So far this season, the Cardinals have had six different players make at least one start in an outfield, and when Jenifer Langosch broke the news on Twitter yesterday, it seemed certain that the Cardinals were going to add a seventh starter to that mix:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23STLCards&src=hash">#STLCards</a> announce promotion for Joey Butler. Randal Grichuk sent back to Memphis. Move suggest more playing time coming for Bourjos.</p>— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) <a href="https://twitter.com/LangoschMLB/statuses/464775926254149632">May 9, 2014</a></blockquote>
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I wouldn't be surprised to see Butler get a start over the weekend considering Allen Craig's struggles coupled with the inability of another player to make a real push for more starts in right field. He tore up the PCL in the month of April, hitting .360/.481/.547, and has been a solid hitter in AAA the last three seasons that he's spent there, slashing .304/.397/.472 with 48 homers and 85 doubles in his career at the high minors level. Somebody should be giving Joey Butler a shot to play in the big leagues, he's 28 and done everything he can do in the high minors to warrant an opportunity, but it's hard to argue that this Cardinals team should be one of them given the depth of corner outfield talent that the organization has currently.
If Joey Butler plays well, where does Allen Craig fit into the mix? Or Oscar Taveras? It's hard enough to envision a roster that contains both of the latter two players as long as Matt Adams continues to produce at the plate, and the Cardinals have long term commitments to both Craig (with a contract) and Taveras (as a prospect). Throwing another wrench into that mix would just make things all that much more difficult for Mike Matheny to fill out the lineup card every day. That's before we even talk about Stephen Piscotty, who's hit well (but not great) at AAA in his first month of PA's there and has been impressing scouts with his contact ability and gap power since he was in High-A with Palm Beach a year ago.
Randal Grichuk made a lot of sense as a call-up, still a prospect, hitting well at AAA, power potential, but could also play all three outfield positions. If he really took off at the plate, you could basically do what Joe thought the team should do with Oscar Taveras, namely: start him in CF most of the time and then use him to spell both Craig and Holliday in the corners when they need a day off. Grichuk would also be a trade asset for the Cardinals had he caught fire in his stint in the majors given that he's just 23 and is a 4.5 tool talent.
Butler can't play CF, isn't a prospect anymore, but he's a better corner outfielder than Allen Craig is defensively (who isn't, Adam Dunn? Chris Duncan?) and his numbers are hard to ignore, despite the .409 BABIP which is sure to regress some (although his career BABIP at AAA is around .350 so it might not regress too much).
Weirdly, Butler is just a year younger than Craig and is nearly a carbon copy of him as a hitter: Good hit tool and makes a lot of contact, doesn't strike out much, gap power. Craig might have a bit more home run power when he's right, but Butler also walks a fair bit more than Craig does, at least if you believe his ~14% AAA walk rate will translate up the ladder into MLB.
It's hard to see how the Cardinals would minimize Craig for a 28 year old minor league journeyman after committing $31M to the man with the pet tortoise just last spring, but it seems that the club is scrambling to find a way to provide run support for a pitching staff that's been carrying the water so far this season. Any spark out of any bat has to be considered.
If Joey Butler starts out on a tear, could he take PA's away from Allen Craig?
The answer depends on how you feel about how Mike Matheny is taking the whole small sample size thing to heart this season and how healthy you perceive Allen Craig to be. Buster Olney noted in his VEB interview yesterday that scouts had mentioned to him that Craig looked to be swinging mostly with his upper half to the point where he asked Craig if the leg issues he had last year were bothering him. Craig said he felt great, but you have to wonder if something isn't ailing him, given how poorly he hit in the postseason last year after suffering the injury and how similar those numbers look to his April struggles.
Counter point: How much Craig's April struggles look like his April struggles the entire rest of his career. He's just a .236/.287/.350 career hitter in the first month of the season, and while this year hasn't helped those numbers, he hit just .263/.298/.358 in a similar number of PA's in April 2013 before returning to form in May, June, and July while setting all kinds of RISP batting average records.
This might be the situation in which Matheny's prevailing attitude towards playing veterans and the guys that he knows best and have the best track records actually does this club a failure.
Keep playing Allen Craig -- he'll work his way out of it if his career numbers have anything to say about it.
It would also be nice if someone would free Greg Garcia as well, though...