Placido Polanco, at age 23, is, simply put, an established major-league starting second baseman. There aren't 15 better ones in the game, much less 30, which would be one starter for each team. Because Polanco is young, this should make him one of the National League's hot properties. But on the Cardinals, Polanco's the infield backup. This is sort of like Jose Oquendo on Whitey Herzog's teams. Oquendo had years where he was probably the No. 3 shortstop in the league, behind Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin, but he was riding Whitey's bench as the "secret weapon" backup for any injured or resting starter. Polanco doesn't play the outfield much, but he's the No. 1 guy behind Edgar Renteria and Fernandos Vina and Tatis. In particular, when Vina or Renteria rests, the top of the Cardinal lineup doesn't suffer, because Polanco's out there. This is an odd player for Tony La Russa to have. Unlike Whitey, La Russa's benches aren't usually the strongest in the league. But with Polanco, Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette and Eric Davis, this one might be.