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The St. Louis Cardinals' NLDS bench composition is as unsurprising as it is underwhelming

The Cardinals bench this NLDS is the product of two years worth of derailed plans.

"My name is Daniel. I am the Cardinals' bench. The Cardinals' bench is me."
"My name is Daniel. I am the Cardinals' bench. The Cardinals' bench is me."
Justin K. Aller

You go the postseason with the roster you have, not necessarily the roster you wish you had. I just made that up. But it seems an appropriate baseball truism, at least for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cards announced their NLDS roster yesterday and Cardinaldom gave a collective yawn. It was a boring unveiling as far as unveilings go. This October, the Cardinals aren't Apple. There are no hidden bells and whistles that the baseball world was waiting with bated breath to learn of. The Cardinals' NLDS roster composition was predictable given how manager Mike Matheny had deployed the club's expanded bench in September, which in turn was the result of the derailed roster construction plans of years gone by.

Ty Wigginton, December 2012

The plan for the 2014 Cardinals NLDS bench was initiated almost two years ago, with the signing of Ty Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million contract. The Cardinals just stopped paying that contract last month, friends. (Or at least I assume Wigginton's last paycheck from the St. Louis Cardinals, LLC came in the mail after the regular season's conclusion.) That's because the Cardinals intended to pay Wigginton $2.5 million to be on their bench in 2014, which presumably included this postseason, the one that begins in mere hours. The signing made no sense at its consummation and it looks even worse in hindsight after the predictable ultimate outcome of cutting Wigginton and paying him not to be on the Cardinals' 2014 bench. So general manager John Mozeliak whiffed when he took a swing at importing a righthanded-batting corner defender for the bench in December 2012 and the ripple effect is still being felt in October 2014.

Allen Craig, March 2013

From 2010 through 2012, Allen Craig played parts of three seasons in the majors. Some of those partial seasons can be attributed to Craig being shipped back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis; the rest were due to injuries. Nonetheless, entering 2013, Craig had notched 827 plate appearances and batted .300/.348/.515 (.370 wOBA, 135 wRC+), which prompted the Cardinals to sign him to a guaranteed contract extension of at least five years in length and worth a minimum of $31 million. Craig hit .315/.373/.457 (.363 wOBA, 134 wRC+) before suffering a Lisfranc injury that cut his regular season short and limited his postseason participation (though he hit remarkably well, especially for a man effectively batting on one foot, when he played in the World Series).

Craig's production and Matt Adams's emergence as a part-time player in 2013 allowed the Cardinals to let veteran Carlos Beltran leave via free agency. With consensus top-hitting prospect Oscar Taveras, power-hitting prospect Randal Grichuk, and top-100 prospect Stephen Piscotty all starting the year in Triple-A, it appeared the Cardinals' plan was to gradually work one (or two) of the youngsters into the St. Louis attack via bench duty during the second half of 2014. But Craig's batting cratered this season and the Cards jettisoned him and his .237/.291/.346 (.286 wOBA, 81 wRC+) line to Boston at the trade deadline. Taveras and Grichuk were thrust into a right-field timeshare of sorts, one starting with the other the bench, ready to be called upon in the event a tough platoon matchup awaited the other after an opposition pitching change. That is the right-field arrangement for the NLDS.

Mark Ellis, December 2013

This offseason, Mozeliak made one move that can be said to have had the intent to bolster the bench: signing free-agent second baseman Mark Ellis to a one-year, $5 million contract to be Kolten Wong's righthanded caddy at the keystone. This was a signing that made a lot of sense at the time the contract was inked. But the front office's plans were foiled when the 37-year-old Ellis had his production fall off a cliff during this season. He finished the year with a .180/.253/.213 (.212 wOBA, 31 wRC+). So Ellis is not on the NLDS roster.

A.J. Pierzynski, July 2014

Just before the All-Star break, Yadier Molina went down with torn ligaments in his thumb that required corrective surgery and four-to-six weeks of recovery time. The Cards initially went with backup Tony Cruz as the starter but, after an aborted George Kottaras experimentsigned prickly veteran A.J. Pierzynski as a catching stopgap until Molina's return. Pierzynski played his usual mediocre-to-bad defense behind the plate while batting .244/.295/.305 (.273 wOBA, 72 wRC+), a line roughly on par with what he hit for with Boston before the Red Sox cut him. After Molina's return, Pierzynski took 10 PAs in September (notching a single and no walks).

The Cardinals left Pierzynski off the NLDS roster, opting to go with Cruz, the superior defender, instead of Pierzynski (who might not be a much better hitter than Cruz at this point in his career). Not that the decision is an important one. Manager understandably don't pinch-hit much (if at all) with their backup backstops because they don't want to be caught without an experienced catcher should injury befall the starter, so Pierzynski bat, which, at 37, might be slightly less awful than Cruz's, is a non-factor. What's more, if Molina does sustain a sidelining injury, the Cards will simply add Pierzynski to the roster and have the option of playing him in the next game. So the Cardinals' decision to leave Pierzynski off the NLDS roster isn't a big deal at all.


All of this is to say that the Cardinals' NLDS bench of Cruz, Taveras/Grichuk, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, and Peter Bourjos is rather predictable. One can pine for a bat with more pop, but such yearning is not realistic given the roster the Cardinals had in September. Tommy Pham or Xavier Scruggs didn't earn the manager's trust or much in the way of playing time down the home stretch of the division race in September, so neither had a realistic chance of making a postseason series roster. The Cardinals' NLDS bench is what it is because of the events that took place over the years leading up to this October. And so it's composition is as unsurprising as it is underwhelming. Then again, when was the last time a Cardinals postseason bench inspired confidence and intrigue?