.

"We have to look at the make-up of our club and how everything comes together between now and next spring.. But given the second half that he had in Triple-A and how he played up here, it's my preference to give David a chance to win the job," says Mozeliak.

Freese, 26, hit .323 in 31 major-league at-bats this season and, according to several within the organization, would have been placed on the postseason roster if room could have been found.

He instead must settle for standing first in line for auditions next spring.

"I think we would like to give him a shot to play every day," Mozeliak says. "If we need to ramp up the offense in another way, we have plenty of time. But given what he accomplished this year, I definitely think (Freese) deserves that chance."

The stance may argue against retaining pending free agent Mark DeRosa, acquired in June from the Cleveland Indians for relievers Chris Perez and Jess Todd.

DeRosa, who turns 34 before next season, seeks an everyday position. With only an opening in left field, the Cardinals may lack that availability.

"We still have interest in Mark DeRosa but clearly the way we're going to have to make this work depends on what other pieces fall into place for us," Mozeliak says. "I still think he's a very nice fit for us, but we'll have to wait and see."

A trail of tears led to the position last season, beginning with Troy Glaus' need for surprise surgery in January to smooth muscle supporting his problematic right shoulder.

What the team initially believed a 12- to 14-week recovery didn't allow for Glaus' return until September, and then primarily as a pinch hitter. In between, Brian Barden and Joe Thurston overachieved in April but tailed. Barden was named April's NL rookie of the month but was later optioned to Class AAA Memphis and ultimately outrighted off the 40-man roster. Thurston offered insufficient power at the spot, and shortstop Khalil Greene shifted to the position after his first stint on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder.

When Greene's struggles continued, Mozeliak acquired DeRosa on June 27, a move hyped as protection for first baseman Albert Pujols.

Less than a week later, however, DeRosa tore a tendon sheath near his left wrist while swinging against San Francisco Giants lefthander Randy Johnson. The injury left DeRosa diminished, as he batted .228 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in 237 at-bats with the Cardinals after hitting .270 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs in 278 American League at-bats. DeRosa required injections to the wrist and endured a July stay on the disabled list. A pending free agent, DeRosa is seeking second and third opinions about the wrist before probably submitting to surgery next week in Atlanta.

The Cardinals gave eight players time at the position this season.

Only three (Glaus, Barden, DeRosa) had ever appeared at third base in the major leagues. Seven different players started, but none received more than DeRosa's 519 innings, equivalent to about 55 complete games.

A team that lacked for enforcers behind Pujols was exposed at third base, where it ranked 10th in home runs (16), 12th in runs scored (67) and 15th in batting (.229) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.661). With Glaus available in '08, the Cardinals ranked fifth in batting (.273), fourth in on-base-plus-slugging (.827) and third in RBIs (101).

Freese was supposed to be part of the spring training mix as well; however, complications connected to a January auto accident hobbled him during spring training and required ankle surgery in May.

The Lafayette High alum, acquired in the December 2007 trade that sent Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres, compensated for lost time by batting .300 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 200 at-bats at Memphis. That followed a 2008 season in which he batted .306 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in his first exposure above Class A.

"Unfortunately the car accident left him in no position to come out last spring and compete at the level necessary," Mozeliak says. "It set him back, but I wouldn't call it a lost year. When you look at what he's capable of offensively while being no worse than average defensively, there's a lot to be excited about."

Mozeliak insists economics aren't the primary motivation for entering the offseason with Freese as presumptive favorite to inherit the position. However, retaining pending free agent left fielder Matt Holliday or a similar hitter would seriously impact the club's financial flexibility.

There currently is little thought given to a free agent class offering Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins and Pedro Feliz at the position. Freese instead appears the man for the moment to address a yearlong riddle.

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WHO'S ON THIRD?

The Cardinals plugged in seven different players to start at least one game at third base this season but never got much offensive production from the position. The players and the number of games each started:

Mark DeRosa 58 Joe Thurston 55 Brian Barden 20 Khalil Greene 13 Tyler Greene 7 David Freese 5 Troy Glaus 4

COLD CORNER

In the 16-team National League, the Cardinals' third base corps ranked in the bottom half of most offensive categories. A look at production by Cards' third basemen and the team's NL rank:

Runs 67 12th Hits 136 14th HR 16 10th RB I65 14th BA


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