clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 Cards' bench a large upgrade over prior years

let's compare this year to the recent past

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Anyone who has paid attention to the actions of the Cardinals' front office can tell that over the last few years, General Manager John Mozeliak has bet on depth. While generally the starting position players are the most important part of a team, over a 162 game season injuries happen and players need days off to stay fresh. The Cardinals have been targeting depth for a while, with mixed results.

Ty Wigginton's deal starting in 2013, for $5M over two years, lasted just a couple months before they needed to pay him him to not play baseball. In 2014, Mark Ellis received $5M for 2014 to be insurance and possibly a platoon partnerfor Kolten Wong. Then, with Wong receiving less playing time than expected, Ellis was thrust into a semi-starting role. Unfortunately for the Cards and Ellis, the veteran second basemen seemed beaten by father time. His 2014 season was his last, as he announced his retirement prior to the 2015 season.

2015 saw a $2M/1 year deal for Mark Reynolds, who was then thrust into a starting role when fellow first basemen Matt Adams went down. Reynolds was replacement level over 2015, another small loss in investing in depth for the team.

Despite not finding results where they wanted when shopping for depth on the free agent market, the team has had good results from depth. In 2013, Matt Adams, as a back-up first basemen for Allen Craig, and by-proxy back-up corner outfielder by way of shifting Craig, had a strong 2013 campaign over half of a seasons' worth of plate appearances. In 2014 trade acquisitions Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk both had strong seasons as back-up outfielders. 2015 saw several outfield injuries, with Grichuk again performing well as a back-up, and joined mid-season by Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty who helped make the Cards' outfield a strong point even with multiple DL trips for both Matt Holliday and Jon Jay.

With the Cards seeing the benefits of depth, the Front Office continues to make strong bets on acquiring position player depth. The big move this off-season was trading Jon Jay's final year of control for four years of Jedd Gyorko who the Cardinals will owe $25.5M over the next four years (with $7.5M still owed from the Padres). They also finally replaced sub-replacement level catcher Tony Cruz with professional back-up catcher Brayan Pena to $5M over two years. Those two moves, along with the present outfield depth, makes this year's bench the best the Birds have had in some time.

Let's compare this year's Opening Day bench to the previous three years worth of Opening Day benches. We'll start with the spot where the Cards' have found it easiest to find depth, the outfield:

Shane Robinson was the only real outfield back-up in 2013. As mentioned, Adams was also a by-proxy outfield back-up, but he's featured further down under first base backups. With a patient, high-contact approach paired with an ability to play center-field, Robinson was worth nearly a win in less than 200 PA. Bourjos was technically the Opening Day starter in 2014, but we all know by now how fleeting that situation was. In a mostly back-up role Bourjos played well though, with good enough offense to make him valuable when combined with his elite defense.

In 2015, the story was much different for Bourjos, as he dropped to Kozmanian levels of hitting ability, and had enough base-running gaffes that the team declined to even use him in a base-running specialist role. Grichuk picked up the slack though, with the best performance over this time frame by a player who was a back-up on Opening Day.

Going into 2016, The Cardinals will have six starters for the three outfield spots and first base, so injuries will have to get rather bad in order to deplete the depth the Cards have accumulated. Because of Grichuk's sterling 2015, the Cardinals just retained strong outfield depth, rather than improved.

All other areas constitute a strong improvement though, starting with back-up catcher:


This one is more addition than subtraction, as Cruz for three years has been worse than the hypothetically freely-available catcher that would perform at exactly replacement level. Pena is a notch above the average back-up as well, as he would be worth around half a win over a full-time catcher's workload (which is 450 PA, just don't try to tell Yadi that).


As mentioned, Matt Adams made first base a strong position of depth in 2013. In 2014 however, with Adams placed in the starting role and Allen Craig moving to the outfield to replace Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals didn't even have a normal first base back-up. Craig played nearly 200 innings at first, shifting the playing time to the back-up outfielders. Descalso came in second with 27 innings.

The problem continued in 2015 with Mark Reynolds playing around replacement level despite taking over the first base job after Adams was injured. The trade for Moss, as well training Piscotty to play at first, attempted to mitigate the problem later in the year. In 2016, the Cardinals brought back Brandon Moss in the role of back-up 1B/COF, and Holliday's first base conversion gives the team even more options.

Here's how the rest of infield picture has/will shake out:


With Freese starting the year on the DL in 2013, and Mark Ellis starting the year on the DL in 2014, I supplied both the planned back-ups and the eventual Opening Day back-ups for those years. This paints a pretty clear picture as to why the Cardinals were happy to pay $25.5M to Jedd Gyorko over the next four years. The only above-replacement utility infielder performance in the last three years came from Pete Kozma's 26 PA in 2014, coming thanks to a .368 BABIP and an inflated defensive score over the course of a short sample..

Greg Garcia isn't a total zero either, with a bat projected similarly to the average shortstop. Garcia gives the Cards two above replacement skilled back-up infielders, with Aledmys Diaz still stashed in Memphis. The days of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso are over, to the glee of nearly all of Cardinals nation.

While the Cardinals have done well to accumulate outfield depth the last few years, the infield has been a different story. With a projected bench of Pena, Gyorko, Garcia, and two of Pham, Moss, and Adams, this is the most complete Opening Day bench the Cardinals have put together. Hopefully, players stay healthy and it's not especially needed. But if it comes to that, this bench is ready.