Monday, August 7, 2017

Cardinal Congestion

Posted By on Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 9:09 AM

The St. Louis Cardinals are like the Los Angeles freeway system: clogged in multiple directions and seemingly going nowhere. But all that sunshine!

Team president John Mozeliak (and presumably owner Bill DeWitt) chose to stand pat at the July 31st trade deadline, despite the Cardinals’ sub-.500 record and four months of mediocre, often sloppy baseball on the field. It’s not as though St. Louis lacks movable parts. The question is one of value. Who wants those movable parts, and can the Cardinals improve their roster by moving them?
click to enlarge Cardinals President John Mozeliak
  • Cardinals President John Mozeliak

As Cardinal manager Mike Matheny dodges more and more arrows, certain positions (or groups of positions) will be carefully watched. Whether or not St. Louis can steal a playoff spot in the weaker-than-expected National League Central, Cardinal players will be auditioning the next two months. Ignoring (if briefly) the glaring need for a run-producing thumper in the batting order, here’s a quick look at the positional pileups:

• OUTFIELD — Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty
You could add Jose Martinez to this grouping, but Martinez has played the role of “fourth outfielder” to perfection, producing runs in spot starts (a grand slam in Sunday’s win at Cincinnati) and delivering as a pinch-hitter from the right side. Fowler has missed more than 20 games with various bumps and bruises and doesn’t look like a long-term solution in centerfield. But he’s playing under a fat, no-trade contract three more years. (This is how congestion starts.) Pham started the season by hitting .283 in 25 games here in Memphis and has been the most productive Cardinal outfielder this season (.314 batting average, 14 home runs, 15 stolen bases). He’s older than Grichuk and Piscotty (turns 30 next March), which means we’re likely seeing Pham in top form. Does this make him a long-term fix (perhaps in centerfield) or trade bait?

Piscotty and Grichuk have been uneven influences this season. Both were considered rising stars twelve months ago. It’s hard to envision both wearing Cardinal uniforms this time next season.

• MIDDLE INFIELD — Paul DeJong, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong
Like Martinez in the outfield, Greg Garcia has owned his role as a reserve infielder, meaning at least one of these three players is without a job in St. Louis. (Diaz is currently playing shortstop for Memphis.) All three have been considered top prospects. Diaz played in the 2016 MLB All-Star Game and DeJong has combined to hit 28 home runs this season between stints with Memphis (13) and St. Louis. But none can be said to have seized the everyday gig at second base or shortstop. You have to believe one of them will be part of a deal this winter.

• MATT CARPENTER
Yes, the 31-year-old veteran is a one-man freeway pileup. Remember that glaring need for a middle-of-the-order run producer? The most likely position for such a player is first base (where Carpenter has played primarily this season), third base (where Carpenter played the previous three seasons), or a corner outfield (its own distinct pileup, as noted). Perhaps Jedd Gyorko (the Cards’ leading run producer) will be moved to open third base for a new arrival (or Carpenter). If not, the Cardinals must manage the irony of a three-time All-Star complicating the eight-man mix they must send to the field on a daily basis. For good or ill, Carpenter has performed better as a leadoff hitter (.291/.427/.503) than when he’s dropped to third (.221/.353/.429) in the order, which makes that need for a new bat all the more glaring.

The one position in baseball where a surplus is healthy is starting pitching. And the Cardinals have seven men in the mix for five rotation spots in 2018. (This includes free-agent-to-be Lance Lynn, Luke Weaver, and Alex Reyes, recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring.) If that much-needed slugger is to be landed this winter, one of these arms may need to be sacrificed. Until then, expect some confused and congested roster management by Matheny. The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals have become the poster team for an important business lesson: Abundance, when uneven, can be inadequate.

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