Should the St. Louis Cardinals rely on Mike O'Neill?

Can Mike O'Neill be this guy's under-understudy? - Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Could Mike O'Neill be good enough to be the Cardinals' third-string Beltran-replacement?

One way of kind-of-maybe obviating the problem with Carlos Beltran’s perfect contract we outlined earlier this week: Coming up with an outfielder who’s neither Beltran nor Oscar Taveras. Mike O’Neill is an outfielder, and neither Beltran nor Taveras. Does he work?

Important Condition: This outfielder would probably not be starting.

Despite hitting .186 since the all-star break, Matt Adams is still at .271/.333/.458 for the season, an OPS+ of 118. That’s not a star, but it’s a useable starter and an extremely useable short-term caddy for Oscar Taveras, should the need arise for one.

This is really just another way of thinking about how unusual a Carlos Beltran signing would be: He’s pushing off the roster the guy who would replace Oscar Taveras if Oscar Taveras weren’t ready to sit on the bench.

This year the Cardinals have gotten 222 plate appearances for Adams and 119 more for Shane Robinson. They’ll still have both of them around in 2014. Matt Holliday is not the healthiest-looking 34-year-old in baseball, and Oscar Taveras had a bit of a lost season in Memphis. But the other outfielder in this scenario might not be playing a lot.

If you’re not familiar with Mike O’Neill, he is extremely unusual for an Other Outfielder. In 2012, between high-A and AA, he hit .359/.458/.440, walking 78 times and striking out 26. In 2013 he’s hit .319/.429/.374 between AA and AAA, walking 89 times and striking out 34.

He’s old for a prospect (25) and he has shockingly little power—in 126 games this year he’s managed 19 extra-base hits. He’s 5’9" and spends most of his time as a corner outfielder, and he is in a distinctly O’Neillian slump in his last 10 games: .219/.375/.219.

He’s a dead-ball outfielder, basically, which means I have reasons to endorse his place on the 25-man roster that have nothing to do with his value.

When you try to translate his weird numbers, you get—predictably—weird results. Clay Davenport’s minor league translations put his brief Memphis run at .286/.386/.296.

Which is really the problem with O’Neill—not just his production, but the shape of it. He’s a hard player to trust, because nobody looks like Mike O’Neill. But it doesn’t take a lot of trust to let him be the guy who leaves his stuff on the shuttle to St. Louis.

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