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Will the St. Louis Cardinals sign a righthanded-hitting complement for first baseman Matt Adams?

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Adding a righthanded hitter to the bench to complement Matt Adams seems at odds with general manager John Mozeliak's declaration that the Cardinals view the first baseman as a 600-plate-appearance player.

Ezra Shaw

Glorious NLDS-winning homers notwithstanding, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams struggled in 2014 against lefthanded pitching. The 25-year-old's poor numbers against southpaws continued a trend that started in 2012 during his major-league debut. Adams has smashed big-league righties while hitting horribly versus their Ned Flanders-like counterparts.

MLB (2014)

Split

PA

HR

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

vs. LHP

130

3

4.6

27.7

.190

.231

.298

.528

.107

.236

47

Total

563

15

5.9

20.9

.288

.321

.457

.779

.169

.337

116

vs. RHP

433

12

4.6

18.0

.318

.349

.505

.854

.187

.367

137

MLB (2012-14)

Split

PA

HR

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

vs. LHP

203

6

3.4

30.0

.197

.227

.326

.553

.130

.243

51

Total

973

34

5.5

22.4

.283

.323

.465

.788

.183

.342

119

vs. RHP

770

28

6.1

20.4

.306

.348

.503

.851

.197

.368

137

*Stats from Fangraphs

The yawning gap between Adams's numbers against righties and lefties, along with the Cardinals' punchless bench over the last couple of seasons, makes it easy to pinpoint an offseason shopping priority: a righthanded-hitting first baseman to complement Adams.

Of course the Redbirds signed Ty Wigginton during the 2012-13 Hot Stove, apparently because they thought that he would fill the role of veteran righthanded bench bat. Making that signing all the more puzzling was that the contract was two years in length. To his credit, general manager John Mozeliak cut bait on the WIG experiment midseason and paid Wigginton not to play for St. Louis during the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014. Wigginton's salary came off the books with the end of the 2014 championship season.

Another candidate for righthanded first-base complement was Allen Craig. In fact, it's easy to imagine a scenario in which Craig started every game against a lefthanded starter in 2014 with Adams on the bench and one of Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, or Oscar Taveras in the outfield. That is, if Craig had not seen his performance fall of the proverbially cliff. Craig's batting and manager Mike Matheny's steadfast loyalty became so bad that Mozeliak traded the one-time slugger to Boston midseason.

Another factor in the 2015 roster composition is the tragic death of outfielder Oscar Taveras.

This is all to say that having a plan doesn't mean it will come together. Mozeliak and company seemingly thought they had the righthanded bench bat figured out entering 2013 as well as 2014. Yet here we are, once again looking at the rather unsatisfying crop of rigthandehitting corner men, in search of that elusive Eduardo Perez type.

In theory, it's the type of arrangement that will work brilliantly. Adams can sit against tough lefthanded starters, if not all lefthanded starters. But in Matheny's apparent quest to avoid "paralysis by analysis," he has shown himself to be the anti-Tony La Russa. Matheny has by and large eschewed larger platoon-splits in favor of head-to-head performance over a handful of at-bats. There's little reason to believe that Matheny is willing or able to execute such a platoon. Further complicating matters are the contours of Adams's struggles against portsiders. He hits badly against lefthanded starters, yes, but his numbers are downright ghastly in his limited opportunities against lefty relievers: Adams is 1-for-35 against southpaw relievers with 17 strikeouts in his career.

So there's a potential late-inning substitution element to this as well. And if three straight Octobers have taught us anything it's that Matheny performs like a deer in the headlights in such situations. It's no wonder that, per David Wilhelm of the Belleville News-Democrat, Mozeliak touted Adams as a 600-PA player moving forward during he and Matheny's postmortem press conference.

"I think we envision him, potentially, as a 600-plate-appearance player," Mozeliak said. "Unless we go out and augment a right-handed bat onto the team, where else would we go at first base at this point? Would we do that? I’m not saying that’s first on our priority list, but it’s something we’ll definitely explore if we think we can find something.

But there's also the reality that Adams is entering his age-26 season and has less than two seasons' worth of major-league PAs under his belt. This is a player still developing, not yet a fully formed talent. And his splits in the high-minors offer some reason for optimism regarding his ability to hit lefthanders.

Double-A and Triple-A (2011-12)

Split

PA

HR

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

vs. LHP

245

12

9.0

21.6

.293

.355

.518

.873

.225

.386

-

Total

816

50

6.7

18.8

.307

.354

.576

.930

.269

.404

-

vs. RHP

571

38

5.8

17.5

.314

.354

.601

.955

.287

.413

-

*Stats via Minor League Central.

**wOBA was calculated using the back-of-the-napkin method: ((1.8*OBP)+SLG)/3.

There is an undeniable gap between the lefties Adams has faced as a major-leaguer compared to those he batted against in the Texas League and Pacific Coast League. On top of that, there is a difference in specialized usage at the MLB level and the minors, where there is greater emphasis placed on development—it's rare to see a manager use two or three relievers in a minor-league inning unless the pitchers are getting knocked around the yard. Nonetheless, Adams has enjoyed success against lefties in the past. He may yet develop into a hitter that can perform cromulently against southpaws at the big-league level. And he may have to. As Mozeliak noted at the press conference:

"Every team in baseball is looking for offense. So if we’re chasing something in a limited role, we’re probably not going to be the place people would most want to end up."

The offseason shopping may be complicated by the limited opportunity the Cards would offer any free-agent, righthanded first-base type, which means that Xavier Scruggs is the spring-training option for righthanded first-base complement.