During a year full of injuries the Cardinals have been wise to keep their excess of outfielders and pitchers over the course of the 2015 season. The rotation needed the immediate from members when Adam Wainwright went down for the season. Marco Gonzales would soon move to the DL after that. Suddenly, the pitching depth was limited.
Jon Jay has now had a couple stints to the disabled list and for the past month, Holliday has been on the shelf. This has led to more playing time for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Bourjos has struggled at the plate hitting just .236 through 127 at-bats. Grichuk has been up and down but shown some pop, hitting .254, seven home runs, five triples and 12 doubles through 164 at-bats. However, he has an abysmal 53-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
With the Cardinals offense being lackluster- ranking: 22nd in runs scored; 16th in total bases and 16th in slugging percentage. The team ranks 7th in average and 5th in on-base percentage, but they cannot seem to produce runs at a steady clip.
The lack in offense sparked the Cardinals to bring-up the likes of Greg Garcia, Xavier Scruggs and Tommy Pham. Garcia has since been back down but since Pham has arrived he has played well. While the sample size is small – hitting .273, one home run, two doubles, three RBI and just one strikeout through three games.
Pham is a strange player as 27 year-old rookies typically are utility players. Guys coming off the bench that will serve as role players. This could be Pham’s future.
But, there could be something more.
Over his last 128 games at Triple-A ball, Pham has been phenomenal (I’ll try not to use Phamnomenal). Slashing .327/.398/.516 with 26 stolen bases and 16 home runs; including a 2015 clip of .338/.402/.625 with six doubles, five home runs, six stolen bases in six attempts, 10 walks and 20 strikeouts over 92 plate appearances.
Pham’s numbers are indicating an athlete that might have figured out the difficult concept of hitting.
Pham has power, speed – and, when healthy, has shown a solid amount of improvement. Injuries have been a problem for Pham throughout his entire professional career. This has helped to slow his growth and development as a baseball player and why we are seeing Pham reach the Majors at 27 (Yeah, he got in 6 games last year) instead of at an earlier age.
The other problem is Pham has to figure out how to hit Major League pitching. This isn’t an easy task and can take two-to-three seasons before doing it at a consistent level. Yet, the only way to do that is to get more Major League at-bats.
It is clear Grichuk and Pham will need more at-bats to improve against Major League pitching. However, this is going to be a problem when Holliday and Jay return from the disabled list. The club will have to make roster moves, players will have to be sent down to create space. Yet this would leave Bourjos, Grichuk, Heyward, Holliday, Jay and Pham all needing at-bats. They all can’t do this at the MLB level. Even if you send Pham back down for more consistent playing time that still leaves five outfielders in the mix for at-bats.
This could lead to the trade of one of these outfielders. It is highly unlikely the team deals away Heyward after giving up so much to get him. Holliday isn’t going anywhere. Grichuk is still under team-control for many seasons, along with Pham. This leaves Jay and Bourjos as likely trade candidates.
Jay is 30 and having a difficult season – even when healthy. His .223/.311/.265 slash line is well down from his career .289/.356/.387 slash line. Bourjos had two solid seasons offensively with the Angels but has been horrible for the Cardinals in a limited role. Known for his defense, in 2014 he provided an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of +20. Putting that into context, +15 is typically a Gold Glove caliber rating. While UZR is a better statistic for a completed season his current FanGraphs projections place his 2015 UZR at -4.9, a below average rating in context.
Putting it simply, his strength hasn’t been a strength.
Mark Reynolds has come back down to earth. He is now slashing .227/.295/.362. He also has just 5 home runs over 228 plate appearances. Last season he was averaging a home run around every 17 at-bats. This season his pace has slowed to around 41 at-bats. His 73 strikeouts are standard for Reynolds, striking out at a 32% clip. Though that standard is one of the worst in the MLB.
It seems like the Cardinals need to find a first basemen that can produce more consistently in the short-term. While Ryan Howard’s name has been suggested multiple times and the Phillies have been tied to Bourjos, Howard might not be the guy. After his hot streak earlier in the season, he hasn’t performed all that much better than Reynolds. The Cardinals could look to add Justin Morneau. Morneau has played in just 27 games but has three home runs, hitting .290 and striking out just 10 times in 104 plate appearances.
Everything to this point has John Mozeliak wanting to keep things in-house. It has worked out very well for the team with the best record in baseball. But, the population in the outfield will become too much as players return from injury. Do the Cardinals look to add a better first basemen? A solid reliever? A more reliable back-up infielder?
Time will tell. But, don’t be surprised if one of these outfielders is shipped.