In last night’s Memphis Redbirds thrilling win over the Tacoma Rainiers, Matt Adams went 1-4, with a double and two RBIs. While that is not exactly raking, it does have to be taken in the context of the duration of a minor league rehab assignment. One that looks like it will be coming to an end today. The implication is that a roster move will need to be made to make room for the Cardinals big first baseman, leading some to speculate that it might be Oscar Taveras.
Not so fast.
The lack of offensive production by Peter Bourjos (.280 OBP) compared to Jon Jay (.357 OBP) may have put center field in play once again, suggesting that it might be Randal Grichuk that stays in St. Louis over Oscar Taveras. Whether it is the way he has been used to date or that this is just what to expect offensively from Bourjos, a .280 OBP is not enough when the rest of the team is under performing as it has. That said, if center field was really in play, Shane Robinson (.343 / .410 / .410, 4 SB) would be sharing the ride with Matt Adams and both Taveras and Grichuk would be returning to Memphis.
In a recent radio interview on KMOX, Cardinals General Manager, Jon Mozeliak, made the comment that constantly bouncing a young player from the majors to the minors can put them at developmental risk, and that you can lose some of them in the process. In nearly the same breath, he was praising Oscar Taveras for his at-bats thus far and adding that when they decided to call him up, they would give him a long evaluation to see where he was. That doesn’t sound like he was just a temporary fill in for an injured player.
So, about that center field thing. Don’t be too surprised if you see Taveras get some playing time there in the coming days. He has played center field in the minors (228 games), and while not dazzling, his athletic ability and strong arm can compensate for his shortcomings. Not enough to be a Peter Bourjos or Shane Robinson, but enough to give him the playing time edge over Jon Jay, should Mike Matheny continue to play the platoon game with Peter Bourjos. Perhaps more significant, the offensive upside of Taveras, who doesn’t look like a rookie at the plate, over Grichuk and Jay far exceeds their defensive differences. That is not to suggest that Taveras should be the every day center fielder, but an occasional platoon there to get his bat in the lineup should be enough to keep him in St. Louis instead of Memphis.
So how would this really work ?
Since joing the Cardinals in 2009, the now 34 year old Matt Holliday has played a lot. Take away what should have been a pair of trips to the disabled list in 2011, he has been out there nearly every game. While he has a track record of slow starts, getting red hot in the summer, Holliday’s numbers show a player in something of a decline. Nothing to punch the panic alarm over, but it is there nonetheless. As we have seen lately with Yadier Molina, an occasional day off might be prudent approach going forward with Matt Holliday. Just taking one day off per week (27) would still give Matt Holliday 130 games a year, which is not far off his career average anyway. It would also add some much needed right handed power off the bench for the times where Taveras gets the start in left field.
The same largely applies to Allen Craig in right field. The 2013 All Star first baseman is playing in right only because of the Taveras injury last May. Had Taveras shown up in spring training as confident on his ankle as he is now, he would have made the trip north with the big club to start the season. Instead, we have Allen Craig playing in right field with Matt Adams at first base. This is not an optimal situation for the Cardinals, but it is how the roster is constructed and there are only so many ways to move the pieces around.
One way is to set up something of a first base platoon, alternating Craig and Adams. This might be hard to accept, given Adams early season hitting, but Allen Craig is finally starting to come around. Since May 1, Craig is hitting .269, which is not great. His 22 RBIs over that period is. What’s more, projected out to a full season, that looks like 100 RBIs, which is not that far off the RBI machine that we have seen in the past. A lot of Craig’s production is due to Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong getting on base, and perhaps Adams would have had the same results had they done that earlier in the season. Instead of over analyzing the “what if”, the takeaway here is that Allen Craig is back to his RBI producing form, and the batting average is heading in the right direction. An added benefit of a Craig/Adams platoon is that the bench gets a significant upgrade without requiring that John Mozeliak trade away one of his prospects.
For talking purposes, let’s say that the Adams/Craig platoon opens up 3 spots in right field per week, added to the one in left from Matt Holliday – that’s 4 games per week we’ve found for young Mr. Taveras. Throw in 2 games in center field, not ideal, but won’t exactly kick off the decline of Western Civilization either, and we have found our playing time for one of the most exciting bats in the Cardinals system.
Whether Mike Matheny will embrace this kind of idea remains to be seen. He does favor his players, with a special affinity for Jon Jay, which is understandable given that Jay is one of only two Cardinals with a .300 batting average (Matt Adams the other). Jay has looked better at the plate lately, and he seems to be running the bases much faster than we’ve seen him in the past, but that is just not enough to take playing time away from Oscar Taveras.
The proper roster move tomorrow, when Matt Adams is activated, is to send Randal Grichuk back to Memphis to work on his hitting. He has shown some ability, suggesting that he could be a future corner outfielder with St. Louis, or some other organization. Right now, he is over matched at the plate, which is completely expected from a 22 year old with less than 200 plate appearances at the AAA level. Allen Craig had nearly 1,000 for comparison. Let the young man finish his development program and become the player that we have seen in brief moments.
Perhaps the solution to the Cardinals offensive problems is right there in front of Mike Matheny as he fills out his lineup card. 4 men, (Holliday, Adams, Craig, Taveras) and 4 positions (LF, RF, 1B, power off the bench). Craig and Taveras are he two that need to be out there every day, rotating positions if required. No need for a trade, just a little bit of common sense when putting pen to paper each day.