Thursday, November 17, 2011

Plan C: Creatively Convert Craig

Cardinals fans everywhere would prefer Albert Pujols to return to St. Louis, but the emergence of a third "mystery team" could have the potential to spoil it. The market for an elite first baseman seems limited to several teams who could both desire and afford him, though a few have already explained they were not interested while others have remained quiet.
Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Dodgers
Seattle Mariners
Washington Nationals

I mentioned yesterday how the only more affordable approach for the St. Louis Cardinals to win ballgames either with or without Pujols involved thinking unconventionally, well here it is.

I completely agree with William Tasker from the Flagrant Fan who wants Allen Craig to start every day. He is already 27 and accumulated a WAR of 2.6 over only 219 plate appearances. Just imagine those numbers over the course of a full season. It may happen if the Cards don't resign Pujols, but there is an alternative idea I considered which is identical to William's thought:

Let's start Craig at second base.

Bill James recently released his projections for 2012 and Jeff Zimmerman from RotoGraphs used it to analyze those available to play second base. Surprisingly, somebody requested he include Craig in his projections which ranked him 5th overall while comparing everyone as if they all would accumulate 600 plate appearances.

Although the majority of his defensive work came from the corner outfield positions since his major league debut in 2010, he has logged at least 20 innings at every position besides catcher and shortstop. The majority of his starts in the minor leagues came at third base, though his defense was quite poor and was eventually moved all over the field before settling on the outfield. FanGraphs indicates his UZR/150 was -26.5 in the 42 innings he played at second as a Cardinal and did not post a positive value anywhere besides the outfield, but that is a small sample size.

Rather than bash the notion of him playing second base due to his unproven incapability to defend, let's create some scenarios using the same methods as yesterday. Not only would this allow Craig to start full-time, but it would fill a weak position and allow them to concentrate on positions where there is more depth available in this year's free agency market, such as shortstop and the outfield.
I speculate a lineup with Allen Craig at 2B and Albert Pujols at 1B
If the Cardinals manage to retain Pujols, use Daniel Descalso at shortstop, and move Craig to second, then that ties up $56.6 million while providing a projection of 21 wins above replacement. If they then decided to sign either Ryan Theriot to start at short or Coco Crisp to cover center field over Jon Jay, then they would only benefit from a half of one win. They could potentially increase their winning probability by signing Rafael Furcal at shortstop and use an internal option as their backup outfielder, like Adron Chambers.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals general manager, has previously mentioned they do not intend to greatly increase their offer to Albert. He also stated he would not pursue Prince Fielder if talks with Pujols fell through, so this could mean Lance Berkman or Craig could cover first base while the other would be in right field. But if Craig shifts to second base instead, then it opens the outfield to several possibilities.

I speculate a lineup with Allen Craig at 2B and Lance Berkman at 1B
Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are arguably the best free agents available on the market behind Pujols and Fielder, so they would be the next best choices. The Cards also desired some depth behind Jay, but there are not many options besides injury-prone Grady Sizemore and Crisp.

The 4th scenario with Pujols would provide the most added wins while also being the most expensive due to the signing of Pujols as well as Furcal. The 1st scenario without Pujols presents the least costly option and cheapest cost per win as they only acquire Beltran and use internal options elsewhere.

Given these eight scenarios, I would prefer the 1st scenario with Pujols but would accept the 3rd scenario without Pujols.

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