As Dave Cameron notes, the Skip Schumaker experiment has worked about as well as anyone might have hoped. After jettisoning Adam Kennedy, the Cardinals installed Schumaker, previously an outfielder, at second base last spring. And after a pretty rough start with the glove, he's apparently been decent enough since the middle of May. And of course the Cardinals are heading to the playoffs in a few weeks.
- Knowing Dave Duncan's desire to spread the gospel of the two-seam fastball, the Cardinals know the importance of infield defense to their success. Despite the risks, they were still willing to take a gamble on Schumaker's ability to turn himself into a decent defender at the position, and they held to their convictions even after a really bad start to the season. Their reward? A league average hitter who can hold his own as a middle infielder.
The Cardinals deserve a lot of credit for not just making the move, but sticking with it. I have a feeling they won't be the last team to get away from strict mindsets about what types of players can play certain positions. As teams experience success moving guys like Schumaker to second base, I have a feeling we'll see this trend take off.
Gosh, I don't know. Maybe. But I will point out that 1) Kennedy's been quite a bit more valuable than Schumaker this season, and 2) those runs Schumaker cost the Cardinals in the spring did count.
Yes, if he can keep playing moderately well at second base next season, it'll make some sense. But "moving guys like Schumaker," even when the transition works, probably doesn't work immediately. Learning to play a tougher position in the cauldron of the major leagues is not an easy thing. It's a testament to Schumaker's talents and hard work that he's apparently been able to do it. But I don't know that every team and manager has the patience to wait as long as the Cardinals and La Russa did.
Especially considering that the Cardinals are good. Radical moves make more sense for non-contenders, who need to take risks and don't really have anything to lose, if something doesn't work out. In fact, the Cardinals weren't the only team to try this exact thing this season. Cameron wrote on this subject in April, noting not only the Schumaker switch, but also similar moves involving Kansas City's Mark Teahen and Colorado's Ian Stewart. His conclusion: "I'd bet that going forward, second base is going to look a lot more like third base."
Maybe. But neither of those latter moves survived contact with the enemy. Not for long, anyway. Teahen started all of three games at second base, while Stewart's started 20 (and just one since July). Cameron might argue that second base should be the new third base. But in the real world, it's probably going to happen when you've got 1) a third baseman who's willing enough and talented enough to play second base passably, 2) a manager who's both stubborn and creative, and 3) a supportive general manager.
My guess? That's a rare combination, now and in the future.