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Who Will Replace Lance Berkman If He Retires?

Posted Monday, September 3, 2012, at 8:14 PM

When Lance Berkman decides it is time to hang up his cleats for good, the St. Louis Cardinals will be left to make a tough decision about their long-term future at first base.

Berkman won't play baseball forever. In fact, if anything can be read into his comments, there is a good chance he won't play beyond this season.

In a recent interview with Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Berkman made it clear that retirement is a possibility:

"I don't want to rule anything out. But if you asked me right now I'm leaning toward not playing next year," Berkman said. "I don't want to say for certain because I don't want to do like Brett Favre and say, 'I retired; I'm not retired; I'm retired; I'm not retired.' I don't want to make that call right now, but if you put a gun to my head and demand an answer today I would tell you I'm probably not going to play next year."

While he left open the possibility for a return, there is still no guarantee he would be returning to St. Louis if he does choose to play again.

That leaves an important question: If Berkman retires, who is the Cardinals' future first baseman? The answer is not as black and white as some might think.

Allen Craig

Allen Craig is the obvious answer, but is he the right one?

The Cardinals would not be as high in the standings as they are today without Craig in the lineup.

Despite having played in only 92 games this year, Craig has managed to pile up 20 home runs, 72 RBI and a .309/.365/.556 slash line.

The big question with Craig remains his health. At only 28, Craig has had knee issues in the past and was operated on in the 2011 offseason.

Knee issues can quickly end or diminish a career. I'm not in any way doubting Craig's ability, but his health is a cause for concern. A strong, power-hitting first baseman is only valuable if he is in the game.

Of late, he has played consistently, but will that continue two or three years in the future? Five or six? There is always a risk, and Craig has a high enough upside to justify the risk.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams received his first call-up earlier this season when both Berkman and Craig were out due to injury.

The move, while thought to be a rush, was necessary and gave Cardinals fans a few glimpses at who could be the team's long-term first baseman.

Adams numbers in St. Louis weren't representative of his capability. A later revealed elbow injury involving bone spurs explained a large portion of his difficulties at the plate both in St. Louis and back in Memphis.

In mid-August, Adams was officially shut down for the season to have an operation to clean out the bone spurs so he would be back to normal for Spring Training.

Baseball Prospectus has ranked Adams as the number three first base prospect in all of MLB, and he's earned that distinction for a reason.

In Double-A Springfield, Adams ended 2011 with 32 home runs and 101 RBIs. He began 2012 with a promotion to Triple-A Memphis where in only 67 games he amassed 18 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Adams has an impressive swing. He is a solid hitter who has shown explosive power that I would compare to Prince Fielder.

The only drawback to Adams over Craig is that Adams has yet to prove himself at the major league level. At only 24 years old, he continues to improve and if he develops into the player many believe he will, then he will be something to watch.

Free Agency

Finding a replacement first baseman through free agency would be tough before 2013 if Berkman were to retire.

While there are players who may become available, there is no major impact first baseman who will be available.

A list at mlbtraderumors.com named Jason Giambi, Eric Hinske, Aubrey Huff, Casey Kotchman, Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, James Loney, Xavier Nady, Mike Napoli, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena and Ty Wigginton.

Not all of those names will make it to free agency, but of those who may, I don't see anyone more promising than either Craig or Adams.

In 2014, Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau are eligible to be free agents. That would make for a more interesting conversation, but I would argue that both Craig and Adams have potential to be as good as or better than either Morales or Morneau.

Could They Make a Trade?

There is always the possibility that the Cardinals future first baseman isn't currently part of the organization.

If the team doesn't see either Craig or Adams as it's long-term first baseman, it's possible they could consider a trade.

Craig, given his powerful 2012 season, would be worth quite a lot on the trade block at present. While the team may not want to trade him, his value may never be higher than it is right now. Craig, packaged with a higher-end pitching prospect, could bring in the kind of player the Cardinals want standing at first base.

Adams doesn't have the same kind of trade value at this point. The time will likely come when he does, but he's not there yet.

The outfield is not somewhere I would expect to see Craig (often) or Adams (ever), so whenever the situation plays itself out, one of the pair will likely be moved.

Neither one of them would be a bad option. Sometime in 2013 it will likely be more clear who is the man for the job -- whomever that may be.

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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