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Depth Creates Pleasant Problem for St. Louis Cardinals

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Depth Creates Pleasant Problem for St. Louis Cardinals
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras

A popular thought heading into the offseason had the Cardinals using their surplus of young arms to fill a glaring need at shortstop, possibly by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy, Elvis Andrus or Asdrubal Cabrera.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal suggested a trade scenario in November where the Redbirds ship Shelby Miller, Allen Craig, Trevor Rosenthal and another minor leaguer to Colorado for Tulowitzki

Of course, Rosenthal admitted it was just an idea he pulled out of thin air. Nothing serious on the trade front with the shortstop market ever-materialized for St. Louis, and no one really knows if various rumors or speculation had any traction or were the fantasies of armchair general managers.

Still, it underlined the depth in the Cardinals organization and how they could use their embarrassment of riches to upgrade the major league roster.

If the Rays were interested in dealing David Price, you don’t think they’d be intrigued by a Carlos Martinez-Matt Adams-Kevin Siegrist package? The Marlins would be more than attentive if Cards GM John Mozeliak rang the phone offering Martinez, Joe Kelly and Oscar Taveras for Giancarlo Stanton.

St. Louis did use some of its depth to fill a void by sending David Freese to Anaheim for Peter Bourjos and minor league slugger Randal Grichuk. Not exactly what some in Cardinals Nation had in mind.

The club used its payroll flexibility to address shortstop, signing Jhonny Peralta. The Cardinals quickly chose that route in November after finding the asking price too steep for shortstops in the market.

So now the Cardinals have addressed their weaknesses—at least on paper. There are no glaring, pressing needs for Mike Matheny’s club. 

The depth is still there—depth that has already and will continue to create a logjam at several positions. A nice problem to have, no doubt. And certainly not every rookie will pan out. There’s bound to be an injury here and there.

But let’s look at the potential congestion at several positions and the possible scenarios to play out over the next one to two years.

 

First Base

Matt Adams earned regular playing time by mashing 17 homers and batting .284 in 296 at-bats last season. The left-handed-swinging rookie posted an .876 OPS against righties with 14 long balls. Maintain that pace over a full season and improve slightly on the .231 mark versus southpaws, and you’re looking at a slugger with 30-homer potential.

To make room for Adams full-time at first, Allen Craig moves off first and back to right field, a position he’s played 93 games over his career. He’s a premier RBI bat locked in at a bargain price through ’17, with the club owning an option for ’18.

Some questions surround Craig regarding his durability. He’ll turn 30 in July and may not be able to handle the rigors of the outfield for a full season given leg ailments in recent seasons.

Adams doesn’t have the position flexibility of Craig. It’s first base or the bench in the National League for Adams. If Craig can’t physically cut it in the outfield, Mozeliak may be forced to move one of them.

Both would be intriguing. Craig is a proven run-producer with an attractive contract for several more seasons. Adams is a young, cost-controlled power bat in a baseball climate growing more and more devoid of such skills.

 

Outfield

The wild card in the Cards’ outfield mix is the rookie Taveras. Everyone expects him to hit. But not everyone agrees on where he fits defensively.

In the short term, Taveras’ bat could force him onto the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster. However, what could send him to Triple-A Memphis in April is the organization’s desire to find out whether he can be a full-time center fielder. And that question doesn’t get answered over a month’s worth of exhibition games.

Taveras isn’t in the same defensive class as Bourjos in center. But an effective Taveras gives Matheny enough flexibility to distribute outfield at-bats to Craig, Bourjos and Taveras, while moving Craig to first to rest Adams.

If Taveras hits but proves incapable of handling center, his role as an exclusive right fielder creates an interesting long-term scenario, one that could entice Mozeliak to deal Taveras or Adams—even Craig.

And let’s not downplay Bourjos’ potential impact. Defense aside, he’s still got the chance to be a difference-maker offensively. That potential, coupled with an amazing glove, might push Taveras to right anyway.

Finally, there’s Stephen Piscotty, who opened eyes with his bat in 2013. He might really have to be patient in the Cards’ system. Center and right could be locked up for a while, and left fielder Matt Holliday is signed through ‘16 with a vesting or club option for ’17.

 

Starting Rotation

The Cardinals’ decision to cling to its bevy of young arms like a newborn to a pacifier is both smart and symbolic of the state of the game.

Mozeliak could’ve easily peddled one or two of his young guns to fill a need, knowing the surplus he maintained. But he’s not inclined to trade away such precious commodities unless it’s completely on his terms.

Barring injuries, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia are the betting man’s starting five going into the season. Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons are next in line.

Kelly probably starts the year again as the team’s long man. He’s your spot-starter capable of pitching effectively while getting shuttled from rotation to reliever.

Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist already stated during spring training that Martinez will be conditioned as a starter. That could mean he’ll start the year in the Triple-A rotation unless there’s an injury. The Cardinals want him stretched out and ready to help limit Wacha’s workload and provide health insurance for the rest of the arms.

Pretty soon, knocking on the door will be Tim Cooney, Alex Reyes and Marco Gonzales, just to name a few. Lyons and John Gast pitched well during brief looks last season. They represent even more depth.

Perhaps the Redbirds will be enticed to discard some of their young pitchers. But for now, Mozeliak is holding the hand, producing nothing but aces.

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