With the departures of Brandon Moss (probable) and Matt Holliday (definite), this off-season, the St. Louis Cardinals, a team which a couple of years ago had far more outfielders than it had spots to put them, suddenly faces a shortage of outfielders.
The December signing of Dexter Fowler, if nothing else, gives the Cardinals depth in the outfield—not only is Fowler a player capable of an everyday starter role, he has also been generally healthy throughout the years. But while Fowler is a good start, the current Cardinals depth chart still has a glaring lack of options in the outfield.
The starting outfield as currently constituted reads Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty, and all signs suggest that this is the outfield the Cardinals intend to implement on Opening Day 2017. This itself is fine: while none of the three have proven to be transcendent superstars, all three have demonstrated skills suggesting solid starting credentials. Grichuk exhibits flashes of brilliance, particularly with regards to power, at the plate; Piscotty, not considered a great power bat as a prospect, managed 22 home runs last year and may continue to blossom; Fowler was the third-best position player on baseball's best team last year and the Cardinals signed him with the intention that he will be an impact player for the next half decade.
The Cardinals' fourth outfielder heading into 2017 is Tommy Pham: he is currently listed as the backup in both corner spots and is behind Fowler and the starting left fielder Grichuk in center field. Pham, although a bit of a late bloomer (he turns 29 in March), has been a productive MLB hitter (113 wRC+ in 358 career plate appearances) and although his defensive stats in 2016 were poor, these numbers are borderline irrelevant in such a small data sample, and most concede that Pham is at worst a competent fielder, and that even if he is not Billy Hamilton or Jarrod Dyson, he is probably at least in the neighborhood of Randal Grichuk.
If the four ahead of him stay healthy, no team truly "needs" a fifth outfielder. And Pham, in a vacuum, would be perfectly capable of getting spot starts in order to give the regular starters days off.
But baseball players get hurt, and Grichuk and Pham in particular have dealt with injuries throughout their careers. And in each case, the Cardinals have shown at least some hesitance with putting these players in prominent roles. Tommy Pham, after getting injured in the first game of 2016, found himself in the minors when he got healthy, and Randal Grichuk was twice demoted to Memphis last year. Even after the team thought so highly of him in 2015 that they put him in center field when he literally couldn't throw the ball to the infield (those familiar with my writing know that I will find any excuse to include this video).
The current de facto fifth outfielder, as denoted on the Cardinals depth chart, is Jose Martinez. On the bright side, Martinez has a ten points higher career wRC+ than Mike Trout (178 to 168). However, Martinez has 18 career plate appearances, turns 29 in July, and was such a marginal prospect for the Kansas City Royals that when he was traded to the Cardinals last May, the Royals received "cash considerations", not exactly a haul which inspires confidence that the return is more than organizational depth.
Also, the Cardinals have Kolten Wong, but with the team seemingly recommitting to defense, it makes little sense to resume 2016's Kolten Wong-as-outfielder experiment when he is the team's best defensive second baseman. A defensive alignment of Jhonny Peralta, Aledmys Diaz (who just a year ago was routinely questioned as capable of playing shortstop as a Major League level), Jedd Gyorko, and Matt Carpenter would warrant a lot of breath-holding in 2017.
It would behoove the Cardinals to acquire another outfielder, not necessarily as an everyday starter but to act as an insurance policy in case of injury, ineffectiveness, or, as was the case in 2016, both. On the bright side, the outfielders they currently have are versatile enough that pretty much anybody who is even remotely passable defensively would be an adequate option off the bench. Not counting Martinez, who is hardly a sure thing to make the Cardinals, three of the four current outfielders have played center field at the MLB level (yes, I remember that Stephen Piscotty played center field last year; I'm just hoping the Cardinals have forgotten).
By my count, this off-season, three separate Viva El Birdos writers (myself, the red baron, and Ben Markham) have advocated for the Cardinals to re-sign Brandon Moss. I maintain that this move would fill many holes for the 2017 team, as well as allowing the club to be more flexible regarding Matt Adams, a player who could have some trade value (flawed as he is, he remains under club cost control and is one of just 74 players with three or more seasons of 15+ home runs since 2013, and is one of just 16 players with three such seasons during his age 27 season or younger) but who lacks an obvious role with the Cardinals, and would really lack one with Moss returning. But regardless, the Cardinals need to make a move for an outfielder, Moss or otherwise, or risk the outfield situation collapsing around them in 2017.