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Why the Cardinals Need a “Lackey” Right Fielder

With no real hot-stove action or even good rumors to follow, St. Louis Cardinals fans are resigned to speculating about what the club might or might not do this off-season to improve its offense for 2015.

Some of the excitement was tempered by comments made by general manager John Mozeliak from this week’s MLB General Managers Meeting in Arizona. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reported the following.

“For us, I feel we could just play with what we have,” Mozeliak said. “But that puts you in a pretty fragile state if something were to go wrong. That’s something we’re working through now in the market and with different trade possibilities, too. The thing that is tough is addressing that without taking away opportunities for certain players. If we were to go all-in on something it might change the situation (or block) another player.”

With me being a “prospect guy” and all, you might think I would be delighted by that comment. If so, you would be wrong.

Now, I understand why Mozeliak would not want to put all of his cards on the table. Maybe he really is deep in the market for offense, but does not want to appear desperate.

However, at this point, I have to take his comments at face value. As such, I find his stance concerning.

Let’s be specific. The Cardinals need help offensively with right field primarily and first base secondarily standing out as the neediest candidates.

The problems are clear. Right-fielder Randal Grichuk has a history of mashing lefties but flailing against righties while Matt Adams at first continues to struggle against left-handed pitching.

Overexposed in a full-time role in the post-season, Grichuk struck out in one of every three plate appearances and batted .171. Over the long haul of the 2014 regular season, Adams batted just .190 against left-handed pitchers.

At this point, even while squinting, it is tough to see any hitters close to the majors who would be ready and able to step into the void. The late Oscar Taveras offered the best chance, but without him, there are no good immediate options. Stephen Piscotty could use more seasoning. It is difficult to envision Tommy Pham as an every-day player. More likely, his best fit is as a less-expensive fifth/sixth outfielder replacement for arbitration-eligible Shane Robinson.

Which brings us back to the free agent and trade markets.

To have the best chance of winning in 2015, the Cardinals would seem to need to add an external bat, probably a regular right fielder. Even though it would overlap Grichuk, a right-handed hitter may be preferable given so many left-handed hitters in the lineup already.

Yet, at face value, Mozeliak’s comments seem to indicate a greater concern about protecting the future than necessarily putting the best possible team on the field for Opening Day next season.

This does not have to be an “either-or” proposition, in my view.

I do not think the team should commit tens of millions of dollars over many years in a bad contract for an aging veteran near the end of the line, but I think there are deals that could be made for a productive major league hitter. The club has pitching to potentially trade or could ante up for a free agent.

What may appear to be Mozeliak’s “worst” case, in reality is one which I do not think is so bad at all.

For immediate help in 2015, let’s say the Cardinals have to acquire a right fielder (via trade or free agency) with a three-year contract. In 12 months from now, that outfielder is deemed redundant because Grichuk or Piscotty or Mr. X has demonstrated he can handle right field offensively and defensively.

Then trade this 2015 acquisition to another club next winter. As long as the contract is not stupid and the outfielder is still productive, there will be takers for a two-year commitment for a known hitter. One thing that is clear in this market is that offense is in demand. It is almost assuredly going to be the case next winter, too.

Mozeliak needs to act with at least some urgency.

While the expectation is that the Cardinals will compete each and every year indefinitely, the competition in the division is getting tougher. The club has a very stratified roster with a number of older players, many younger players, but few in the middle.

The three that I consider to be veteran core of the team – Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday – will be 33, 32 and 35 years of age, respectively, next season. All three are showing signs of wear.

There is no reason the Cardinals should not figure out a way to improve the offense this winter and give this core – along with the other 22 players – their best shot at another ring in 2015.

In doing so, put the potential problem of blocking hitting prospects on the back burner for another year.

After all, as we saw in 2014, these perceived jams tend to work themselves out.

A Cardinals club rich in starting pitching ended up feeling the need to acquire two veteran starters at the trade deadline. One, John Lackey, had special appeal as a proven October performer. He remains in the 2015 rotation, despite his continued presence likely blocking very promising youngsters such as Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez.

Now, the Cardinals need a “John Lackey” right fielder.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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15 Responses to “Why the Cardinals Need a “Lackey” Right Fielder”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Well I am just guessing here, but maybe Mo knows that he has to work around Matheny’s man-crush on Grichuk and suspects whoever he gets could have a problem getting playing time. Allen Craig couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag for 3 1/2 months and there was no end in sight until Mozeliak traded him. Why should anyone believe the same thing wouldn’t happen with Grichuk? Matheny is like a dog with a bone about his favorite players.

    Or maybe there just isn’t anything out there that he thinks is worth the money or prospects to obtain. It’s not like good hitting RFers who aren’t defensive liabilities grow on trees.

  2. Bw52 says:

    Justin Heyward of Atlanta is the name I have heard being mentioned in trade rumors.Also read Braves need pitching.Would Carlos Martinez ,Randy Choate,Tony Cruz for Heyward? Heyward will be a FA after 2015 but he doesn`t turn 25 ubtil next August so MO could work out a deal .Heyward is als o only making a little under 8 million in 2015.LH hitter and good defense.Martinez hels Braves either as SP or RP,Choate helps Bullpen,Cruz helps backup rookie C Bethacourt for Braves.

  3. Bw52 says:

    Heyward averages 17 HRs 59 RBI .262 BA .360 OBP and very good defense.He has had some injuries and missed some time but at 24 he should be heading into his prime.

  4. Bw52 says:

    Cards have the parts to sweeten the trade package for Heyward.Braves really need pitching so Cards could add somebody like Petrick or Freeman or both with Martinez..Braves pitching staff has been hit hard with injuries, Medlen.Venters,Beachy all had injury issues.Harang a FA .SO Braves are looking for arms,.

  5. crdswmn says:

    Heyward is the only RFer who has been bandied about that I would want the Cardinals to go after. He’s young, he has power, and he is above average defensively. Platooning him with Grichuk would be perfect.

    The rest of the names put forth are all guys who are either injury risks, too old, or who suck defensively. No thanks.

  6. Brian Walton says:

    On Friday, Nov. 14, Bernie Miklasz also wrote about his concern with the Mozeliak blockage remark, but comes at it from the angle that he wonders if the GM is over-valuing his outfield prospects.

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