Over the next few days, I will be looking at former St. Louis Cardinals players who were on last year’s World Series championship roster and no longer with the team, and see how they are faring with their new clubs. Former Cardinal #1: Boston Red Sox utilityman Nick Punto.
Let’s first take a look back at the contribution Punto made for the Cardinals on their improbable run to glory. In his only year as a Cardinal, Punto was used quite sparingly by then manager Tony La Russa, typically pinch hitting for pitchers late in games. Nonetheless, he accrued a strong .809 OPS in his limited 133 at-bats during the regular season and gained La Russa’s trust down the stretch of the season and into October. By the time the Cardinals made it to the World Series, Punto was the second basemen La Russa went to against right-handed starting pitchers. Although he did not play an integral part in the Cardinals’ success, Punto will be forever remembered as a scrappy, dirtdog kind of player, an endearing quality in a blue collar city like St. Louis.
Fast forward to the offseason. Punto wanted a multi-year deal, even at small money, so he jumped at the opportunity when the Red Sox offered him a two-year deal, worth $3 million plus $500,000 in incentives. Red Sox fans, however, have not had much to cheer for when it comes to Punto’s performance on the field. Punto currently sits at a .200 batting average and a paltry .575 OPS, a significant drop from his .809 OPS output from last season with the Cardinals. Punto began the year as a rarely-utilized utilityman, precluded at 2nd base by former league MVP Dustin Pedroia and at 3rd base by the combination of Kevin Youkilis and young stud, Will Middlebrooks. When Pedroia landed on the DL for about a 3-week span in June, Punto had an opportunity to play every day at 2nd, but struggled to produce anything with the bat, his average hovering around the Mendoza Line around .200.
With now a healthy roster, it seems that Punto could be relegated to the bench for the remainder of the season unless there is an unforeseen injury. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Punto is put on waivers and traded to a contending ball club looking for a proven veteran utilityman who can adequately do the job if called upon.
While the numbers aren’t there for Punto in this, his first season with the Red Sox, all reports out of the clubhouse are that he has been a tremendous leader and vocal presence on a squad that has been mired with internal strife for the entirety of the 2012 season. Looking back, it’s a safe bet that Punto is happy that he got a pay upgrade from his $700,000 salary last season with the Cardinals, but he seems to be suited to be more of a National League utility player, given the amount of double switches, pinch hitting, etc. that occurs in the NL. You have to wonder whether Punto has second thoughts about leaving the much more stable, consistent role he had with Cardinals. In the meantime, he continues to flounder away on the antiquated pine benches of the Fenway Park dugouts.
You can follow Nick Punto on twitter at: @ShredderPunto