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How much dead roster weight can the St. Louis Cardinals carry and keep on winning?

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After this week's sweep of the Miami Marlins, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in Major League Baseball and it isn't particularly close. The Cardinals sit at 48-24, their .667 winning percentage head and shoulder above the Royals, who own the second-best winning percentage in baseball at 41-28 (.594 winning percentage). It's astonishing that St. Louis has won two-thirds of its games entering play on June 26 with Adam Wainwright lost for the year after just 25 innings pitched, Matt Adams likely lost for the season, Jordan Walden having missed the vast majority of the year, Matt Holliday out with a torn quad of his own, and Lance Lynn making a trip to the DL. Adding the unlikelihood of the Cardinals' amazing run to open 2015 is the fact that they've won so often while carrying so much dead roster weight. John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny's management of the roster this year has been kind of odd.

Pete Kozma

Entering 2014, I advocated for Kozma to make the St. Louis bench over Daniel Descalso. My thinking was that Kozma was a plus defender at shortstop, which is worth something, and that his defensive prowess at one of the game's hardest fielding positions would translate to second and third as well. I also reckoned that Kozma was likely as good (bad?) a hitter as Descalso, which made Kozma a better bench player because of his vastly superior defense. Kozma is making a run at proving me wrong in 2015. Here are his stats (after last night's three-hit game) and Descalso's for 2015 and their MLB careers.

Kozma vs. Descalso: Career Stats

Career*

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Kozma

637

.222

.285

.299

.584

.076

.256

59

Descalso

1476

.242

.310

.339

.649

.097

.286

78

*Stats through play on June 24, 2015
Kozma vs. Descalso: 2015 Stats

2015*

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Kozma

63

.140

.222

.140

.362

.000

.170

1

Descalso

99

.222

.278

.300

.578

.078

.252

39

*Stats through play on June 25, 2015

This is not a post lamenting the Cardinals' release of Descalso. Rather, it's meant to wonder whether St. Louis should do the same with Kozma, who appears to be so bad at hitting that his fielding, which is legitimately very good, appears to be offset by his offensive ineptitude. In other words, Kozma is shaping up to be just another Descalso type of player. It's no wonder that Matheny refuses to play Kozma. The utility infielder is on pace for about 142 plate appearances in 2015, which would be 42 less than Descalso notched last year filling the same role.

For years, the Cards have opted for homegrown, cost-controlled players on the bench. Kozma is just one of the latest examples. He's horrible and may actually harm the team's attempts at winning. Might 2015 be the season that Mozeliak legitimately upgrades the bench at the trade deadline? It would be nice if Matheny didn't feel compelled to pencil in Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta every single game due to a lack of major-league caliber bench player to spell them.

Greg Garcia

Then again, maybe Greg Garcia is the answer. The Cardinals' promotion of the infielder smacked of an audition to see whether he could fill the utility infielder role to a degree satisfactorily enough that the organization didn't feel compelled to seek an external upgrade at the trade deadline. Garcia has the versatility—he has played every infield positions in the minors and can hold his own at shortstop defensively, though he is not of Kozma's caliber in the field. That's likely why, when faced with choosing between recent call-up Garcia and the familiar face of Koza, Matheny penciled Kozma into the starting lineup on Thursday in Miami. Could Garcia represent an upgrade over Kozma? Perhaps, according to ZiPS.

Preseason ZiPS Projections

Pre

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

Kozma

490

.223

.284

.321

.604

.098

.270

Garcia

479

.232

.312

.327

.639

.107

.290

ZiPS Rest-of-Season Projections: June 25, 2015

Garcia is likely a bit of an upgrade on offense from Kozma, but not enough to offset Kozma's defensive prowess. Thus, it appears that any utility infielder upgrade (which is a strange term to type out, to be sure) will likely have to come from outside the organization. This brings up a question: Does Matheny refuse to play his bench infielders because of their low level of baseball skill or would he play the backup infielder rarely no matter how good he is? If Peter Bourjos is any indication, it seems that Matheny might be unwilling to play a skilled utility infielder more often than he played Descalso or currently plays Kozma.

Xavier Scruggs

When Matt Adams was lost to a torn quad that may cause him to miss the remainder of the season, the Cardinals were forced to move veteran slugger Mark Reynolds from the bench to the starting lineup. It's not that Reynolds was not getting his fair share of playing time (in the outfield, at third base, and at first base) prior to the injury, but moving the strikeout machine into an everyday role weakened the bench. Especially when the Cardinals were going with a four-man bench and an extra reliever.

St. Louis ceased employing an expanded bullpen, at least for the time being, when it promoted Garcia and Xavier Scruggs. As with Garcia, the front office's decision to call Scruggs up appears to be an audition of sorts. Matheny penciled the X-Man into the starting lineup two times this week and the slugging first baseman responded with five hits in his first 12 plate appearances in 2015. Moreover, Scruggs has hit for power in the high minors, having posted a .228 ISO in Double-A and a .217 ISO in Triple-A. The righthanded hitting slugger isn't necessarily a complement to Reynolds at first base but might nonetheless fill in some of the power the bench lost when Reynolds morphed into an everyday player after Adams hit the 60-day DL. ZiPS thinks that is unlikely.

Xavier Scruggs: ZiPS 2015

2015

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

Pre

535

.216

.297

.367

.664

.151

.299

RoS

232

.220

.298

.369

.668

.149

.297

Tony Cruz

Tony Cruz is not a good hitter, even for a catcher. He is also not a particularly skilled defender, even if he does get positive reviews for his game-planning and preparation. When Yadier Molina went down with an injury a year ago, the front office wasted little time importing two free agent catchers, ultimately splitting time behind the dish between A.J. Pierzynski and Cruz.

Despite Cruz's many shortcomings, it was odd to see the Cardinals promote Ed Easley to the 25-man roster. St. Louis carried three catchers. To hear the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasters, one would think Mozeliak and Matheny did so to get Cruz—who hit .238/.302/.394 in Double-A, .258/.311/.393 in Triple-A, and .223/.269/.303 in the majors—more pinch-hitting opportunities. With the Easley experiment now mercifully over, it's safe to say that the Cardinals didn't promote him to get playing time. Easley notched just three plate appearances and logged only four innings in the field during his nearly three weeks with St. Louis.

Easley is gone now, leaving Cruz as the only backup catcher. As we discussed a little while back, Cruz hits for an average about on par with MLB catchers overall and posts an on-base percentage in that same range. It's the complete lack of power that saps his offensive line. Coincidentally enough, a lack of power has dogged the Cardinals as a team for the last year and a half. And it seems unlikely that they will attempt to address this shortcoming at backup catcher. Even if they did acquire a second-string backstop who could provide some pop, it's unlikely that Matheny would use him very often. Molina plays more than any other catcher in the league and the manager is loathe to use his backup to pinch-hit. Cruz appears destined to finish 2015 (if not 2016 and 2017) with the Redbirds. His fate was sealed when the Cards tendered him a contract during the offseason.

#

The Cardinals bench will become better once Matt Holliday returns from the DL. That will push either Randal Grichuk or Jon Jay to the bench, joining Bourjos, and give Matheny another pinch-hitting option. However, neither Garcia nor Scruggs likely represent much of an upgrade to the bench and Cruz is unlikely to be going anywhere. As the trade deadline approaches, the Cardinals could use an upgrade to their bench.

FanDuel

SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive partnership with respect to daily fantasy baseball. Max Scherzer is starting against the Phillies tonight, but that's probably too easy and pricy. I also like Tim Hudson in San Francisco against the Rockies, who have hit .236/.282/.390 on the road this season. You can play FanDuel here.