The St. Louis Cardinals are betting a substantial sum that DH-if-you-ever-saw-one Lance Berkman will experience an unlikely career revival next spring. Of Tony La Russa’s plans to install Berkman in right or left field next season, the Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz hopefully notes, “the Cardinals have a ground-ball pitching staff.” You’d better hope exclusively ground balls.
* It’s fair and natural to wonder if he can handle a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals apparently will use Berkman in LF. He hasn’t played any outfield at all since 2007, and hasn’t been in LF since 2006. And as a younger, mobile athlete Berkman wasn’t good in RF. The sample sizes are small, but: in 78 innings in RF in 2005, he was a minus 1 fielder according to the John Dewan “Fielding Bible” system. In 305 innings in 2006, he was a minus 3 RF. And a minus 9 in right fielder (2007) in 229 innings.
* If Berkman is placed in LF, that means Matt Holliday will go to right field. Holliday has never played RF in the majors. Last season he was one of the better left fielders in the majors, with a +14 rating from Dewan that put him 3rd among all MLB left fielders. Holliday’s arm was adequate in left field, but he doesn’t seem to have a RF arm. With Berkman in left and Holliday in right, the Cardinals have weakened themselves defensively at two OF positions. Tony La Russa will obviously take measures to reinforce the OF defense when the Cardinals have late-inning leads, with someone like Jon Jay coming off the bench to upgrade the defense to protect the lead.
* Berkman in left and Holliday in right puts more pressure on Colby Rasmus to raise his game defensively in center field. Rasmus was pretty bad out in CF in 2010, rated as a minus 7 defender by Dewan and Fielding Bible. Rasmus has the ability to be better than that. And the Cardinals need him to be significantly better than that in 2011.