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The First Base Fix

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In which the author explores a handful of possible opportunities for the Cardinals to upgrade their first base situation.

I hear word one of complaint from anyone this isn't a baseball picture I will cut you. Or Spants will, if I'm not around.
I hear word one of complaint from anyone this isn't a baseball picture I will cut you. Or Spants will, if I'm not around.
Elsa/Getty Images

When the monstrously cruel slave-driving manager of this site forced me into giving up an evening to perform unpaid labour on Monday night, one of the topics of conversation we delved into a bit was the possibility of the Cardinals making a trade of some sort to bolster the roster as we head fully into the trade season proper, aka July. The primary subject thus explored was the potential for a pitching acquisition, unsurprisingly, since I think by now everyone is fairly aware of the potential pitfalls facing El Birdos when it comes to their starting rotation. In spite of boasting the most dominant pitching staff in all of baseball, the Cardinals have concerns. Michael Wacha has health concerns. Ditto Lance Lynn, now. Jaime Garcia doesn't have health concerns; rather, health concerns have Jaime Garcias. And Carlos Martinez, while free of the immediate sort of health worries his rotation mates come with, still has serious workload concerns for the rest of this season.

With all that in mind, it makes sense to look at the pitching, and specifically the rotation, as an area of possible addition for the Cardinals. It might seem paradoxical that the team's greatest strength is also possibly its biggest vulnerability, but in this case there really is no contradiction.

In the course of the discussion about the pitching staff, however, Ben brought up another potential area of improvement, that of the first base position. And, really, let's face it: the pitching may be vulnerable, both because of the nature of pitching and this specific staff's specific situations. The first base situation, however, is not vulnerable. The first base situation just flat out sucks.

It wasn't good to begin with; Matt Adams in 2015 looked, unfortunately, a lot like what I was afraid he would look like: not enough power to overcome a lack of on-base skills, not enough on-base skills to make up for having 20 homer power, rather than 30 homer power, and just an overall lack of upside for anything beyond basically league-average performance. Adams didn't play up to the standards he had previously set for himself early this season, but let's face it: even if Matt Adams in 2015 hit exactly as well as Matt Adams in 2014, you're still looking at a player likely to be worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2.0-2.5 wins. Which isn't terrible; it just isn't all that good. Add in the fact Matt is beginning to look a bit...fragile, considering his injury history, and you're left with a player -- and position -- that doesn't inspire a ton of confidence.

And then, of course, Adams got hurt, and the point was driven home that a mediocre player is still always preferable to no player at all. Mark Reynolds has filled in well enough, but he was not being counted on to play every day, and the results have been predictable. Xavier Scruggs has come up and offered a nice shot in the arm to the offense the past week, but it seems extremely unlikely Xavier Scruggs is anything more than a bench bat, at best, going forward.

The point is this: what the Cardinals have on the roster, right now, is not very good as far as the first base position goes. So what might they do to try and fix that? Well, I'm glad you asked, reader, because otherwise you were going to be stuck reading about something you don't care about at all.

Adam Lind

.292/.365/.496, 134 wRC+, 1.5 WAR, 282 PAs

Pros: Lind is probably the most obvious fit of any player out there, and he's actually been significantly better than I realised this season. His 134 wRC+ is exactly equal to that of Matt Carpenter, and lord knows it would be nice to have another Carpenter-level bat in the lineup. He's walking at a ~10.5% clip this season, and while the .330 BABIP might be a little elevated, Lind has also posted BABIPs above .324 three seasons in a row, so it's likely there's a bit of talent for a high BABIP here. The Brewers should be the sellingest sellers of any seller on the market this year, being both terrible and in a division offering them no hope whatsoever.

Lind is also a good fit as a left-handed hitter, because he offers a possible platoon opportunity with Scruggs. I know I said a moment ago that Xavier Scruggs is a bench bat at best, most likely, but here's the thing: Xavier Scruggs has a substantial history of destroying left-handed pitching, to the tune of a .960 OPS covering better than 600 minor league plate appearances. Lind, on the other hand, in nearly 900 career PAs against portsiders has a .591 OPS (55 wRC+), which makes him very much the sort of player you don't mind sitting against a lefty, even if he's going good. If you could get something approaching Lind's career .863 OPS against right-handers and spell him with Scruggs's ability to hit lefties, as Carl Weathers might say, baby, you got a stew going. Mark Reynolds can remain your bench bat and jack-of-a-couple trades, and you just split the first base playing time right down platoon lines.

Lind also has a very affordable $8 million option for next season, with just a half million dollar buyout. If it did indeed turn out he and Scruggs made for a thumping platoon, the option would probably be a no-brainer to pickup, particularly considering you're paying one half of the platoon virtually nothing.

Cons: The Brewers are in the NL Central, and while the in-division trading thing seems largely overblown most of the time (after all, Milwaukee dealt John Axford to the Redbirds within recent memory), it might drive the cost up slightly if the Brew Crew are hoping to stick it to the Cards to "win" the trade.

I listed the potential for a platoon as a positive above, and I believe that to be the case. If, however, Scruggs/Reynolds do not acquit themselves well as lefty insurance for Lind, you're left with a much more limited hitter, much in the same way Adams himself is limited against same-handed pitching. And that's...pretty much the only real negative here. Unless the Brewers just decide they've finally figured out first base and they're going to be competitive again as soon as next year (spoiler alert: nuh-uh), and refuse to trade Lind period, I suppose.

I know Lind's name has been floating out there a bit as a potential add, but I honestly hadn't really looked at him all that closely. With some inspection, though, he appears an almost ideal solution to the Cards' problem, and other than the fact he's likely going to be in some demand this July, possibly driving up the price, he would be a perfect target.

Go get him, Mo.

Carlos Santana

.213/.350/.369, 109 wRC+, 0.9 WAR, 306 PAs

Pros: Look at that batting line. You don't often see a .213 batting average and .350 OBP together, do you? Well, such is life for the Cleveland Indians' switch-hitting first baseman. His 17.3% walk rate this season is positively Votto-esque, and it follows up a 17.1% mark last year, so it isn't as if that's an unusual thing for him.

He's a switch-hitter, as well, thus avoiding the need to be platooned, which could potentially free up a roster spot to be used in some other way. He's also signed through 2017 on a remarkably friendly contract, which pays him just $8.5 million for 2016 and actually has an option year for '17 at $12 million. For a guy who gets on base the way Santana does and is consistently in the 3.0-3.5 WAR range, that's a bargain.

Cons: Then again, as valuable as that on-base percentage is, and as remarkable a batting eye as Santana possesses, he's also just barely better than a league-average hitter this season, due in large part to both his power being down (.157 ISO this year, compared to .196 in 2014), and a nightmarishly low BABIP of just .230. Unfortunately, that BABIP comes on the heels of a .249 mark last year, so...you know. Your guess is as good as mine. He puts the ball on the ground 45% of the time, more than you hope to see from a player as slow-footed as Santana (he's basically an honourary Molina at this point), and his 16.0% infield fly rate is just atrocious. In fact, that last number is really the big one for him; when you're putting nearly one-fifth of you balls in play in the air on the infield, a .230 BABIP is not just possible, but seems tough to avoid.

Santana's work ethic and conditioning have come into question, also, although it seems to me the makeup questions are as much about the results as they are the player himself. The conditioning, though, is absolutely a concern. Santana has never been the most svelte individual, and the last couple years he's become noticeably more rotund, which has to be a worry for a team looking to acquire him. There's also the fact the Indians may see themselves as contenders in the sooner rather than later sort of way (and given their division, that's eminently possible), and would try to extract a heavy price for the services of their on-base machine, even with all his warts.

I like Santana, a lot. But, things seem to be trending in the wrong way for him, and it's a question whether he has much chance of getting back to the player he was from 2011-'14, rather than the guy he seems to be this year. Still, this is a player with a near 1:1 K:BB ratio in his career (and who is actually walking more than he strikes out this season, which is bizarre considering how lousy the rest of the numbers look), who still has a .350+ OBP. If the Cardinals wanted a bit more of a high-upside project play to shore things up for the next few years, Santana could be a very intriguing investment.

Adam LaRoche

.233/.340/.400, 107 wRC+, 0.3 WAR, 282 PAs

Pros: LaRoche, somewhat like Santana, has an excellent walk rate (13.5%), and a solid on-base percentage as a result. He's also hit for a bit better power than Santana this season, though nine homers in the Cell is really still nothing to write home about. He kills righthanders in general, though, which could set up a nice platoon opportunity as I outlined above with Adam Lind, with LaRoche's 127 wRC+ in 2015 and career 121 vs righties a nice complement to whatever Scruggs/Reynolds could do versus southpaws. The White Sox are horrible, and would likely be glad to have him off the books if they are embarking on another retool.

Cons: Adam LaRoche is old and kind of terrible at this point. He's striking out in close to 30% of his plate appearances this season, his defense is awful, and the power isn't there despite playing in a bandbox. He's also signed for a pretty big chunk of change for 2016, so you can't get rid of him easily, nor is he so good you'd be glad to have him locked up beyond this year.

LaRoche is a bad idea.

Ryan Howard

.225/.274/.447, 96 wR-

No. Just no.

Ike Davis

.271/.331/.429, 114 wRC+, 0.3 WAR, 148 PAs

Pros: Davis has been reasonably good for the A's this season, at least when he's been on the field, with a solid batting line overall and power numbers that could be assisted by getting out of the Oakland Coliseum, though Busch is obviously no hitter's paradise either. He's cut down on his strikeouts markedly since his days with the Mets, and has been a more productive hitter because of it. Has a big platoon split, so the timeshare deal from earlier applies here. He's also under club control for one more year after this (arbitration eligible), so there's some opportunity to keep him around or deal him there, depending on how things work out.

Cons: Davis has shown an ability to hit for power or avoid striking out, but not both at the same time. He's a pretty marginal talent, all things considered, and would represent an extremely middling upgrade. I can't see giving up much of value for a player of this ilk, honestly.

Ben Zobrist

.258/.349/.448, 125 wRC+, 0.5 WAR, 189 PAs

Pros: Okay, so he's not BEN FUCKING ZOBRIST the way he was a few years ago. Then again, he's still Ben Fucking Zobrist, and don't you forget it.

The batting line is being dragged down by a .257 BABIP, although he is putting the ball on the ground more often these days, so it's not completely a function of bad luck. Still, I expect that will come up some. His walk rate is 12.7%. His strikeout rate is 8.5%. Ben Zobrist is still a ridiculous player, in many ways.

He's also overqualified to play first base, really; this is a player who has served as a plus middle infielder for most of his career. This season, however, the numbers say he's been bad defensively, and from what little I've seen of him play, that doesn't seem unreasonable. He's not quite the defender he was a few years ago, and he's spent time on the DL this season, which could make one think he's just on the downslope. Then again, small sample size on the defense and all, and I have a feeling that Ben Zobrist could be an amazing first baseman if someone handed him one of those oversized mitts and pointed him toward the bag.

Cons: The A's are going to extract a heavy price for Zobrist, as he will likely be one of the most in-demand assets on the market this season. He's also a free agent after the year, so if you wanted to continue employing the services of this still-ridiculous player you would have to pony up some dough, possibly in a big bad way. He's also 34 years old, and that's not nothing. It's possible we've seen the last of sabermetric MVP candidate Ben Zobrist, which could make a team hesitant to pay heavily in talent and cash to acquire and then try to keep him.

It's probably not realistic. Some other team with a bigger need than the Cardinals will almost certainly pony up for Ben Zobrist.

But holy shit.

Can you imagine?

Anthony Garcia

.257/.402/.474, 149 wRC+, 215 PAs at Double A Springfield

Okay, so this is one is way, way out of the box. But, hear me out.

Anthony Garcia is currently an outfield prospect in the Cardinals' minor league system. He's 23 years old, playing in Double A, and absolutely killing it with the bat down there. He spent the last two seasons in High A Palm Beach, and was fairly awful, losing pretty much all the lustre on his prospect star and falling completely out of the prospect-watching consciousness.

Now, I will say this: Garcia is not a first baseman. Never has been, in fact. And that's a problem for this exercise. However, there's also really no one at first ahead of him in Springfield who absolutely needs to be getting playing time at first, nor is there anyone at Memphis. So, if the club were to, say, find a first baseman's mitt for Garcia, give him a couple weeks to try and get acclimated over there, and then bring him up, they might have time to see if they could catch lightning in a bottle before the deadline hits.

You're probably thinking right now this is a crazy idea. I can hear you thinking it, in fact. That's okay; it probably is a crazy idea. But, here's the thing: the Cardinals have two outfielders who are going to have to be added to the 40 man roster this offseason, or be lost. Stephen Piscotty is one. Anthony Garcia is the other. Garcia was insulated from the Rule 5 draft last season, simply because of his awful performance in Palm Beach. However, a guy putting up close to a 150 wRC+ in Double A at an age that's right on time for a prospect at that level (he's amazingly young for a guy who's been on the radar for roughly four years now), will not make it past the Rule 5 without being taken. So, if the Cardinals don't want to lose him, they're going to have to add him. They already have six outfielders on the 40-man, including Tommy Pham, which is another reason why I'm very much in favour of trying to move Jon Jay sometime this season.

So here's my thought: you have this post-hype sleeper prospect tearing it up in Double A. You're going to have to make a decision about him on the 40 man after this season anyway, and the way it looks right now I can't imagine that decision being to just let him go. So, why not add him a little early, bring him to the big leagues, and see if you can't catch lightning in a bottle here? He'll probably be very bad at first base; maybe unplayable. If he's unplayable, then fine. My mistake, and send him back down. But...what if he came up and hit? Like, a bunch? Or what if he wasn't a disaster at first? Probably will be, but maybe, just maybe....

You might also be thinking: why not Piscotty, in that case? My answer would be: we know Piscotty is a very good defender in the outfield, and a terrible infielder, because his hands are literally made of teflon. I actually think trying to get him to move to first base has less of a chance of succeeding than the guy who's never played any infield before, simply because I've seen how awful Stephen Piscotty is at fielding grounders, and it's not pretty. Way beyond not pretty, in fact.

This is an off-the-wall idea, and one I'm sure will never happen. But in the comments on a Future Redbirds post the other day, community member and minor league follower extraordinaire MekonsRock pointed out just how good Garcia has been this season since escaping the blasted hellscape of the Florida State League, with a walk rate (14.9%), that's higher than his strikeout rate (13.5%), when just two seasons ago he was whiffing nearly a quarter of the time in High A and it seemed the plate approach he had been so lauded for his first couple seasons in the minors had completely fallen apart. I knew Garcia was having a renaissance year, but hadn't actually checked on him recently, and so the extremity of his turnaround surprised me. If there's one guy in the upper minors right now who I think could possibly come up to the big leagues and pull a J-Rod for some period of time, I have to say it's probably Anthony Garcia.

So, you know. It's not going to happen. But, I just wanted to throw this in there at the end of the column, just to draw attention to the fact the Cardinals now have two hitters in the upper minors doing very good things with the bat (Piscotty himself is having a very nice second go round in the PCL, with a .201 ISO, 12.6% walk rate, and 125 wRC+ on the season), and also just to sort of blue-sky a novel solution to a problem without a whole lot of readily apparent answers.

My preferences, in order, would likely be:

Zobrist

Adam Lind

Carlos Santana

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the other guys.

And the off-the-wall Garcia idea? Oh, I don't know. Stick it up there parallel to Santana, or something. Just because it would be fun to see a team with a .670 winning percentage fuck around with the roster and experiment a little, because they can.

I want to apologise for the lateness of this post. I had a bit of an emergency come up this morning, and only got around to writing this later in the morning. I hope you all aren't too very disappointed.