This past season saw a lot of flux in the outfield. Eight different Cardinals saw time at the three outfield positions, six of which played in right.
On the free agent market this winter, are lots of intriguing options for the Cards to take a glance at. From Bryce Harper to player-option-wielding-former-Cardinal Jason Heyward, there’s no shortage of quality players that could be hitting the market.
For the first part in this series, let’s take a look at the internal options looking to be the man in right for the Cards in 2019 on Opening Night, March 28th in Milwaukee.
To say that Dexter Fowler’s first couple seasons in St. Louis have been a disappointment, would be an understatement. Fowler has three years and just short of $50 million left on the contract he signed in December 2016.
Fowler only played in ninety games in 2018 due to his foot injury, but even before that, Fowler was struggling a bit from the plate. A career-low .180 batting average combined with a career-low .969 fielding percentage led to probably the worst season of his career.
Still though, Fowler appears to be the leading candidate to be the starting right fielder based on an interview that Cardinals President of Baseball Ops John Mozeliak did on KMOX in September.
The hope now with Cardinals fans and management alike, has to be that last season was just a blip in the radar and Fowler can get back to where he was at in his 2016 and 2017 seasons and justify the massive contract he currently has.
Tyler split his time fairly evenly between St. Louis and Memphis as he filled in for the various injuries and roster moves made by the Cards this past season. The big difference statistically for O’Neill is in the number of plate appearances. Tyler had almost double the number of plate appearances in only 3 more games for Memphis. His role with the Redbirds was a bit different than with the Cardinals. Tyler started only 27 of the 61 games he appeared in for the Cardinals, whereas he started 60 of the 64 he played with Memphis for a difference in innings played of 489.2 to 272.2 Triple A to MLB.
O’Neill led the Redbirds with 26 home runs in those 64 games, while also leading Memphis in OPS at an impressive 1.078 and fourth in total bases and runs scored. In St. Louis his numbers were down a bit from that. Tyler had an OPS and OPS+ of .803 and 115 respectively. That 115 would have been good enough to put him behind only Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez had O’Neill averaged enough plate appearances to qualify.
In the field, O’Neill had the lowest percentage of all Cardinals that played in right this season. His .966 fielding percentage was good enough (or bad enough) to put him 168th in all of baseball among right fielders. Surprisingly enough, his fielding percentage in Triple A was even worse at .943 which if you don’t know, is really terrible. However, fielding can be overlooked as long as you produce from the plate, which Tyler could if given the chance.
If O’Neill could get more run with the team, he could be the long-term option in right field that the Cardinals need, but that’s a big if. Dexter Fowler isn’t the only road block to that happening, however.
Martinez continued the breakout performance from 2017, and was just behind or just ahead of Matt Carpenter in most normal offensive categories. The trick to this past season was finding a way to balance both players being on the field, and Martinez ended up spending about 65% of his season at first base and the rest in right.
By now, Martinez’s offensive numbers won’t shock you. The fun thing to see is how he stacked up against other right fielders in baseball. In wRC+ Jose was 7th with 125, better than George Springer, Matt Kemp, Gregory Polanco, and free-agent-to-be Nick Markakis. That’s a theme you see as you go through the rest of the advanced stats. Martinez finished right around 7th or a bit lower in a lot of these stats. The players ahead of him in most cases: Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Bryce Harper, Mitch Hanigar, Brandon Nimmo, and Nicholas Castellanos.
Defensively, you can’t really ask for much more from Jose. Of right fielders with a minimum of 300 innings played, Jose is one of 9 players with a perfect fielding percentage. In full disclosure, 300 innings isn’t really a lot considering that most every day starters are over 1,000 innings played. Jose’s fielding percentage at first is in the same situation, however he’s much lower on that list. Of MLB first baseman that played 650 or more innings, Jose is 23rd at .989, which is dead last.
Martinez has proven that he deserves to be in the lineup with his two full seasons of productivity. If Fowler struggles early on, Martinez could find himself spending a lot of time in right next season. That is, as long as the Cardinals don’t add any of the free agents available this winter. Jose could still find himself in a similar situation to last, splitting time with Carpenter at first, but having Matt try to play third should be a last resort used only if the Cardinals add a star in right or if Fowler has some success.
Up Next in Part Two: The first free agent profile, Bryce Harper.
All video courtesy of MLB.com.
Audio clip courtesy of Sports on a Sunday Morning on KMOX.