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Bird Bytes: Cards waiting on Ellis?

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Cardinals v Dodgers, NLCS Game 2

Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals is forced out as Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis turns a Matt Holliday grounder into a double play in the fourth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS. (Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com)

The Cardinals' interest in free-agent second baseman Mark Ellis makes sense for the team.

But would it make sense for Ellis?

Maybe. It depends on what Ellis is looking for in terms of playing time and contract. 

Let's begin with the Cardinals.

As we know, GM John Mozeliak wants to add a righthanded hitter that can help at second base, and possibly at third base.

One potential drawback: Except for a few games at first base earlier in his career, Ellis has exclusively served as a second baseman. Now, it's possible that he could adapt and play a respectable brand of third base. He's been an exceptional fielder, with sure hands. It's not much of a leap to believe he can handle third. If the Detroit Tigers can install Miguel Cabrera at third base for two full seasons, I'm thinking that a deft fielder such as Ellis could start some games at third without incident. 

The positives: Over the past three seasons, Ellis was plus 39 defensive runs saved, making him a top-five defender at the position. He was ranked No. 2 among MLB second basemen with a plus 12 for the Dodgers in 2013.

Offensively, Ellis bats right and has been successful against LH pitching, with a career .348 onbase percentage and .429 slugging percentage. The Cardinals need some new bats to counter LH pitching. 

The other plus is the respect that Ellis commands among baseball people. He's 36 and has a reputation for being prepared, playing intelligently, and being great in the clubhouse. Ellis would be a fine mentor for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. In Wins Above Replacement, Ellis was worth nearly two wins to the 2013 Dodgers. He can still play.

One negative: Ellis doesn't hit much against RH pitchers. Over the past three seasons he has a .304 onbase percentage and .319 slugging percentage against righthanders. But then again, Wong is a lefthanded hitter and figures to take most of the at-bats against RH pitching.

Ellis is a good fit — especially if he can help at 3B. If Wong was overmatched early in the season and needed to regroup, the Cardinals could do a lot worse than turn second base over to Ellis for a while. He offers solid protection.

What we don't know is how Ellis views the situation in St. Louis. At this stage of his career, Ellis undoubtedly would like to play for a championship contender. But he's used to a virtual full-time role, having played at least 105 games per season since 2003.

Would Ellis be willing to play a fill-in role for the Cardinals? How does he feel about being a stopgap-type of player?

The Cardinals aren't in a rush to make a signing. You'd have to think that at least part of this is based on Ellis wanting to see how the free-agent market plays out.

Several teams are pondering second-base options, including the Yankees, Royals, Rays, Marlins and Dodgers. That list could also include the Reds if they succeed in trading Brandon Phillips.

Ellis would have no reason to settle for a backup role in St. Louis as long as he thinks there's a chance of landing a starting job that pays starting-job money.

The market won't begin to settle until the best remaining free-agent second baseman, Omar Infante, reaches a deal with a new team. At that point, the teams that failed to land Infante could turn their attention to Ellis.

The Dodgers declined to pick up Ellis' 2014 option for $5.75 million. That's because they invested $28 million to sign Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero in October. But Guerrero may not be ready to jump into a full-time role, and the Dodgers are said to be interested in bringing back Ellis under the right financial terms.

That's the issue right now: several teams are in a holding pattern and haven't locked down their 2B plans for 2013. So it makes sense for Ellis to wait. 

If things don't fall into place for Ellis, and if he has to settle for a reserve role, then the Cardinals would likely be an attractive option for him.

The Cardinals lost one potential candidate for the RH-hitting utility-infield role on Friday when Ryan Roberts signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs. But at the time we write this, Jeff Baker and other free agents (including the oft-injured Brian Roberts) are still available.

I think the Roberts signing offers a clue. Obviously the Cardinals could have signed Roberts at any time. But they obviously believed they could do better. And the Cards could be waiting on Ellis. 

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie

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Bernie Miklasz is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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