The St. Louis Cardinals will soon face quite the conundrum at first base. A team that only 12 months ago let Albert Pujols walk in free agency, now has a pair of sluggers who could fill the vacancy long-term.
Assuming the Cardinals stick with what worked this year, what would that mean for Matt Adams, the Cardinals' minor league slugging first baseman?
Allen Craig and Adams have both been a hot button topic among Cardinals fans for the past year regarding which of the two, if either, will be the team’s replacement for Pujols in the long run.
Craig, 28, despite being injured for a portion of 2012, put together an impressive season. In 119 games this year, Craig pieced together a .307 average, 22 home runs, 92 RBI and 76 runs scored.
Imagine how that could have looked with 43 more games tacked on.
When the regular season came to a close and the Cardinals advanced to the postseason, Craig’s bat fell flat.
In 13 postseason games in 2012, Craig went 11-for-47 and hit .234 with a home run and six RBI. His OPS during the LCS dropped to .352.
Despite that, his offense played a huge role in getting the Cardinals to October. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told 101 ESPN of St. Louis this week that he wants to keep Craig’s bat in the lineup.
With the outfield slots filled already, that leaves only first base.
Adams has been a huge presence in the minor leagues. In 2011 for Double-A Springfield, he hit 32 home runs with 101 RBI in 115 games.
He was on pace to match those numbers during his first year at Triple-A Memphis (18 HR, 50 RBI, .329 in 67 games) before he was called up to St. Louis to fill in for an injured Lance Berkman.
He didn’t see the same success at St. Louis that he did in the minor leagues (.244, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 6 doubles, 27 games), but it was later discovered he had been injured.
Bone spurs in his right elbow sidelined him. The subsequent surgery in August made him unavailable as a September call-up.
Adams is expected to be ready to play again by spring training, but where?
Unlike Craig, Adams is believed to be less defensively flexible. At this point, his best use is as either a bench bat or an insurance policy for Craig.
Mozeliak has long shown a desire to keep him somewhere he could be playing as opposed to just sitting on the bench in St. Louis.
With little left for Adams to accomplish in the minor leagues, where will he be next year? The Cardinals have several options.
First, they could leave him in Memphis in case someone gets injured during the season. While it would get him more playing time, he is at a point in his career where he needs to be facing major league pitching.
The option might be the best for the Cardinals, but it may not be the best option for Adams.
Second, they could bring Adams to St. Louis as a bench bat. During the 2012 postseason, a serious lack of bench depth hurt the Cardinals offensively.
While they would prefer to have him playing every day, this option would give Adams the ability to test himself in the major leagues and give the team some added depth.
Third, the team could trade Adams. Most believe Adams to be a skilled hitter with explosive power—two characteristics many teams would find attractive.
The idea that the Cardinals could package Adams with a young pitching prospect for a top notch middle-infielder like Elvis Andrus does present some immediate issues.
The Cardinals' current shortstop, Rafael Furcal, is signed through 2013. However, if Furcal is unable to play or requires offseason surgery, the Cardinals may not have an option but to make a move.
There’s no guess whether it would be a player as high-caliber as Andrus, but they do have the pieces to make such a deal for a similar player happen.
With both Adams and Craig in the system, the Cardinals have a problem most teams would kill for—more power first basemen than they can get in the lineup.