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It’s still a wonder why the Cardinals didn’t get a proper fourth outfielder

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A strange misstep from an organization that clearly values depth.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

To be clear from the beginning, I think the Cardinals’ front office is great. If you read me often you probably know that. If not, you can get a good summation of what I thought of the latest Cardinals’ off-season here. That was before the Yadier Molina and Stephen Piscotty extensions, both of which I support.

However, one of the things I docked them for was not finding a better backup outfielder. Tommy Pham could be fine if not for the ridiculous rate that he hurts himself. Especially since Randal Grichuk has had trouble staying healthy himself. I voiced support for signing Brandon Moss specifically, but also a more general view that they needed someone besides a 28 and 29 year old with 376 MLB plate appearances between them to serve as the primary backup outfielder.

When they did nothing, I assumed they must have been bullish on Harrison Bader. Maybe they saw him as part of the outfield picture in the second half, and they decided to just try to make it through the first half with what they had. Maybe that’s still part of the plan, maybe it never was. All I know is, right now they have a career first baseman out of position in the outfield directly after an off-season where they couldn’t stop telling us that they were prioritizing defense.

The point is, it’s confusing. If they thought Tommy Pham was an adequate back-up outfielder, you wouldn’t think 43 Spring Training at-bats would change that view. If they didn’t think he was an adequate back-up, it’s even more confusing why they didn’t add someone else to the outfield mix this winter.

The same goes for Jose Martinez. If they like him enough to put him on the roster over Pham, then why would they turn to Matt Adams when they needed someone in the outfield? If they think he’s just a Quad-A player, then why was their only other option a made-of-glass outfielder with a history of eyesight problems who still hasn’t really proved himself at the major league level? If sticking Adams in the outfield was actually part of the plan, then this gets even worse.

At least in the case of Adams starting in the outfield, it was Mike Matheny’s decision. If this was just about a confusing decision Matheny made, it probably wouldn’t have warranted it’s own article. There’s going to be plenty of those now there’s baseball almost every day again. We don’t know whether GM John Mozeliak thinks Adams is a better option in the outfield than Martinez. However, he can definitely be blamed for signing off on a situation where those are the two best options.

Who else should have been an option? Here’s a list of six players the Cardinals could have signed instead this off-season, with the largest deal being Steve Pearce’s $12.5M/2 year deal. This isn’t an exhaustive list, this just six players I personally liked the most. For a full list of deals this off-season, check here.

Could have been fourth outfielders.txt

Players Guarantee Years 2016 PA 2016 wRC+ 2016 WAR 2017 PA 2017 wRC+ 2017 WAR 2017 WAR/600
Players Guarantee Years 2016 PA 2016 wRC+ 2016 WAR 2017 PA 2017 wRC+ 2017 WAR 2017 WAR/600
Steve Pearce $12.5 2 302 136 2.0 504 120 2.3 2.7
Matt Joyce $11.0 2 293 137 1.3 504 107 1.1 1.3
Franklin Gutierrez $2.6 1 283 114 0.6 250 103 0.5 1.2
Sean Rodriguez $11.5 2 342 129 1.9 278 93 0.4 0.9
Chris Heisey $1.4 1 155 93 0.3 187 85 0.2 0.6
Brandon Moss $12.0 2 464 105 1.4 623 98 0.6 0.6

I made this sortable, so you can have fun with it if you like. Brandon Moss is the only player projected to be a full-time player, though Steve Pearce and Matt Joyce get close. I’ve previously noted that Pearce’s deal looked like a steal. On one hand it’s easy to say that he wouldn’t have signed on to be a back-up, but on another he’s only guaranteed the short side of a platoon in Toronto. $15M/2 years would have still been a steal, and maybe that’s enough of a raise to change his mind.

Franklin Gutierrez and Brandon Moss are both better hitters than Jose Martinez. While no one will confuse them for Gold Glove winners, they’re also better at playing the corner-outfield spots than Adams. Gutierrez has Pham-like fragility, but he’s been productive when healthy. Plus, the Dodgers got him for very little. The same can be said of the Nationals’ deal for Chris Heisey, who isn’t a great hitter but is one of the better defenders shown here.

Sean Rodriguez is probably out for the year, but (1) we’re looking at process here, not results, and (2) there’s no guarantee he gets in a car accident had the Cardinals signed him. Only his Zips projection is shown, as Steamer only currently projects a single plate appearance for him. With his positional flexibility, he could have doubled as someone else to try at third base if Jedd Gyorko regresses from his 2016 performance and Jhonny Peralta doesn’t bounce back from his. After a breakout in 2016, it would have been an interesting upside play.

I didn’t add Jon Jay on here, because maybe a reunion would have been awkward. He signed on without a guarantee of starting time for just $8M though, and I would have been just fine with the Cardinals raising that a few million. Same goes for Colby Rasmus who signed for just $5M, but no one thinks that wouldn’t be a whole year of awkwardness.

Besides Pearce, none of these signings look like steals. All these players have their own warts, that’s why they ended up signing for so little. Surely though, everyone here can find at least one player in that table that they would have rather the Cardinals signed, just in order to make sure they didn’t have to see Matt Adams play outfield on Thursday.

Maybe the answer is that these players wouldn’t have signed on for just a backup role. But many are only guaranteed platoon roles anyway as it stands today. They still would have been one injury away from a starting role. Brandon Moss might have preferred to stay with the Cardinals and on a team with a better chance of seeing the playoffs. At the very least Gutierrez and Heisey were both very cheap, didn’t hold out for a starting job, and are probably better options in the outfield than a career first baseman.

If this sounds harsh then remember, I praise the front office a lot more than I criticize them. And I’m giving them an out. Maybe all of the better players on the list were dead-set on holding out for at least a platoon role. Maybe Bader will save us. However, I still don’t think heading north with Jose Martinez and Matt Adams as the backup outfielders was the best course of action. Let’s hope it doesn’t cost the team too much.