Who's on third?

With the announcement that the St. Louis Cardinals Troy Glaus will be out for 12 weeks or more, we look at the leading candidates to replace him in the starting lineup.

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Troy Glaus will be out a minimum of 12 weeks after undergoing what the team is labeling as a "clean up" of his right shoulder. During this procedure, it was discovered that muscle near that shoulder had to be repaired. Due to the discovery of the torn muscle, it is being estimated that he would probably be out longer, possibly missing the first five weeks of the season.

The surgery was performed in Los Angeles on Wednesday and puts his return in mid-April. This past weekend at the Cardinals Winter Warm Up, neither Glaus nor any other member of the organization made mention of Glaus' shoulder.

At the fan fest, Glaus said he was enjoying an off-season in which he was healthy and was not coming off an injury. This had allowed him more time to for conditioning.

In the last season of his current contract, Glaus is owed $11.25 million before he is due to hit free agency after the 2009. After coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays for Scott Rolen, Glaus hit .270 with 27 home runs and 99 RBIs. More surprisingly, the 32 year-old finished with a Cardinal third baseman record .982 fielding percentage and finished second in the Gold Glove voting.

When asked about the stockpile of third baseman in the system, Glaus says he "wishes them all the luck, in three to four years". But it looks like one of them might be getting his chance sooner than that.

The Leading Candidates

One possible replacement at the hot corner is the Birdhouse Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, David Freese. The St. Louis native hit .306/.361/.550 with 26 home runs and 91 RBIs at Triple-A Memphis.

Over the past weekend Freese said that he had "mentioned to the front office (that he is willing to try multiple positions) and they are leaving me at third." With the front office wanting Freese to play one position (third base) an indication that they have a feeling about Glaus' shoulder?

Freese came to the Cardinals in the Jim Edmonds trade and the Cardinals thought enough of him to pay the San Diego Padres $1 million.

Last year's first round pick Brett Wallace's bat may be ready but it is doubtful that his glove is ready for the big leagues. After being selected with the 13th overall pick, he was pushed aggressively through the system and he responded beyond expectations. In 202 at bats, he posted a line of .337/.427/.530 between the Quad Cities and Springfield.

The organization then sent him to the Arizona Fall League and he continued to perform against some of the top prospects in the game. In Arizona, he hit .309/.381/.585 with six home runs in 94 at-bats. Wallace admits that those were some of the most talented pitchers he faced, though the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum "is number one."

Defensively, Wallace is a work in progress at third. Some scouts believe that he will not be able to play the position but his Springfield and Arizona Fall League manager, Pop Warner, disagrees. The manager, who is known for his defensive expectations of his players, took Wallace under his wing with extra work before games at both stops.

At the Winter Warm Up, when I asked him how he feels his defense is progressing, he replied, "I think I have a better understanding now. Having only played third at (Arizona State) for that last year, I think when you start playing a position the angles, routes, the way you are going to come get a ball or go back on it, you might struggle with having to make those split second decisions. The more I play, the more I get comfortable on reading a ball or trusting myself to make the play and not have to force it or do something I shouldn't."

His official spring training invite is expected to be announced today when the Cardinals announce all of the non-roster invites. I find it doubtful that the team would start the clock on Wallace knowing that Glaus will probably return in mid-May. Remember, a Bobby Bonilla injury in spring training forced the team's hand to go with a minor leaguer with a year of professional experience in 2001. That player, Albert Pujols, has done okay.

Joe Mather, who is coming off a broken hamate bone in his left hand, is another possibility at third base. The lanky outfielder reports that his right hand is only slightly stronger than left hand at this point of his recovery. Mather says he has the same comfort level in the infield and outfield but does admit to more "pressure pitch-to-pitch in the infield".

Though drafted as a shortstop, Mather seems capable of filling in for an inning or two but I am not so sure he is capable of filling in for a couple of weeks or more. Mather posted a line of .241/.306/.474 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs in 133 at-bats. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Arizona native readily admits that he must cut down on his strikeouts after racking up 32 compared to only 12 walks.

Brian Barden had a superb season at Memphis and was awarded with a spot on Team USA during the 2008 Olympics. Playing almost exclusively at shortstop last season, Barden was considered to be one of the premier defenders at third base when coming up through the minors in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

In limited action in the big leagues, Barden has really struggled. The former Oregon State Beaver has posted a line of .182/.217/.205 with 11 strikeouts in 44 at bats.

Newly acquired Joe Thurston is another option though he has played limitedly at third base. More of a middle infielder, Thurston says his best position is anywhere his team needs him to play. The former highly touted Los Angeles Dodgers prospect is a very good base stealer, something the others on this list don't offer.

Recommended by former Cardinal Eduardo Perez, Thurston has not been able to find enough major league at bats to be able to find any consistency at the plate.

Allen Craig, the third rated third baseman in the system, seems like a long shot to make the club. Craig who Freese said, "is underrated", batted .304/.373/.494 at Double-A in 2008. br>

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