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 St. Louis Sports Online

February 5, 1999


by Jim Hunstein (posted 2.5.98)


The Cardinals have signed Carlos Baerga to a one-year, $1 million contract to play second base for the 1999 season. The nine-year veteran switch-hitter comes to the Redbirds from two-plus years with the Mets where he hit.266 with seven home runs.

Baerga, 30, is probably best remembered for his seven-plus years with the Indians when he played in three All Star games ('92, '93, and '95). There he had his career year in 1993; .321 average, 200 hits, 114 RBI, 21 homers. He even stole 15 bases, only the second time he reached double digits.

As the saying goes, he ain't been right since. He has been a regular on the disabled list, usually hobbled by a hamstring.

His numbers have been going south ever since. He hit .314 in '94 and '95, .267 in '96, and .254 in a split year between Cleveland and New York. Changing to the National League seemed to help, but only briefly. His .281 in '97 dropped to .266 last year.

Cardinal fans used to having a speed-burner at second will be sorely disappointed. Baerga had 11 in 1995 but only three since. Point of reference: Mark McGwire has four over the same three years.

His power numbers have likewise fallen off while run production seems to have bottomed out. His seven dinger last year followed a steady slide from his high is '93. The numbers: 19, 15, 10, 12, and 9. And his RBI totals after his career high in '93: 80, 90, 66, 52, 53.

About the only thing going up seems to be his weight, which has contributed to his health problems and declining numbers. He is listed at 5-11 and 215. (I'm 6-2 and 215 and I ain't exactly svelte.)

Manager Tony La Russa told the Post-Dispatch, "I think he's a premier guy who went in the opposite direction and he's determined to get back the respect he had."

Of Baerga's conditioning problems, La Russa is predictably optimistic. "He gave the appearance of being a little listless mentally and physically," he said. "It could be concentration and in talking to him, he said he wasn't in the same kind of shape (in New York as in Cleveland). But we've had it confirmed that he's really working hard. I think he's anxious to reassert himself."

So the Cards raise ticket prices to get Kevin Brown, and, when the market goes nuts, they wisely back off. They had expressed interest in Roberto "Spithead" Alomar, but his price went too high when Jose Offerman blew the salary curve right out of the water. So they settle for Baerga. With the fire sale blazing in San Diego, one wonders if they could have made a deal for Quilvio Veras.

As a matter of fact, Baerga isn't even the highest rated Carlos at second base in the majors, even though the others have only been up for a cup of coffee. Carlos Febles is a young phenom with the Royals who
should start for the Royals with Offerman gone. He hit .326 with 51 steals in AA ball and is supposedly solid defensively. And Carlos Guillen is a young switch-hitter with the Mariners who is projected for
15 to 20 homers batting second. Both Carloses (Carli?) are projected for better '99s than our Carlos.

So the Cardinals lose 26 steals (55 in '97) and a .290 batting average (.295 in '97) with Delino DeShields, who will ply his trade with the Orioles, nee the Browns. Some of those should be made up with Edgar Renteria (41 steals, .282) in effect replacing Royce Clayton (24, .251)
at short.

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