The Cardinals announced that Harrison Bader has been recalled from AAA Memphis, and Randy Arozarena has been optioned to the same club.
Optioned on July 29th after posting a .195/.309/.339 in 60 starts in CF and 90 total games played in one capacity or another for the Cardinals, Bader has played in 16 games for Memphis. In 75 PA, he crushed the ball with 20 hits, half of which went for extra bases, including 7 HR and 3 doubles. He walked 8 times, struck out 16 times and was hit by 4 pitches, with an overall slash line of .317/.427/.698. Obviously this is a small sample, and the numbers can be skewed heavily by a few random events. For example, take away the 4 times Bader was hit, and his OBP would drop by over 50 points to .373. Still, you couldn’t ask for much more from Bader in a 16-game tuneup. In case anyone was wondering, Bader did spend enough time in Memphis to burn an option year, and he will have 1 option remaining for next season.
After being added to the 40-man roster on August 12th, Arozarena goes back down after getting time in 3 of the possible 7 games that he was available for with 2 starts in CF on August 14th and 15th. He also pinch hit in the August 16th game and stayed in to play RF in the bottom of the 9th. In 8 PA, he had 2 singles and 1 RBI with 0 BB and 2 SO. As excited as fans were to see Arozarena get the call, we didn’t get to see too much of him. But I don’t think anyone is disappointed to see Bader back. This season, teams are still allowed to use their entire 40-man roster in games starting September 1st, and Memphis is not going to the playoffs. Arozarena is certainly a candidate to be recalled when rosters expand, and if he gets recalled by September 7th, he will not have burned an option year, still having the full allotment of 3 options starting next season. The Memphis season ends on September 2nd, and it’s a fair bet that you’ll see him by September 3rd, if not before.
Of course, you all know where this conversation is headed. Now that Bader is back in the majors, will he get a reasonable opportunity to get his CF job back? The available evidence should, at a minimum, give you some serious doubt, if you’re not prepared to flat out say that he won’t. Exhibit A is Lane Thomas, who was recalled on July 29th to take Bader’s place on the 25-man roster. The Cardinals have played 18 games since July 29th, and Thomas has started only 3 of those. To be fair, Shildt did use Thomas in 15 out of the 18 games, but almost all that time has been late-inning work as a defensive replacement as part of a double switch. He pinch ran 4 times and pinch-hit 3 times. Out of his 20 total PA since July 29th, 12 have come in the 3 games he started. That leaves 8 scattered trips to the plate in the other 15 games total. I wouldn’t call that a reasonable opportunity for Thomas to either win the job or showcase his abilities in a significant way. Thomas had to wait 10 games before he got a start, and after he went 2 for 5 on August 11th with a triple, an outfield assist at home plate and a come-from-behind grand slam, he’s only had 2 starts since. Despite Thomas being the best outfield defender of the group, he sat on the bench while Yairo Munoz and Tommy Edman got outfield starts
Speaking of Edman, Exhibit B is that Mike Shildt just said 2 nights ago that Tommy Edman is a regular player, and has “earned the right to play every day.” Shildt was not kidding. Edman first came up on June 8th when Jedd Gyorko went on the injured list. At first, Shildt used him sensibly, playing him at 2B when Wong got the day off, then starting him at 3B when Carpenter took some time off amd then went on the injured list. When Thomas first came up, Matt Carpenter was on his 2nd stint on the injured list, and Edman was still starting at 3B. But when Carpenter was activated from the injured list on August 4th, something strange happened. With Carpenter back in the lineup at 3B, Shildt decided he could not do without Edman’s left-handed bat against right-handed pitching and started Edman in RF that afternoon. From August 4th through last night’s game, Edman has started in RF in 7 out of the 14 games, started 2 games at 3B while we had the designated hitter in Kansas City and started 3 games at 2B with only 2 games on the bench.
Will Bader be treated any differently than Thomas? You might hope so, considering one of the reasons for the Tommy Pham trade was to clear space for Bader to play every day. Bader held the CF job last year and started 60 out of the 105 possible games this year before he was sent down to AAA. But things have changed in a hurry. Shildt really wants a left-handed bat in the outfield. Maybe, based on the fact that Bader has a track record, we’ll see a platoon. Even taking this difficult season into account, Bader has hit lefties for a career slash line of .256/.328/.488 compared to .230/.316/.347 against righties. One of Bader’s issues this season was that his offensive performance against lefties went into the tank. But last season, when Bader was above-average offensively, hitting lefties was his strength, as he slashed .292/.370/.517 against portsiders. If he’s rediscovered his swing in Memphis, maybe Shildt hopes he can expect something like that from Bader going forward.
One thing is for sure, and that is that Shildt does not care about putting the best outfield defense in the game, at least at the beginning of the game. He had every opportunity to leave Fowler in RF and start Thomas in CF, but he waited until Thomas had been up with the big club for 10 days. At first, it was Fowler in CF and Jose Martinez in RF. When O’Neill was scratched from a start, Munoz got the nod in LF. When Carpenter came off of the injured list, Edman began getting the starts in RF. If he would rather play Edman—who has never played the position at any serious level until now—in RF over a legitimate outfield prospect in Thomas, I don’t see what would make him change his mind just because Bader is back. Shildt either cares about defense or he doesn’t, and lately he’s demonstrated that he doesn’t.
It would be best for the club on all counts for Bader to be restored to the CF job as long as he can hit at an average level, or even a little below. But to do that, and to maintain his momentum from his Memphis tuneup, he needs to play every day. It won’t do him any good to sit and wait until we get a left-handed starter or to pinch run every once in a while. If the organization still believes in him, they need to make a commitment. And while Edman is a nice player to have because of his speed and his flexibility in the infield, platooning Bader and Edman would not be in the best interests of the club.
Not only do the Cards need Bader’s defense in center field, but Edman is actually a worse hitter left-handed by a long shot than he is right-handed. Edman was a natural right-handed hitter before he started switch hitting. Take a look at Edman’s minor-league platoon splits:
2016: As lefty .258/.395/.331; As righty .351/.414/.649
2017: As lefty .246/.321/.351; As righty .301/.326/.451
2018: As lefty .291/.344/.389; As righty .331/.385/.438
2019: As lefty .275/.319/.430; As righty .314/.355/.570
The trend has continued with Edman’s time in the major leagues so far. Edman has been significantly worse batting left-handed against right-handed pitching than Thomas has been batting right-handed against right-handed pitching for at least 2 years, but Shildt completely ignored that. If Shildt thought he needed Edman’s left-handed bat in the outfield when Thomas could have been in the running to get regular starts, I don’t see Shildt brushing that feeling to the side now that Bader is back, given Bader’s struggles against right-handed pitching in the past.
Edman has not had a whole lot of chances in the outfield since he has been put out there. Only 3 plays stand out. He dropped a foul pop running in on a ball, he took a poor sideways route on a bloop hit, and yesterday, he ran in and caught a bloop. Everything else has been routine. But our pitching staff won’t twirl shutouts forever. Hopefully, while we still have the division lead, Shildt will recognize the importance of outfield defense and give Bader a better shake than he did Thomas.
President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said this in an interview on last night’s pre-game show about the lineup variations:
“Skipper’s doing a great job trying to find playing time for everybody. Clearly when you’re managing a club like this, you’re trying to go with the hot hand. So far, it’s been working.”
I’ll leave it to you all to decide if it’s been working, or whether “going with the hot hand” is the thing to do. If Bader gets into the lineup tonight, or some time soon, he might want to hit 2 grand slams or he might find himself on the outside looking in.