Need a left handed bat off the bench, to pinch hit or who can still play in the outfield?
How about Larry Walker?
Yes, Larry Walker. When Walker announced his retirement at the end of the season, I told readers not to be surprised to see Larry change his mind and comeback and play in 2006.
The 39-year-old Walker hit .289 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI in just 100 games with the Cardinals this past season. He was plagued by a herniated disk in his neck, for most the season and an ankle sprain and a sore right knee after reconstructive surgery and yet still put up decent numbers for St. Louis.
Let's look at it this way, in 141 games last season, the Cardinals new right fielder, Juan Encarnacion, hit .287 with 16 home runs and 76 RBI for the Florida Marlins.
The bottom line is, looking at these numbers, if Walker is healthy enough to play, he can still
be a menacing presence in an already talented Cardinal
A seven-time Gold Glove Award winner as an outfielder, Walker is not going to hurt you in the outfield, even at this stage of his career.
A career .313 hitter over 17 seasons, Walker has 383 homers and 1,311 RBIs in 1,988 career games, and you put him on a Tony La Russa managed team, being used as a left handed bat off the bench or as a fifth outfielder for the team, I say, he can still be productive even at the age of 39.
The Cardinals declined the 2006 option on Walker in November of 2005 and the retiring slugger received a $1 million buyout, but trust me, Walker's career may not be over just yet.
In a story published in the Toronto Star, when asked if Larry Walker would
play for Canada in the up coming World Baseball Classic, Walker's agent Pat
Rooney said no, because his client is still bothered by neck problems.
He added, that if Walker feels better next spring, he would consider resuming his career, preferably in the AL as a designated hitter, with an occasional appearance in the field.
I figured Walker would have second thoughts about retiring during the off season and maybe hook up with an American League team as a part time outfielder or DH, for at least one more season.
But why not come back and play for St. Louis?
Imagine this, the game is on the line, two outs, runners on first and second base, bottom of the eight inning, Cardinals down by a run, an opposing right handed pitcher on the mound. Coming to bat, right fielder, Juan Encarnacion and on the bench, you have Larry Walker with a bat in his hand.
What are you going to do?
Here is a look at the manager's notebook that may help you make a decision;
Encarnacion and Walker vs. right handed pitching in 2005;
Looking at the chart, given their history, I bring Walker in, off the bench, to bat for Encarnacion and have Larry take the field in right, in the ninth inning.
Of course this is just one scenario where Walker could be effective. He could prove to be the best pinch hitter the Cardinals have had on the bench since Matty Alou, in the early 70's.
I know fans will remember how bad Walker looked in the playoffs this year. He was hurt and many of us were wondering, including me, what was he even doing in the lineup?
But what fans may forget is, that Walker was hurting in the summer and yet was still productive, hitting, .340 in July, .310 in August and .333 in September. I just don't think this guy is done playing.
I know it's not likely that Larry Walker will return to St. Louis in 2006. If he does come back, it will probably be with an American League team as a DH, like I first reported.
But for one Cardinal fan, I'd like
to see him back, as the team's left handed bat off the bench and a little