Pity the poor Houston Astros: All they've gotten out of their move to the American League is the chance to move one of two hitters in their lineup with an OPS+ over 100 off the field, so that they can get more at-bats out of Carlos Pena (.219/.327/.376) and J.D. Martinez (.250/.275/.413.)
The DH will always be a purist's nightmare, but in that way, at least, it rewards one of the broadcaster-virtues: Teams with good depth get more out of having four extra plate appearances to work with in a game. The Astros don't have three good outfielders, or one good first baseman; they basically just get to trade replacement-level-pitcher for replacement-level-outfielder.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, get to—well, technically they get to make sure Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday don't stand up too often, but practically they get to drop Matt Adams into the DH spot. Since he's made all of six starts so far this month, a few interleague series will go a long way for a guy who, traded to the Astros, would immediately climb the team-store shersey best-seller lists.
The Cardinals' season to date has been all about reminding us A) how important depth is and B) how much of an illusion "having too much depth" usually is, but now that we've reached the DH portion of the Cardinals' season we're going to have an updated version of this offseason conversation: Does Matt Adams fit on these Cardinals in the medium term?
Here's what's changed since the last time we had it:
Carlos Beltran is still great
Nearly every skill that made Carlos Beltran inimitably great is gone. He's stolen one base in two attempts this year, and he looks smooth and graceful over much smaller areas of the outfield than he used to. Only his delightfully earnest Twitter account remains:
Today is the beginning of a new journey, where we face good moments and not so good,ups and downs but more importantly baseball is here!— Carlos Beltran (@carlosbeltran15) April 1, 2013
Well, that and the power. The Cardinals gave Carlos Beltran a modified, expensive make-good contract, and provided he stays healthy over the last half of the season he will have made good on it. And despite the Cardinals' obvious-seeming succession plans in the outfield, talk of Beltran returning in 2014 Beltran's future in St. Louis has graduated from foregone conclusion to storyline.
Really, we should have seen this coming; is there anything St. Louis loves more than delightfully earnest veterans undergoing career renaissances in a Cardinals uniform? When Oscar Taveras didn't immediately tear up AAA Memphis—perhaps as importantly, when Jon Jay didn't immediately put up another 112 OPS+ on his Baseball-Reference page—Carlos Beltran loped gracefully back into the conversation.
I still don't see how the Cardinals resign him; as fleeting as depth can be, I'm not sure this is the place the Cardinals need to pay full price for more of it. But the universe is going to make us have this conversation explicitly.
He's no longer blocked by Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter has graduated the overqualified-bench-bat program ahead of Adams, which leaves him atop the Cardinals' pile of aging mid-grade hitting prospects.
Behind him there's a gap—Memphis is mostly split between genuine top prospects like Taveras and Kolten Wong and AAA mercenaries—but it's not a big one. In Springfield, the Cardinals have gotten a big year from 25-year-old George Sisler impersonator Mike O'Neill (.322/.433/.397, 49 BB to 17 K) and a weird one from James Ramsey (.255/.359/.428?) Stephen Piscotty was recently promoted, too.
"Polished bats with tweener concerns" is a very broad class of player, which is probably a big reason why it seems like the Cardinals always have a lot of them. But it's worth wondering who we'll have this conversation about next—"They should trade Matt Adams! Stephen Piscotty is basically ready!"
Jon Jay is struggling
We don't have to wonder, anymore, what it would look like if Jon Jay's unnervingly high BAbip vanished. It looks like this. It's not great.
And Jon Jay not being great, or even very good, is part of one improbable scenario in which Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras, and Matt Adams can coexist. If Taveras can play center field, and the Cardinals are willing to deal with the three-pronged defensive downgrade that would come from trading Jay for Taveras, Craig for Adams, and Taveras or Beltran for Craig, everybody wins.
But that scenario is, itself, an argument for blocking Matt Adams as long as possible. Jon Jay is just now coming to his first year of arbitration eligibility; what makes their depth so valuable, and so difficult for Adams to wade all the way through, is that most of it is as young and flexible as he is.