The St. Louis Cardinals announced Friday that they have signed first baseman Allen Craig to a five-year, $31 million extension.
While this is huge news for the Cardinals and Craig, another player is left in an awkward position: Matt Adams.
Adams, once viewed as the team’s future first baseman, is now left to wonder what the future has in store for him. Given that he is not a multi-position player, there is virtually no chance of seeing him play elsewhere in the field.
During spring training, Adams has put on a strong showing that makes any decision that keeps his bat out of the lineup more painful. Through 11 games he is batting .385/.429/.654 with two home runs and seven RBI, and he has a 1.082 OPS.
To say the 24-year-old from Pennsylvania has had a good spring is a serious understatement.
Adams has set records throughout the Cardinals minor league system and been littered with awards, but the chances of seeing him as an everyday Cardinal have dwindled over the past year.
Of course, Adams was already blocked—first by Albert Pujols, and then by Craig. The only way for Adams to reach St. Louis and stay there was either via injury or by playing at a level that left no other option.
Baseball statistician Bill James, according to FanGraphs.com, predicts Adams to bat .282/.323/.513 with 27 home runs and 89 RBI over 145 games in 2013. Those are not the numbers of a bench bat.
Playing to that level hasn’t gotten him the everyday job, but not all hope is lost for Adams. There are still options, even after signing Craig, that would allow the Cardinals to make use of Adams.
One possibility, as many have mentioned, is that Adams could be a valuable trade chip to other teams. Slugging first baseman aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and Adams is no exception.
While trading Adams isn’t my first choice, his showing in spring training should remind potential partners of his value. A strong showing at the major league level should help to strengthen that opinion. With that said, if he’s unable to get at-bats consistently, being at the major league level could hurt his ability.
If he’s on the big league team, he needs to be getting at-bats.
The Cardinals definitely have the need for a strong trading chip aside from their young pitching. While Pete Kozma is set to take the reins at shortstop in 2013 following the loss of Rafael Furcal, he has yet to show that he should be the Cardinals' permanent shortstop.
While that day could come, it’s not here yet, and the Cardinals will surely be looking at outside options for the future.
Adams could be a centerpiece in a deal to bring in a big-name, long-term shortstop via trade.
Shift Craig to RF
Another possible, yet less likely scenario that would get Adams’ bat in the lineup involves moving Craig to right field.
With prospect Oscar Taveras on the horizon, this would be difficult. It would have to involve moving someone else that another organization could see value in—like Jon Jay. I’m not advocating a trade of Jay, but it is always a possibility.
In that instance, Taveras could play center field, where he is playing in the minor leagues. This would allow the possibility of giving additional rest to Carlos Beltran this year and having Craig in right field.
While that only helps for this year, when Beltran’s contract is up, it could become a more permanent move.
The lingering question in this scenario is whether or not Craig could handle a permanent move to the outfield. Even though his injuries have been flukes more than anything else, knee issues are knee issues. Sometimes they go away, but quite often they come back repeatedly.
So far in his career, Craig has not played 120 games. This year the team will be expecting a full season from him, and given the oddball nature of many of his injuries, there’s little reason to doubt that he can make it happen.
To have both his and Adams’ bat in the everyday lineup would make the Cardinals hands down the most power-filled lineup in the division, possibly the entire National League. At the least, it’s a possibility worth considering.
Use as DH, fill-in at 1B as Craig spells outfield
With the new perpetual interleague play, there will be more use for a player who can be a DH, but not enough to justify having one full-time.
With Adams as DH during interleague play, he could then be used to fill in at first base while Craig gave additional rest to either Matt Holliday or Beltran.
This isn’t the ideal situation because it would replace a solid bat (Holliday/Beltran) with another solid bat. On a positive note, by keeping Adams, the Cardinals would have good insurance to back up Craig in the event of an injury.
Few teams have the luxury of having a viable candidate to backup a 30 HR first baseman. The Cardinals do.
This plan could get Adams 350 or more at-bats in 2013. Whether those at-bats lead to him becoming a member of the Cardinals or a trade chip, he needs to be swinging a bat.
He’s earned his shot in the minor leagues repeatedly and once again in spring training. The best thing for the Cardinals is to find a way to keep both of these guys in the lineup.