The Cardinals have had a series of injuries over the last month or so, losing Matt Carpenter, Brandon Moss, and Jhonny Peralta for a time. Then Aledmys Diaz, Matt Adams, and now Matt Holliday, who fractured his thumb on a hit-by-pitch last night. Holliday, who had started almost every game in left field is being replaced at the moment by Brandon Moss with Matt Carpenter moving to first and the Cardinals using their infield depth to mask the injury in the outfield. MIke Matheny has seemed reluctant to give an extended look to either Randal Grichuk or Tommy Pham in center field, but there is a player out there who can play center in Carlos Gomez.
At last year’s trading deadline, Gomez was a big prize for the Houston Astros. Gomez played center field, but didn’t hit much for the Astros last season with an 81 wRC+ in 163 plate appearances. Overall his season total wRC+ was still a below average 96, and this season he has been considerably worse.
This year, Gomez’s strikeout rate is 31% and his walk rate is 6.5% and despite a decent .300 BABIP, his hitting line is .210/.272/.322 with a a 58 wRC+. He’s like last year’s version of Randal Grichuk without power or BABIP luck. That is a bad place to be and it is the reason why the Astros have released Gomez.
As for whether the Cardinals might be interested in Gomez:
#Cardinals will explore Carlos Gomez's situation and whether he's a fit, can help. No indication they'll make a play https://t.co/AX9VNbk3pt— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) August 12, 2016
That’s hardly an endorsement, but it does seem the Cardinals will do some due diligence on Gomez. As for whether he can help the Cardinals this year, it seems debatable. Both ZiPS and Steamer see Gomez as below average offensively, right around a 90 wRC+ for the rest of the season. Gomez’s defense in center field is likely solid, but not spectacular like it was the first few years of his career. Gomez is 30 and a free agent at the end of the year.
As for what has been going on with Gomez, Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs wrote this:
Gomez, for years, made contact with about 76% of his swings. This year, he’s at 66%. Out of everyone with at least 100 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons, Gomez owns the third-biggest drop in contact rate, behind only David Wright and Desmond Jennings. Put it together in your head, now: Gomez has become more grounder-prone and more strikeout-prone. That’s a dreadful combination, and if the Astros saw anything encouraging in there, it didn’t outweigh the discouraging factors. The Astros are prepared to play a lot of Jake Marisnick, and Jake Marisnick hasn’t hit.
There could be something physical going on with Gomez. He has a history of hip issues, but no surgery. We’ve seen what hip surgery does to players as it took more than a year for Brandon Moss to get back to full strength after hip surgery. The same was true for Alex Rodriguez. We don’t obviously know that the hip has caused Gomez’s poor play over the last year, but we also don’t really have a great explanation for the massive dropoff either.
There is an appeal to try and catch lightning in a bottle and see if Gomez might recapture a bit of past for a month or two before heading to the free agent market. It’s certainly possible, and the Cardinals have gotten poor production from their own center fielders this season (82 wRC+). However, we also have to realize that there is the chance that Gomez will continue his poor play and hurt the team even more than the Cardinals current group of center fielders.
Tommy Pham is striking out a ton (33%) just like Gomez, but Pham also walks a lot (11%) and has hit for power with 8 homers in just 137 plate appearances. Projections see Pham as a league-average hitter. Randal Grichuk has had a disappointing season with a .219/.282/.428 line good for a below average 89 wRC+. What Grichuk has provided this year is essentially what the projections say Gomez will do, and the projections say that Grichuk, like Pham, is a roughly league-average hitter.
With Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Brandon Moss, the Cardinals have four league-average or better players to play in the outfield with Jeremy Hazelbaker as a bench option. While Carlos Gomez was great in the not-too-distant past, he appears unlikely to provide the kind of help the Cardinals are looking for.
Tommy Pham’s play the past two seasons has earned him playing time, and jerking around Randal Grichuk might have negatively affected his stat line. It is probably in the Cardinals best interest to hope than one or both of those players does well down the stretch as opposed to a 30-year-old with past injury issues who hasn’t played well in more than a year.