Stephen Piscotty-Randal Grichuk Duo Can Help Fill Cardinals' Jason Heyward Void

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2016

St. Louis Cardinals' Stephen Piscotty, right, is congratulated by teammate Randal Grichuk after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Not sure if you heard, St. Louis Cardinals fans, but Jason Heyward skipped town. Worse still, he's a Chicago Cub now.

OK, sorry. Our purpose here isn't to rub salt in that particular, still-festering wound. Quite the contrary, actually—we come bearing glad tidings for the Redbird faithful. 

While the loss of Heyward was a no-doubt subtraction for the defending National League Central champs, they've got capable outfield replacements in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.

That isn't to say either Grichuk or Piscotty will be Heyward, whose 6.0 WAR was the 11th-best mark in the game last season, per FanGraphs

But the Piscotty/Grichuk duo has the potential to ease the sting of Heyward's departure and to set the Cardinals up for yet another competitive season.

Let's start with Grichuk, who came to St. Louis in the 2013 trade that sent David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels.

Randal Grichuk cracked 17 home runs for St. Louis in 2015.
Randal Grichuk cracked 17 home runs for St. Louis in 2015.Tom Lynn/Associated Press

The 24-year-old former first-round pick saw time at all three outfield spots last season and posted seven defensive runs saved overall. And he acquitted himself admirably with the bat as well, hitting .276 with an .877 OPS and 17 home runs.

Yes, he struck out 110 times in 350 plate appearances. When he connected, however, good things frequently happened.

In fact, Grichuk was very much in the crowded, competitive NL Rookie of the Year conversation before an elbow injury sent him to the disabled list in August.

"He's a 'plus' runner. He's a 'plus' defender and thrower, and obviously we see the power," manager Mike Matheny said of his young standout, per Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's a lot of things to be excited about with Randal."

The power is especially noteworthy for a club that finished in the bottom third in runs scored and hit the sixth-fewest dingers in baseball. For all his upside, Heyward managed just 13 home runs. So it's possible, even probable, that Grichuk will be an upgrade there.

Piscotty, also a rookie last season, was drafted by St. Louis with the 36th overall pick in 2012. He got hot after a July call-up, and by August 4, he was hitting .400 with a .964 OPS.

He inevitably cooled down but finished with a strong .305/.359/.494 slash line. He can play both corner outfield positions and also logged innings at first base, though he figures to be the Opening Day right fielder.

Piscotty got hot after a July call-up and finished his rookie campaign with a .305 average.
Piscotty got hot after a July call-up and finished his rookie campaign with a .305 average.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Piscotty doesn't feature massive power, but that's not what the Cards have asked of him, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlined in March 2014:

Despite a strapping 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Piscotty has the swing of a high-average, doubles hitter, not a slugger. He said Thursday that the Cardinals have allowed him to maintain his approach as a “gap to gap” batter and not urged him to become “a guy able to hit 20 homers in a year but also strike out 120 times.”

“That’s not the player I want to be,” Piscotty said.

The Cardinals will gladly take more of the same from both Piscotty and Grichuk in 2016. And the projection systems are fairly optimistic. FanGraphs foretells 3.3 WAR for Piscotty and Steamer a less robust 1.1 WAR. Grichuk, meanwhile, is pegged for 3.1 WAR by FanGraphs and 1.6 WAR by Steamer. 

Split the difference, and that's 2.2 WAR from Piscotty and 2.4 from Grichuk. Not world-beating totals, but enough to cushion the Heyward blow.

Not that WAR, or the projection systems, are the final word. Given what they flashed last season, it's entirely possible Grichuk and Piscotty could blow past those expectations, particularly if Grichuk's barking elbow is fully healed.

The Cardinals, after all, have a rich history of developing and nurturing talent. It's a big reason why they've posted eight straight winning seasons and won an NL pennant and a World Series in that stretch.

It's also why—even though they've failed to make any huge free-agent splashes this winter (sorry, Mike Leake)—they're a safe bet to contend, even against the hungry, loaded Cubbies. 

After signing with Chicago, Heyward suggested part of the reason he left St. Louis was the team's aging core.

"You have Yadier [Molina] who is going to be done in two years maybe," Heyward said at his introductory Cubs press conference, per Hummel. "You have Matt Holliday who is probably going to be done soon."

And he added, "I felt like if I was to look up and in three years see a completely different team, that would be difficult."

His remarks provided bulletin-board fodder for the Cardinals and ticked off Matheny, but he wasn't necessarily wrong.

The Cards' offensive core, including catcher Yadier Molina, is aging.
The Cards' offensive core, including catcher Yadier Molina, is aging.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Key lineup cogs like Molina and Holliday have been hampered by injuries, and it's worth wondering how much longer they'll be elite or even above-average MLB hitters. 

Heyward, still just 26 years old, is gone and he's not coming back, except to be booed mercilessly in a Cubs uniform. The bridge, and the jersey, have been torched. From the ashes, however, new talent emerges. That's the Cardinal way.

In other words: Time to step into the void, Grichuk and Piscotty—you've got next.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.