Throughout the past several days, as bloggers and fans everywhere begin to contemplate how to make the Cardinals a better team in 2010, Placido Polanco is a name being tossed around. When people talk about Polanco, they note that he makes contact, would be an ideal #2 hitter in front of Pujols, is very good defensively, and could fit in at 2b or 3b depending on who else the Cardinals would acquire. There is also always someone that points out that Pujols and Polanco are good friends and that by signing Polanco, it would also help to appease Albert in case Holliday isn’t brought back. Those seem like legit enough claims and reasons to make Placido Polanco a Cardinal (again) right?
Upon examining the numbers, some of the statements made about Polanco turn out to be true, while some either aren’t measurable or are just not correct. One statement that does pass the credibility test is that Placido makes a lot of contact. Polanco has never struck out 50 times in a season, and last year he made contact with 93% of his swings while only striking out in 7.4% of his plate appearances. That’s some serious hand-eye coordination that Polanco can flash, and something that old-school baseball purists can definitely appreciate. Unfortunately this kind of bat control also makes people believe that Polanco would be a good hitter to put in front of Albert. The number one job of the second place hitter in front of Pujols is to get on base, something that Polanco struggled with last season. In fact, Polanco’s obp fell for the third straight season in 2009, going from a very good .388 in 07’ to .350 in 08’ before falling to .331 this past season. Second basemen don’t tend to age well, and at 34 years old it’s fairly likely that Placido is entering the decline phase of his career. Even if Polanco were to replicate his 2009 in a 2 to 3 year deal, a .331 obp is not something the Cardinals need to add anywhere in the lineup, let alone bat in front of Pujols. Polanco also hits for little power, making his ops of .727 in 09’ very pedestrian. Brendon Ryan had.740 ops in 2009, and yet for some reason some people think that basically adding another Brendon Ryan to the lineup is going to help the Cardinal offense score more runs next season. *
Defensively, Polanco is a top-notch 2b. His UZR says that he saved over 12 runs at second last year, which is very good. I do not think, however, that the Cardinals are ready to give up on Skip Schumaker at second base and move him back to the outfield. Skip was moved to 2b because his offense played much better at second than in left, and considering that Skip vastly improved his defense as the season went on, it doesn’t make sense to move Skip back to the outfield. What about putting Polanco at 3b? Polanco hasn’t played third since 2005, but he has been a solid 7.8 runs above average over 322 games at the hot corner in his career. Since Polanco is a better defensive 2b than 3b, his value would take a hit if he were signed to play 3b for the Cardinals, making him unlikely to match the 3.2 WAR and 14.4 million dollar in value he produced for the Tigers in 2009. Basically, if the Cardinals were going to sign Polanco and maximize his value, the answer would not be to play him at 3b.
To wrap this up, Placido Polanco is a fine player, but he just isn’t as good of fit to the Cardinals as he appears to be at first glance. He is a solid contact hitter, but he carries a low obp, and the Cardinals cannot afford to add another low obp bat to the lineup. He is a good defensive 2b, but the Cardinals are set with Schumaker at 2b going forward. He could play 3b, but the Cardinals wouldn’t be maximizing Polanco’s value and with guys like Chone Figgins and possibly even Adrian Beltre hitting free agency, there are better options at the hot corner if the Cardinals aren’t comfortable with David Freese. As far as Polanco being a close friend of Pujols, he very well might be, but I don’t think personnel decisions should be made on whether a player is buddies with Albert. Pujols should probably have a say in hiring or firing a coach, but when it comes to signing a free agent Mozeliak just needs to worry about making the team better, not appeasing Albert. Besides, as long as the front office signs the right players and the team wins, who’s to say Albert won’t make new friends?
*Assuming Joe Thurston isn’t the starting 3b.