In case you missed it, Steven Piscotty and Dexter Fowler both left last night's game with injuries. Losing two starting outfielders during a game is always bad news, but the Cardinals roster, as it was structured last night, was in especially poor shape to handle a blow like that. The roster has been short on outfielders all season, and it has been pitching heavy since Jhonny Peralta was put on the DL. The end result was several innings in the outfield from Aledmys Diaz.
Per the P-D's Ben Frederickson, Tom Pham will join the big league roster, replacing Steven Piscotty. Piscotty and Fowler will remain in St. Louis today to be re-examined before a decision is made on the second roster spot.
So with one injury replacement already decided, let's take a look at the other internal options should the Cardinals decide to place both outfielders on the DL, while simultaneously hoping that Fowler is day-to-day and this whole exercise has been a waste of my time. I'll break the options down into two categories, players on the 40 man, and players who would have to be added. And remember there is an open spot on the 40 man, so if the team does decide to add somebody there would not need to be a corresponding move.
On The 40 Man
Jhonny will start a rehab assignment with the Card's A-Advanced affiliate in Palm Beach this weekend, according to Rick Hummel. So barring a setback he will be able to join the team in relatively short order. Because of the roster crunch the team faces though, they really can't afford for Peralta to finish an extended rehab stint without adding someone. They are only carrying 11 ambulatory position players if they don't DL Fowler, and because of the grueling schedule ahead of them Mike Matheny is unlikely to depart with his 13th pitcher. Peralta may be the most logical choice as a replacement, but they may need somebody to bridge the gap.
For whatever it's worth*, Jhonny Peralata actually started in left field in an ALCS game.
*It's not worth anything.
Breyvic Valera is in his 8th season in the Cardinals organization, and during that time he has primarily been an infielder. But he's logged 1,500 innings or so in the outfield, including a handful of games last year. We don't have access to scouting reports on his defense in the outfield, but his frame, athleticism and experience suggest he'd at least be able to avoid embarrassing himself as a big league outfielder.
So we'll assume Valera can fake it for a week or two's worth of spot starts in a big league outfield, the bigger issue is that he can't really hit. His hit tool looked promising in the low minors, but he hasn't really hit at all above Palm Beach other than a BABIP fueled half season in Memphis late last summer. The hit tool still plays, he doesn't strike out much, but with no power to speak of there is nothing to keep pitchers from challenging him, so he doesn't walk very much either.
Over a week or so he probably won't kill you, but there's not any upside there either. He's a band-aid, and a perfectly fine one at that. If the Cardinals deemed him worthy of a 40 man spot you'd assume they had a situation like this in mind, so he may be the path of least resistance. But it's not always safe to assume there is a cohesive plan at the fringes of the 40 man either.
Sierra had a nice bounce back year last season after his disastrous 2015 campaign, and is off to a nice start again this spring. He also made quite an impression with the big league coaching staff during spring training. He's far from a finished product though, and the nice start he is off to is in the Florida State League. Like Valera, he has a good hit tool, also like Valera he doesn't offer any power, so he's also unlikely to be able to work a walk against advanced pitching.
Sierra does offer one advantage over Valera; legitimately good defense. Whereas, Valera wouldn't kill you out in left, Sierra could actually be a positive contributor in center field with his glove. He could probably tack on some additional value on the bases as well, as long as he's not actually trying to steal.
I wouldn't necessarily call Sierra the upside play, he's clearly not ready. But in the right hands he'd be tactically useful as a defensive replacement/pinch runner. Especially on a team that hasn't completely written off the idea of Matt Adams as left fielder. There's probably very little chance this happens, but given the field manager's propensity to reward guys for their play during spring training, it isn't completely outside the realm of possibility. Also, he's the only outfielder besides Pham on the 40 man.
Not On The 40 Man
All of the following players would need to be added to the 40 man roster before they could join the big league roster. Because the team recently removed Anthony Garcia from the 40 man, freeing up the spot they foolishly used on him, it would not require a corresponding move.
Bader, the 100th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has flown through the Cardinals' system, landing in Memphis in just his second professional season last year. Coming into this season his power and his super-aggressive approach had been his calling card. He had 69 XBH, including 30 home runs, in just over 700 at-bats, but with low walk rates and high K rates. It's tough to fault him for the aggressive approach though, as it was leading to a lot of loud contact. So far this season he is putting up a 124 wRC+ in Memphis, but he's also upped the walks and cut out some of the strikeouts. It looks like the tradeoff may have been some of his power though.
One of the knocks on Bader is that he profiles as tweener, not quite enough bat to be an everyday corner player, probably stretched defensively as an every day center fielder. (Given the tweener label and aggressive approach he has drawn some Grichuk comps.) So you'd have to think the organization wants him to play everyday to see exactly what they have there, so it's unlikely the team would burn an option year and call up Bader for a week of spot starts. If, however, Piscotty and Fowler both look like they will be on extended DL stints there is a chance the team calls Bader up and sees what he can do with an everydayish gig. Likely at the expense of Tommy Pham.
As excited as I'd be to see Bader pair with Grichuk to form the Broiest of Bash Bros, I'd rather he keep his option year and that Fowler's convalescence be brief.
Chad is a Quad A corner bat for hire, he's played at 5 different AAA affiliates during his career. This is actually his second stint with Memphis, he played for the Redbirds in 2013 before heading to the Japanese Pacific League's Chiba Lotte Marines for 2 years and doing a stretch in Akron for the Tigers' top affiliate. He's hit at just about all of those stops, he walks a lot, doesn't strike out too terribly much and hits a bunch of doubles.
Coming into this season Zips had him pegged for .7 WAR in 287 PA. Given all of the data we have it's almost certain than he's better than Jose Martinez. He'd probably be a fine 5th outfielder, and is probably a little overqualified to be the Cardinals 7th outfielder/Memphis Shuttle guy. But unfortunately for Huffman he just turned 32 (happy birthday Chad), isn't on the 40 man, and doesn't really offer much upside. If somebody goes down for an extended period of time the team may want to see what they have in Bader, if they just need to plug a hole until Peralta is ready there are easier moves to make. About the only way we see Huffman in a Cardinals uniform is if something happens to one of the people previously mentioned in this article.
So there you go, there are the in-house options to replace the injured big league outfielders, presented in no particular order. Nobody that will set the world on fire, quite a few guys that are below average, but not replacement level bad. In other words the type of guys this organization always seems to have lying around. A long-term injury to either Fowler or Piscotty will have a serious impact on the club, but even with what appeared to be a thin crop of MLB-ready outfielders to start the season the team is fairly well equipped to deal with a short DL stint to two starters.