2006-2007 Cardinals by Position: Centerfield

Seventh installment in our series analyzing each position on the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals ball club and grading the outlook for 2007.

2006 was hardly a great year for centerfielder Jim Edmonds, and his stats show nothing to disprove that conclusion. After playing only 110 games due to assorted injuries, including a fairly bad concussion obtained during a mid-summer series against the Chicago White Sox, Edmonds hit only 19 home runs, 18 doubles, 70 RBIs, a .257 batting average, and 52 runs scored.

Although none of those stats were career lows, they are definitely some of his lowest for the amount of time he was at the plate. His 350 at-bats were his lowest totals since 1999, when he only had 204 appearances at the plate (he only played in 55 games that season).

Edmonds was consistent only in the fact that he was inconsistent in 2006, mainly due to injuries and adjusting to a new stadium in St. Louis. Perhaps playing center field was his biggest problem, considering he had to adapt to the spacing of the outfield in Busch Stadium. That and the concussion might have contributed to Edmonds' three errors – something that comes as a surprise from the high-flying, Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder.

Of course, when the season was over, the Cardinal' found no reason to hesitate to ensure Jim Edmonds remained wearing that Cardinals' uniform, quickly signing the 14-year veteran to a two-year, $19 million dollar deal. General Manager Walt Jocketty expressed his hopes that Edmonds will retire in St. Louis, perhaps paving the way for up-and-coming minor league prospect Colby Rasmus.

Until then, though, Jim Edmonds has a little bit of salvage work to do.

For those who have not closely followed the career of Jimmy "Ballgame" Edmonds, a good place to start would be to look back at his 2004 season. '04 was statistically one of the best seasons of his career, as he was able to play in 153 games and get 498 at-bats. In those near-500 plate appearances, the Cardinals centerfielder hit a whopping 42 home runs, 38 doubles, 111 RBIs, had a .301 batting average, and drew 101 walks.

He finished fifth in the MVP balloting that year. In 2005, Edmonds' performance dropped off quite a bit, as he hit only 29 home runs, 89 RBIs, 37 doubles, and had just a .263 average.

Then, in 2006, he hit a brick wall – actually it was the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He was an oft-injured, aging outfielder. Backup So Taguchi saw a lot more playing time than normal in '06 as Edmonds had to recoup from his concussion and from rib and groin injuries.

2007 should bring good fortune to Jim Edmonds. Fans are excited to know that Jimmy Ballgame will be patrolling center field for the next two years, as his amazing, diving defensive plays always have earned respect from fans and teammates alike.

Edmonds is not the "showboat" type, although he certainly makes amazing plays to get to the ball. One reason he has this success in the outfield is his ability to play extremely shallow in center field – he has the speed and hand-eye-coordination to catch up with anything that goes over him.

Edmonds takes away base hits like no one else, and this has been an extremely convenient defensive style for the Cardinals. However, his speed and hand-eye-coordination will and may have already started to reduce his ability to play so shallow. The concussion and post-concussion syndrome from last season is not helping his cause in any way.

Edmonds also was held back by groin and rib injuries, and after the season was over, he had surgery on both his left foot and his non-throwing shoulder. Perhaps the off-season will provide the former Anaheim Angel with enough rest to be ready by the time Spring Training comes to a close.

No matter what happens, Edmonds should have a better season than in 2006, mainly because he will be injury-free and mentally rested – two things he was not able to accomplish last season. Expect to see more of Edmonds in centerfield in 2007 and less of his main backup, So Taguchi.

Aging or not, Edmonds is still one of the more dominating outfielders in the game, and he is one of the more clutch hitters on the team. The Cardinals will continue to gamble on Edmonds' health, but he should be able to make winners out of Walt Jocketty and company in 2007, in what could be his second-to-last season in pro baseball.

As mentioned before, Taguchi is Edmonds' main backup, although re-signed outfielder Preston Wilson can help out in centerfield if needed. Both provided sparks for the Cardinals in 2006, although at different times. Juan Encarnacion could also contribute in a pinch.

Look for Edmonds to have a potentially healthy season – that is, of course, barring the unexpected. The intangibles that Edmonds brings to the table will likely overcome any minor injuries.

Overall Position Grade: B+

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