When veteran infielder/outfielder Felipe Lopez was released by the Washington Nationals last Thursday after they were unable to trade him and the St. Louis Cardinals dropped Matt Clement, opening up a spot on their 40-man roster, I posted this on our Insiders message board on Saturday:
"The Nationals released Felipe Lopez the other day. He fits TLR's profile to a "T". Speedy switch-hitting middle infielder who can also play in the outfield. I don't know if he can pitch, but adding him would enable them to send struggling Brendan Ryan down. (Ryan is hitting under .130 since July 1.)"
That is precisely what happened on Tuesday as the Cardinals added the 28-year-old Lopez for the 2008 stretch run and created room on their 25-man active roster by sending struggling second-year infielder Brendan Ryan down to Triple-A Memphis.
After Tuesday night's extra-innings game, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he made his move on Lopez earlier that afternoon. "Right after he cleared, we put in a call to his agent and expressed our interest," the GM explained.
Mozeliak summarized his view of the new Cardinal. "Defensively he is a plus player and offensively he could be a plus to our lineup."
Manager Tony La Russa didn't mince words when asked what Lopez brings over Ryan. "He provides a better player for that spot… It is a better fit," the skipper said.
La Russa went on to say that he expects the newest Cardinal to be in uniform for Wednesday night's game two of the Dodgers series at Busch Stadium.
At the plate
As recently as mid-June, Lopez
enjoyed a ten-game hitting streak for
In his eight years as a major leaguer, Lopez has posted a .256/.325/.388 (BA/OBP/SLG) line in 3045 at-bats over 830 games. The switch-hitter most often appeared in the leadoff spot in the batting order, both in D.C. and over his career.
Making contact seems to be an ongoing challenge for Lopez, with a propensity to chase balls outside the zone and like many, he struggles with breaking pitches. Lopez can drive the ball, especially from the right side of the plate.
In the field
Lopez began the 2008 season in left field for the Nationals as an injury replacement, then assumed the starting second base job in mid-April ahead of former Cardinal Ronnie Belliard.
Defensively, Lopez has appeared at shortstop about 75% of the time over his career, with extensive experience at second base as well. Following Tuesday night's game, manager Tony La Russa noted that hitting coach Hal McRae is familiar with Lopez and advised he can also play third base if needed. Lopez has 82 major league games at that position under his belt. His only MLB outfield experience is with the Nationals this season.
Lopez uses his above-average speed to cover a lot of ground up the middle, but lacks the soft hands of a Cesar Izturis. He has a strong arm, but his throws can be inaccurate at-times.
After making $3.9 million in 2007, Lopez and the Nats could not agree on a contact amount for 2008. After going to an arbitration hearing in February, the ruling came down in favor of the club's $4.9 million offer instead of Lopez' $5.2 million request.
The Cardinals get a bargain, as they will only be responsible for a pro-rated share of the major league minimum salary, totaling approximately $115,000, with the Nationals liable for the remainder.
The native of Puerto Rico had
joined the Nats from
Lopez' best year was with the 2005 Reds, when he was named a National League All-Star and was awarded a Silver Slugger, denoting the top offensive player at his position in the NL. That year, he slammed 23 home runs and drove in 85 while batting .291, all career bests. The next season, Lopez' 44 stolen bases ranked fifth in the Senior Circuit.
The Scott Boras client will be eligible for free agency following the 2008 season. Lopez came into the year with five years, 27 days of major league service time.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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