Who are the Cardinals best three outfielders right now?
We can probably all agree on Marcell Ozuna. But beyond that, if we surveyed 100 fans, I’m guessing we would see votes for Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas and Randy Arozarena. Dylan Carlson probably even gets a few write-ins.
All of these guys float somewhere in the gooey protoplasm between Replacement Level and League Average. In other words, they’re all too good for the minors but maybe not quite good enough to be the guy you pencil in every day. We can dream on these guys, and there’s reason to pick most any of them as YOUR GUY. Whether it’s Bader’s If-He-Could-Only-Hit-a-Little Bit defense, O’Neill and Thomas’ loud but unproven tools, or Arozarena’s eye-popping minor league numbers this season.
There’s reason to believe that any of these guys could be The Answer in the outfield - we just don’t know which one. The problem is: The Cardinals Organization doesn’t know either.
I watch this franchise closely and write a weekly post where I pretend to know stuff, but deep down I expect the organization to know more than we do. And for the better part of two decades, they absolutely have. Just look at this comment from some idiot on the occasion of the Matt Holliday / Brett Wallace trade:
Whether it’s Brett Wallace or Charlie Tilson or pick about a million other guys, this front office had an unbelievable track record of knowing who projected to be a valuable piece and who didn’t, and making moves accordingly.
That trend has reversed hard in the last two years, and especially with the moves they made in 2018. It seems like those high profile misses has frozen the organization, because they are now hoarding outfielders like someone on the show Hoarders, who hoards things.
Consider this example of just how much organizational inertia there is around this glut of outfielders: When the Cardinals were reportedly offered Zach Wheeler for a trade package that would have been headlined by either Bader or O’Neill, they balked. Bader’s start last night was the first time either of those players has even been on the field since the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Wheeler has a 2.88 ERA in 4 starts since the deadline, and a “good start” for the Cardinals 5th starter means he went 4 innings.
Every time I mention that hypothetical trade, the Bader and O’Neill Stans come out in the comments. And I get it - Bader or O’Neill might be Your Guy. But the Cardinals need to figure out who their Guy is... and it can’t be all seven of these players. The ones who aren’t in their long-term plans? Those are the guys you trade for a Zach Wheeler to help you win a playoff spot you are hanging onto by a thread.
So the front office seems frozen about what to do with this glut of outfielders, but the manager is making things even worse. Mike Shildt has developed this kink - and I’m sure you’ve noticed this - where he can only really enjoy a baseball game if there’s an infielder playing in the outfield.
Yairo Munoz and Tommy Edman combined have appeared in [screams into the void] 37 games in the outfield this season. There’s nothing wrong with using a utility infielder to plug the occasional hole in the outfield, or to soak up some time late in extra innings, but Munoz has started 9 times and Edman has been the primary right fielder over the last couple weeks.
Shildt publicly announced on Sunday that “Tommy Edman’s more than earned his opportunity to play everyday... Right now, he’s getting an opportunity in right field.”
On this week’s Mondays With Mo episode of Scoops with Danny Mac, John Mozeliak pushed back on the manager’s idea that the outfield is where Tommy Edman will get into the lineup.
“I think outfield is going to be more challenging, just given the production we are seeing out of that group,” Mozeliak said.
Following Mo’s Monday comments, Mike Shildt again put Tommy Edman into the lineup as his starting right fielder. Then last night, Edman moved to 3rd. Whether that was just to give Carpenter a night off against a lefty or indicative of a change going forward, we’ll have to see.
This whole mini-drama is reminiscent of the Mo/Matheny battles over getting playing time for guys like Kolten Wong or Oscar Taveras. But those battles were more clear-cut: The front office wanted to see a young prospect get playing time. Matheny wanted to play an old guy who wasn’t good at baseball anymore.
Here, it seems like the front office has no inkling as to which of these outfielders should be getting the playing time, and the manager’s solution to too many outfielders is to play infielders out there.
The Cardinals need to hire some kind of outside consultant to help them sort out their outfielder surplus. I’m picturing some former colleagues of Jeff Luhnow... the kind of guys who organize hostile takeovers of retail giants and/or topple democratically elected governments in 3rd world countries. You know the guys I mean - just the absolute worst people on earth... but also the kind that can crunch the numbers and tell you if Lane Thomas is better than Harrison Bader. That’s what the Cardinals need.
You probably think ol’ Ben’s just making a joke here, but it’s worth noting the Houston Astros actually did this.
You might also be thinking there is nothing wrong with depth, and that’s true... to a point. But when you’ve got Randy Arozarena in AAA, and Lane Thomas getting five PAs a week, and you won’t even trade guys who aren’t playing for clear upgrades, you are not maximizing the value from that depth.
The best thing would be for the Cardinals to sort this out themselves, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. So I say it’s time to do what modern teams and modern businesses do: Bring in an amoral Ivy League wonk to solve the problem for you.