A little over two weeks ago, fourstick penned a terrific piece on why the Cardinals should not call up Oscar Taveras just yet. Last week, Craig followed up with a piece detailing why Randal Grichuk is a better fit given the current roster. Well, given the updated state of affairs, I decided it was the perfect time to jump into the Taveras discussion. I must start this post with a quick disclaimer, though. I realize that major league service time may be playing a role in this situation, but for just this post, let's do our best to ignore it.
The Cardinals are 16-16 and just barely avoided being swept by the Chicago Cubs, the third worst team in the majors at 11-18. Twenty percent of the season is now complete, and we are slowly inching away from small sample size territory. The team is 26th in runs scored (115), 19th in batting average (.247), 19th in on-base percentage (.313), and 24th in slugging percentage (.367). For a team that some projected to have more than 95 wins this season, that's just not very good.
Matt Adams is hitting for a high average (.339), but his home run bat has been rather quiet (2). Yadier Molina's on-base percentage (.361) is a welcome addition to the two-hole (Molina had SSS success on that 12 hopper up the middle, so I'm assuming Matheny will put him there again), but is he the best organizational option for that spot in the lineup? Both Jhonny Peralta and Allen Craig appear to be heating up, but how high can they go after starting so low? The pitching staff has the third best FIP in the majors at 3.34. Though I'd like to believe it will stay there all season, this is no guarantee (especially given pitcher fragility). Thus, it would be nice to field the organization's most potent lineup while the pitching is performing at this rate.
But, what about playing time? Taveras needs playing time, right? Let me put this out there first: I think Taveras' bat is big league ready, and because of that, I don't think a few off days will necessarily stunt his growth or hurt his ceiling as a professional. I briefly discussed the playing time "issue" with Craig on Twitter before he went to the game last night (thanks for getting us that win, sir), and he had some good ideas (as usual). He decided that in a two-week period (an average of 12 games), the Cardinals would want roughly nine starts for Taveras to make promoting him worthwhile. In my opinion, this is very doable, and I'm about to explain why.
Right now, the most "open" spot is center field. Peter Bourjos has done something to get on Matheny's bad side (his K% might be reason #1), and Jon Jay has been steady, but unspectacular. Is Taveras a particularly good defensive center fielder? He won't be a Fielding Bible Award winner, but it is also highly unlikely he can be any worse than Jay out there. Does his body and bat project as a center fielder long term? Nope, but the 2014 season isn't the long term. What about his "gimpy" ankles? Coming off a 16-game hitting streak, he played numerous games in a row, so hopefully that's a good sign that he has put his ankle injuries behind him. But, can his ankles hold up in spacious center field? Who knows, but one thing I do know is that he won't need to start every single day in center. Give him two, sometimes three, starts a week in center field (over 40% of his minor league starts have come in center).
What about Grichuk? Since being called up, he has received three starts in the outfield (two in center), and he has done as well as the organization could have asked for, both in the field and at the plate. However, his persistent struggles with breaking balls have not disappeared since his call-up and if you watch one of his plate appearances, this is quite apparent. Opposing teams are still in the process of building their books on Grichuk, so one would assume this would only increase as his playing time increases. As stlcardsfan4 noted on Twitter, "If Grichuk is inexplicably going to get a bunch of starts, it might as well be Oscar." I like Grichuk. I really do, but he's no Taveras. If he were anything close to Taveras, there's no way he would have been "the other guy" in the David Freese deal.
So, that's four to six starts every two weeks in center field. This means he needs three to five more starts to make this move worthwhile, so where will they come from? At thirty-four years old, Matt Holliday can afford one day off per week. Though an off-day may not be necessary given the fact that he is an absolute specimen, it certainly wouldn't be a bad long-term option for him. I don't know about you, but every single time Allen Craig chases down a ball in the corner, I'm afraid he's going to pull up limping. Thus, it wouldn't necessarily hurt (no pun intended) to give him one day off from outfield duties per week as well. Finally, I think it's reasonable to include Adams in the playing time discussion as well. He's mashing righties at a .385 clip, but he has mustered only a .136 average against lefties. According to Minor League Central, Taveras is a career .307 hitter against lefties in the minors, so he could take over right field duties while Craig fills at first.
Given the scenarios I have provided, Taveras will receive on a weekly basis: two to three starts in center, one start in left, and one to two starts in right. At minimum, he will receive eight starts every two weeks. At maximum, he will receive twelve starts every two weeks. In reality, it will probably be somewhere in the middle, and that's perfectly fine. If he mashes at the big league level like most scouts say he will, he will play himself into a regular starting spot, and the Cardinals will be much better off because of it.
My lineup given this move and another one that hopefully occurs as soon as he's eligible:
- Carpenter (3B)
- Taveras (CF)
- Holliday (LF)
- Adams (1B)
- Molina (C)
- Craig (RF)
- Peralta (SS)
- Wong (2B)
I like what Grichuk brings to the table, but I like what Taveras brings that much more. I look forward to discussing this matter.