The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals have 7 of their 8 position players set as they begin the season (of course, this is assuming no injuries in spring training). At catcher, Yadier Molina will man the helm at least one more season. At first base, the Cardinals are set to deploy Matt Carpenter’s bat at a more specific and set position. The second baseman, if GM Jon Mozeliak is to be believed, will be Kolten Wong’s to live and die with. Shortstop will be owned by none other than Aledmys Diaz, as he had one of the best rookie seasons in Cardinals’ history. The outfield is set to rock with Stephen Piscotty again in right field. While I would switch the last two defensively, Dexter Fowler will lead off (great!) and play center field (okay!) while Randal Grichuk will play left field (okay!) and hit bombs somewhere between 3rd and 7th in the order.
Third base is the position at which the Cardinals have the least stability planned and the most flexibility available to them. There are two players that they are mostly looking at to man the the hot corner; Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta. However, I (and many others) would throw another into the mix there. Matt Carpenter. Of course, this would hinge on a third player unnamed: Matt Adams.
Let’s take them one by one. Jedd Gyorko was the first man listed, so he’s the first one up. Gyorko was the best of the three players in 2016. I do rag on the guy a bit because he only somehow drove in 59 men despite hitting 30 home runs. The dude just didn’t produce with runners on base. It was terrible. However, he was maybe the biggest positive surprise of the 2016 season for me. I thought the swap for Jay was an interesting one, but had no delusions that the Cards would come out to be the winners in that trade by far. They did however, as Gyorko (for the first time ever) played above league average defense at any position - and he did it at both second and third base! Prior to 2016, this was a guy that averaged an OPS under .690 and jumped it up to an .801 OPS last season.
Truth be told, if I were Mo, I’d have been selling Gyorko hard this off-season because I have no idea what I’ll get from him; the guy who was under .690 OPS for nearly 1,500 PA or the guy who somehow hit 30 homers with only 10 other extra base hits in 2016?; the guy who was a minus everywhere defensively prior to last year, or the guy who threw up positive numbers everywhere but shortstop?
In any case, my projection system has Gyorko going for a .238/.298/.427/.725 line with 63 runs, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 28 homers, and 75 RBI given 600 PA this season. It is likely that he will be approximately league average defensively over at third.
Jhonny Peralta is another choice the Cardinals could make at third base and according to Mozeliak this seems to be the prefered option - to keep Gyorko’s power bat at multiple positions on the bench. Peralta has been below league average defensively at third base in his career and I just don’t see how he’s going to all of a sudden right that ship at age 34/35 this year. When healthy, Peralta has been an absolute beast at the plate at times and above average at others. Of course, that production was compared to other shortstops, where he has played most of his career. Compared to other third basemen, maybe it’s not so great.
In 2014, Peralta had an OPS+ of 117 - he was 17% better than league average hitting. As a SS, that’s great - (Aside: well, it was in 2014. With all the 26 age and under SS in the league right now that are fantastic...man it’s a good time to watch baseball.) Through the All-Star Break in 2015, Peralta had a .298/.355/.473/.828 line. After the ASB, Peralta dropped to .243/.306/.325/.631 and then hit .260/.307/.408/.715 last year.
My projection system has Peralta hitting .266/.326/.419/.745 with 67 runs, 31 doubles, 2 triples, 16 homers, and 68 RBI if given 600 PA.
Quite possibly the logical choice would be to platoon them, keeping both the home run bat off the bench and the 35 year old legs fresh. Give Peralta starts on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday while giving Gyorko starts on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays (with M/Th as the typical off days) - and giving Gyorko starts elsewhere on those days Peralta’s playing. That should keep both fresh and possibly give the Cardinals the best chance of consistency in their lineup. Both hitters can bat in the 6th or 7th spot - possibly higher when hitting well. They’re not quite the same hitters, but similar values in that spot given my projections.
The other idea I have is that Matt "I’m skinny and ripped now" Adams could end up outplaying either Gyorko or Peralta. That could move Matt Carpenter over to third base again. Carpenter is about a league average defender (possibly slightly worse) over at third base, while Adams is a fairly decent defender at first base, despite his previous size. Adams’ offense has run the gamut in his 5 (at least partial) seasons in the majors. He’s played in only 455 games over those 5 years, so an average of under 100 a year. His career OPS+ and wRC+ are eerily similar to Mark Trumbo - who ended up leading the league in home runs last year.
My projection system has Adams hitting .265/.312/.454/.765 with 64 runs, 33 doubles, 2 triples, 23 homers, and 86 RBI in 600 PA next season.
Obviously my projections like Adams the best, one reason I think this is an actual possibility. While it would fly in the face of Mozeliak’s offseason statement that Carpenter has been told he is the first baseman and that he wants to stick with that to ensure he has stability...crazily enough (not just because he lost so much weight and got in the BSOHL (best shape of his life)), he actually might be more athletic and a better base runner than either Gyorko or Peralta - another of Mozeliak’s off-season goals for the 2017 squad. Another item to think about is that while Adams’ vL and vR splits are as large as the Grand Canyon, Adams actually hit lefties better in 2016 than he hit righties. It’s possible that he’s getting better against lefties and is ready for a full-time gig now. (It’s also possible that a small sample size is a small sample size and a fluke.)
Lastly, this third option would leave the Cardinals with both Peralta (who can play LF, 3B, 2B, and 1B probably) and Gyorko (who can play any of the four infield positions) as bench players to give many different players a break at various times - and keeps them both rested.
In any case, plenty of options could very much help the Cardinals IF the Cardinals can rely on Mike Matheny to utilize them properly and get the best out of all three.