Considering they're in a death struggle for a playoff spot, the Cardinals' continuing search for a third baseman is pretty interesting. Joe Strauss:
- A protracted skid by regular third baseman Felipe Lopez caused manager Tony La Russa to briefly modify his stance regarding Allen Craig's fitness for third base.
On the same day the Cardinals moved opening day third baseman David Freese to the 60-day disabled list, Craig made his first major-league start at the position in Sunday's series finale against the Chicago Cubs.
La Russa made clear it wasn't his preference but it was necessary in order to spell the slumping Lopez.
"I don't think this is really doing (Craig) a justice," La Russa said. "It's one of those moves you make because you have to make it, not because you want to make it. I don't hesitate to make it because I really think this guy is a gamer, a talented gamer. ... It's not really good for our club if he has to do it."
The Cardinals have meanwhile intensified a search for help at the position. General manager John Mozeliak has tried to lower expectations for a trade, but the club retains interest in Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, an above-average defender who recently returned from a fractured hand.
A pending free agent, Inge tied a career high last year with 27 home runs and set a personal best with 84 RBIs. He entered Sunday hitting .256 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs.
The Tigers are expected to put Inge through waivers this week.
Allen Craig can hit. I mean, really hit. He's played 203 games in Triple-A and has a .322/.380/.551 line. Someday the Cardinals are going to trade him and he'll become a first baseman or a DH. There is a wide chasm between Craig's hitting talents and Felipe Lopez's.
Still, I don't see La Russa putting up with Craig's defense for long. Granted, theoretically speaking the difference between Craig and Lopez -- or for that matter, Craig and Inge, or Lopez and Inge -- isn't more than a game or so over the rest of the season. But psychology comes into play, and I'm sure the Cardinals' front office doesn't want to deal with La Russa's psyche if Craig and/or Lopez are throwing baseballs into the stands two or three times per week.
Of course, Inge isn't much of a hitter. But it's easier for a manager to deal with a .315 on-base percentage than a .943 fielding percentage. Personally, I'd like to see La Russa make do with the materials at hand. Isn't that what Hall of Fame managers are supposed to do?