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Considering the Matt Adams left-field “experiment”

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While some may be up in arms about the development, I find myself cautiously optimistic.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Position flexibility, particularly for bench bats (with little to no trade value), should be considered a positive. Thus, with reports surfacing that the Cardinals are giving Matt Adams, a previously one-dimensional backup first baseman, left-field repetitions on the back fields of Roger Dean, you’d think initial reactions would be overwhelmingly positive. Yet, as is customary with seemingly anything Adams-related, this simply has not been the case. And honestly, it has me baffled beyond belief.

At present, we are talking about nothing more than an “experiment” on the back fields of spring training. Yes, the back fields, as the “experiment” has not even progressed to a big-league spring training game just yet. This is nowhere close in magnitude to the debacle we witnessed with Kolten Wong back in September at Wrigley Field — of which led to significantly less uproar at the time than we are currently dealing with regarding Adams.

Rather, the organization, known for doing its due diligence when it comes to roster construction, is sending out a feeler on a player that is already signed for the 2017 campaign and remains under team control for another season beyond this one. It’s not like they are suddenly auditioning Adams for a starting spot as left field firmly belongs to 2016 center fielder Randal Grichuk.

As he usually does, former Viva El Birdos site manager, @b_g_h, provided us with a strong point on Twitter: if Adams can’t hit enough to justify playing first base, why even consider him for the outfield? In a vacuum, @b_g_h’s point makes perfect sense. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that with the way the 2017 Cardinals are currently constructed. For better or worse, Matt Carpenter appears locked in at first base — which, honestly, is probably a good thing given his nagging oblique/back issues.

Carpenter bats left-handed, mashes righties (140 wRC+), is above average versus lefties (116 wRC+), and is an integral part of the lineup. Adams, too, bats left-handed, performs well, but not as well, versus righties (122 wRC+), is awful versus lefties (61 wRC+), and is a much less important piece to the lineup. If Adams is to remain on the 25-man roster — and he will considering he possesses little to no trade value — he is blocked from any real playing time if restricted to first base only defensively. Sure, Carpenter, who has experienced bouts with fatigue and health issues over the past couple seasons, needs time off occasionally, but beyond a few days of rest per month, there isn’t a single scenario where you’d choose to start Adams over Carpenter. Righty on the mound? Nope. Lefty on the mound? No way.

If we have learned anything about the general manager over the years, clogging a 25-man roster spot with a glorified pinch hitter is something John Mozeliak simply does not prefer to do. So if this “experiment” turns into Adams being able to fake it out in left — the easiest outfield position to play (just ask Chris Duncan) — the 28-year-old will immediately become much less of a roster liability. And unlike the Carpenter/Adams situation at first base, there exist scenarios in which I could see the manager preferring to start Adams over Grichuk or even Adams over Stephen Piscotty (with Grichuk or Pham sliding over to right field). Scenarios involving an right-handed opponent like Max Scherzer — who is downright dominating versus righties (.264 wOBA) — in which having a left-handed-hitting option like Adams could prove fruitful to a lineup.

Frankly, Adams has nothing left to prove defensively at first base. He won’t win any Gold Gloves (excluding the fact that he won’t ever accrue enough playing time), but he is far from a butcher at the position. Conversely, he still has a lot to prove at the plate, particularly versus lefties, but it would be lazy to believe his hitting will be negatively affected by his shagging of flyballs and his conversations with former outfielder Willie McGee. Now, this certainly could be said about learning a more complex position like catcher (as we saw with Carson Kelly), but it just isn’t the case when it comes to left field.

Bottom line, situations as harmless as this one resulting in some of the responses I have read prove that spring training is dragging this year. Failing to reach the postseason, after years of being there, will do that to a fan base. There is no need to be upset about the Adams left-field “experiment” because just as we commonly see with spring training repertoire developments, it could be over at any time. Instead, I recommend being cautiously optimistic that Adams is able to find a way to provide more value to the Cardinals than that of a mere pinch hitter.