The reality is that while the $31 million deal is good for Craig and good for the Cardinals, it has no impact on Adams’ constricted major league opportunity at all.
Even before the new contract, Craig was under team control for four more seasons, through 2016. While the deal bought cost certainty for the team and financial security for Craig, he wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, either way.
Yes, Craig is blocking Adams from everyday duty at the latter’s only defensive position, first base. The reality is that Craig was blocking Adams last week and he still is blocking him today. The contract changes absolutely nothing in that regard.
In spring 2013, Adams first has to make the team. He is doing all he can to impress with the bat in Florida, but needs help from others. With St. Louis, he could look for pinch-hitting at-bats, stray starts when Craig rests or fills in for one of the corner outfielders and perhaps snag some designated hitter duty during expanded interleague play in 2013.
An extended injury to one of the corner outfield starters would create a need that could facilitate a temporary return of Craig to the outfield, but remember that Oscar Taveras is also waiting for his opening. The longer the season goes on, the odds that it would be Taveras, not Adams, getting the call may increase. Given the current configuration of the roster, Craig going down is the only scenario in which Adams would seem to have a clear route to regular playing time with St. Louis. Of course, that is not something anyone would hope for.
In 2014 and beyond? Who knows? Perhaps Adams could be traded as part of a deal to improve the team in other areas. His continued solid play in 2013 will be important in helping to re-establish his full market value. A season-ending wrist injury last summer led to his drop on national top prospect lists and likely in the view of other general managers.
There is a lower-odds future opportunity with St. Louis, as well. When Carlos Beltran’s deal ends after this season, there is a chance Craig could be returned to semi-regular duty in right field. That would potentially clear a job for Adams, but due to the expected arrival of Taveras, it would be at the expense of incumbent leadoff man and centerfielder Jon Jay. That tradeoff may not be palatable.
Even that would seemingly not be possible unless Taveras demonstrates he can handle center on a regular basis, far from a certainty. Instead, if Taveras seizes the right-field job in 2014 and beyond as seems more likely, the block of Adams could become a check-mate play.
A further expansion of interleague action and/or quick adoption of the designated hitter in the National League could be made-to-order for Adams. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the latter, though. Given MLB’s DH “experiment” is now heading into its 41st year, the likelihood of that change occurring in the NL quickly enough to help Adams’ Cardinals chances appears slim.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig reaffirmed his satisfaction with the current DH implementation during the most recent all-star break.
“I like the DH rule,” Selig explained. “On the other hand, I’ve watched many National League games and I like that. I’ve often said, and I’ll say it again, it’ll take some cataclysmic event to maybe clean that up one way or another. What am I talking about? Geographical realignment, which really is not in the cards right now. Looking at all of the popularity and attendance figures, I guess our fans seem to like it the way it is and that’s very important to me. I don’t think the difference in rules has really hurt us at all. And it’s been 40 years now, so the grand old game is doing pretty well.”
In summary, Adams’ future with St. Louis remains murky, but no more so than it already was before Craig’s new deal was announced.