Who’s On First, or, Who’s Confused Yet?

No, I’m not reworking the old Abbott and Costello bit, just thinking out loud about a conundrum facing the St. Louis Cardinals regarding roster construction as GM John Mozeliak must make some decisions before spring training begins late this winter. The latest information coming out makes unclear the roles of two players in particular–Allen Craig and Matt Adams–both ostensibly first basemen with different profiles and attributes. I’ll delve into that presently.
I should preface this post by noting the oddly disconcerting news that there was a shakeup at the local ESPN sports radio affiliate yesterday. A character in the “Yu Is So Right” post was based on–I wrote “a composite of”–a personality who lost his job. Of course I am not presumptuous enough to claim credit or blame for this circumstance, I just thought it was ironic, and kind of a shame. Listeners will lose the insights of the main Cardinals beat reporter, an indefatigable nerd who knows the club as well as anyone and is good at explaining sabermetrics, and a guy deployed by the station to cover the baseball team full-time and had access to all the principals.
The boss at the station is “Hoss” Neupert. I did not make that up.
What we’ve heard recently are some statements that confuse. Some context: Allen Craig is the de facto first baseman. He is 29, a RH hitter, who just had a very good season and is making $6 million per year for the next four years. He is also injury-prone. He was out from September 4th until the World Series in the third week of October, which is the earliest he could make it back. He has a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. Such an injury can take months from which to recover and often leads to painful arthritis down the line.
Matt Adams is a 23-year-old LH batter whose only position is first base. Although agile, he’s a hulking 260-pounder who already runs like a wounded Matt Stairs. He’d been an effective power bat off the bench who assumed first base after the Craig injury. He hit 17 home runs in just less than half a season’s typical plate appearances, so the Cardinals see him as a legitimate 30+ home run threat given a full season of at-bats.
And this is what the Cardinals need. Their power was down this year. They scored only 26% of their runs by the homer, which was near the bottom of the league; they were extremely dependent upon stringing skeins of hits together, and were amazing with runners in scoring position–but it’s not a skill per se and not something upon which they can rely. See Jon Lester, World Series.
It appears the Cardinals’ best home run hitter the last two seasons, Carlos Beltran, will leave for a multi-year deal. The right fielder has several suitors willing to sacrifice a top draft pick they’d have to give up to pry him away from St. Louis, who offered him a one-year qualifying offer, which prompts draft pick compensation if he rejects the offer and signs somewhere else.
This leaves right field “open”. So put Craig there, right? He’s a good athlete whose bat profiles well in an outfield corner. Give first base to Adams, who will offer the most power on the club and handled defensive chores pretty well.
But the Cardinals have the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues in Oscar Taveras. He was ranked one or two as the best prospect in baseball in 2013. His bat is ready now. They are not so sure about his route-running and arm accuracy in the outfield. Ideally, Taveras could take over in center field, supplanting the mediocre Jon Jay and forcing him to a bench role. But we’re hearing that the Cardinals want Taveras to just worry about mashing the ball and don’t anticipate expecting him to man a premium defensive position in center. So they’ve told reporters Taveras will be in right, and they don’t plan for Adams to be blocked any longer.
What does this mean for Craig? And for center field? They’ve intimated they were dissatisfied with Jay’s performance. Would they go after Jacoby Ellsbury to play center? What about shortstop, the most pressing need of all? Would they sign Stephen Drew? (Two draft picks; both Scott Boras clients. Don’t think so.)
What this all points toward is 1) a trade may be imminent; and/or 2) they could decide to get Stephen Drew, which would make the Cardinals lineup heavily left-handed.
They may move Matt Carpenter to third base, displacing David Freese. Then they could insert the LH-hitting Kolten Wong at second. Drew is a lefty hitter. So is Taveras. That would leave Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina as the only right-handed hitters in the usual lineup.
That’s great on most days when they would be facing right-handers but far less than ideal against lefties. They had tremendous difficulty with lefties this year, even featuring righties such as Craig, Molina, Holliday, Freese, and the switch-hitting slugger Beltran. I think it’s an anomaly but it’s also a fact.
I have to believe that they want their money’s worth from Allen Craig, who has been their best hitter the last two years. Perhaps it’s a smokescreen, (WHY?) they’ll keep everybody and Taveras will go to center.
We know the organization is determined to move on several fronts–shortstop and center, and likely at third, and has hinted that it’s time to go outside the organization to fill these needs.
Could we please have the DH, so we could reasonably keep these guys? Is it time to move pitchers–of which they certainly have a surplus–and package them with Craig to bring Troy Tulowitzki to St. Louis to play short and bring right-handed thump? Did I note that he’s 30, injury-prone and expensive? Oh, my. They’d have to give up some Faberge eggs to get Tulo in the form of premium young, cost-controlled power arms. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said it would take Craig, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal to get Tulo from Colorado. No, thanks.
So, this reporter is anxious to see Oscar Taveras. He’s considered the best Cardinals hitting prospect since Albert Pujols. It’s the cascade of related matters providing the tipover into anxiety. Mo, can we talk?