What is Preston Wilson's Role on the Cards?

The St. Louis Cardinals added outfielder Preston Wilson on Friday. But, what will his role on the team be? Bench player, platoon partner or full-time starter? Does anyone know yet?

As previously suggested by some, including right here earlier this week in the story "What if Edmonds Joins Koskie and Matheny?", the St. Louis Cardinals have signed free agent outfielder Preston Wilson for the remainder of the 2006 season.

Wilson, 32, hit .269 with nine home runs and 55 RBI for the Houston Astros after signing a one-year, $4.5 million free-agent contact during the off-season. He had hit 25 home runs and drove in 90 last season while splitting time between the Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals. Despite the Astros having the worst offense in the National League, they were unable to find a willing trade partner for Wilson and ultimately, waived him.

As a result, the Cardinals will only be responsible for paying Wilson a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum salary – roughly ¼ of $327,000.

With the signing, the Cardinals get a low-cost, low-risk upgrade in Wilson. Whether that upgrade is for the bench or left field or centerfield would seem to be the remaining question.

In other words, is Wilson a Jim Edmonds-insurance policy, either full-time if Edmonds cannot shake his post-concussion syndrome or a potential platoon partner for the ailing veteran centerfielder?

Defensively, while Wilson played left field with the Astros this season, he has been primarily a centerfielder over his career, with 870 games at the position. However, he has struggled with knee injuries in recent seasons, cutting down on his range. Wilson is considered to have a plus throwing arm, both in strength and accuracy.

The right-handed Wilson has hit lefties particularly well this season, posting a .312 mark against them. That has been a weakness for the 2006 Cardinals, and particularly for Edmonds, who against lefties this season is hitting a full 100 points worse than his career mark - .158 in 2006 vs. .258 lifetime.

Or, if Edmonds returns to form, could Wilson slide into a platoon role with one of the left field options? Even with all his recent success, Chris Duncan is hitting just .222 against left-handed pitching this season.

Actually, over his career, Wilson has been effective against both righties and lefties. His career mark against righties is .267; lefties .258. So, even if nothing else, he could prove to be the best power-hitting threat off Tony La Russa's bench.

The downside is that Wilson remains a free swinger. This season, he has fanned 94 times in 390 at-bats while walking just 22 times. Yet, in comparison, it is fair to note that Edmonds has actually struck out a higher rate than Wilson – 88 K's in just 329 at-bats – though he is more selective, having walked 55 times.

Historically, Wilson has been a very productive player, while making $12.5 million as recently as the 2005 season. The nine-year major league veteran collected his 1,000th career hit earlier this season against St. Louis on July 7 at Minute Maid Park. He was a 2003 National League All-Star and led the league with 141 RBI that season while with Colorado. Playing for the Florida Marlins in 2000, Wilson recorded his only 30-30 season with 31 home runs and 36 stolen bases, and had six seasons with 25 or more home runs.

The Cardinals announced one corresponding roster move to accommodate Wilson, for the 25-man roster. In a bit of a surprise, despite having the third best ERA among team starting pitchers, rookie right-hander Anthony Reyes was optioned to Memphis. Certainly, he will be back in two weeks when rosters expand.

With Wilson, the 40-man is now currently full, as one spot was opened previously when Rick Ankiel, who is out for the season, was shifted to the 60-day disabled list. 60-day DL'ed players do not count against the limit. With Ricardo Rincon also done for the year but still on the 15-day DL, the Cardinals could still make another addition to the team with no disruption or risk.

Wilson has joined the Cardinals in Chicago and will be ready to play Friday afternoon against the Cubs, wearing uniform number 3.

Bottom line, let's continue to hope that Jim Edmonds will experience a full recovery and that Chris Duncan will start to hit lefties. If so, then the Cards have cheaply and effectively bolstered their bench for the stretch run.

On the other hand, if Edmonds can't go or Duncan needs a platoon partner with some pop, the Cardinals seem to have found their man in Preston Wilson.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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