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Grichuk vs. Pham vs. Kelly for Cardinals Final Bench Spot

This past weekend, there was a spirited discussion here at The Cardinal Nation blog regarding the possible construction of the St. Louis Cardinals bench exiting spring training. With three weeks to go, some are already calling out favorites, myself included.

Putting aside the reserve catcher, Tony Cruz, four position player spots remain. Certainties are first baseman-third baseman Mark Reynolds and centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Almost sure, in my view, is shortstop Pete Kozma, reinforced by challenger Dean Anna‘s .083 batting average.

As I see it, there are three primary candidates for the final spot. Of note is that they specialize at different positions. They are second baseman Ty Kelly and outfielders Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham.

An interesting twist is that all of the infielders mentioned in this article have also seen time in the outfield this spring. If that experiment is proven to be successful, it could give the Cardinals the confidence to go with Kelly and send both true outfielders – Grichuk and Pham – to Triple-A Memphis.

In other words, will the Cardinals run with a more traditional bench of two reserve outfielders (Bourjos and Pham/Grichuk) and two infielders (Reynolds and Kozma) or one outfielder (Bourjos) and three infielders (Reynolds, Kozma and Kelly)? In the latter scenario, Kozma, Kelly and Reynolds could jointly serve as the fifth outfielder along with their primary jobs.

Not that I have a vote, but personally, I am less excited about infielders playing in the outfield, other than on an exception basis.

If I was Kelly, I would be pulling for Bourjos to get hot at the plate. The inherent defensive risk in the four-real outfielder scenario would be lessened if Bourjos demonstrates he is ready for semi-regular playing time. The difference between Bourjos defensively and any one of the natural infielders playing out there is huge and very important.

A productive Bourjos would free Jay to cover the corners as the top reserve for both left and right fields and the Kozma/Kelly/Reynolds outfield tandem would rarely be needed, other than late in games potentially.

All that said, my roster preference remains the traditional two and two. Beyond better defense by having fielders at their best positions, I believe that either Pham or Grichuk is going to hit better than Kelly over the long haul. Kelly does, however, have a built-in advantage as a switch-hitter on a righty-heavy bench backing up a very lefty-heavy starting eight. I evaluated that aspect in considerable detail recently at The Cardinal Nation, illustrating that in the totality of the roster, there would still be a typical left-right balance in any case.

As an aside, for those who worry about the Cardinals having just one reserve shortstop in Kozma, it is not unusual. In fact, this proposed roster construction is less restrictive defensively than the one the team opened with just two years ago.

To start the 2013 season, the five-man bench was Cruz (catcher), Ty Wigginton (corner infield and outfield), Matt Adams (first base only), Shane Robinson (outfield) and Ryan Jackson (middle infield). The latter, a natural shortstop like Kozma, was the only middle infield reserve. On that club, starting first baseman Allen Craig could also play in the outfield, offering some flexibility.

Back to the present, at this point, I would single out Grichuk as my favorite for this final roster spot due to his power. It remains to be seen if Pham can re-establish his pre-injury momentum when cleared to return to action. Soon Jay will also be back, with getting his at-bats to prepare for the regular season becoming a priority over playing reserve candidates.

Even if Kelly does make the initial roster, my prediction is that within four to six weeks, the Cards will be back to the traditional two infielders and two outfielders on the bench.

No matter how it ends up, it should continue to be entertaining to watch this play out between now and opening night.

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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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45 Responses to “Grichuk vs. Pham vs. Kelly for Cardinals Final Bench Spot”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Since our last conversation on this subject, I have perused the internet for opinions on this subject, and as I suspected, the vast majority of fans do not want Kozma to make the roster, but be placed on waivers. Most of them think he will not be claimed, and if he is, that is fine with them. The consensus is they would rather see Dean Anna get the reserve SS spot. The opinions are mixed as to the Grichuk/Pham choice, with a small number wanting Bourjos to be traded and put them both on.

    That’s a fairly typical casual fan reaction, although there are non-casual fans who are anti-Kozma as well. Reading the tea leaves, as you say, the choice seems to be Kozma and Grichuk as the favorites. While I would like to see Grichuk go to AAA for his development (and to prevent the likely over use of him by Matheny), it doesn’t seem at all likely that that will be the case. I am on board with the Kozma as reserve SS, unlike most fans, as I see his defensive value being the deciding factor. Again, unlike most fans, I believe Kozma would be claimed off waivers, leaving the team with poor choices as reserve in case of Peralta injury.

    In any event, we will know in a few weeks who makes the cut and who doesn’t. I expect there to be wailing and gnashing of teeth when it happens.

    • Brian Walton says:

      You and I run in different crowds. 😉 Fortunately, the Cards do not crowd-source roster decisions.

      Anna has shown me little so far this spring. In my opinion, his primary hope would be an injury to Kozma (or Peralta). I am certainly not counting Kelly out. He seems to have a legitimate chance to make the team. I am surprised more of those fans who you are reading about do not prefer him on the roster (or maybe they do).

      People have dug their trenches long ago regarding their opinion of Kozma, many of which were established when he was the starter. No matter what happens the next three weeks, those opinions will not change, despite the matter on the table being a reserve spot.

      Given how set the overall roster is (barring injury), I consider the fact that the major debate is over the 25th player (or maybe 24th and 25th in some people’s minds) to be a positive indicator overall.

      • crdswmn says:

        The fact that Kelly can’t play SS may be the reason the choice is Anna. There are some who want both Kelly and Anna to make the roster, but there are very few of them (in fact I can only recall one at the moment). I imagine there are those who think Kelly can just play SS anyway (those like our poster over at the message board who think defense doesn’t matter and you can just put any warm body in any position).

        I don’t think it is that we run in a different crowd so much as it is that I make more forays into the other crowd than you do. 😉 And yes, it is fortunate that the Cards do not crowd source roster decisions, as such a practice would surely cause the Cards to be the worst team in baseball.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Sounds to me more like they are so anti-Kozma, they are looking for any other answer, whether logical or not.

          To be sure I am being clear to others reading this, your focus in the discussion here has been more on the back up shortstop, a decision I feel is already set. My focus was on a different roster spot – the Kelly-Grichuk-Pham one.

          P.S. I generally focus my writing on what I think the Cardinals will do, rather than my opinions. In this case, I sort of mixed them. Perhaps the Cards want Kelly to step up and take a spot and allow Grichuk more time in Memphis. Seeing all the IFs in the OF suggests that could be.

          I was very encouraged Sunday when Grichuk lined a double into the LF corner against a veteran RHP. If he keeps hitting, he will show he should be on the team. Interestingly, right now, Kelly and Grichuk are both batting .286 in the exact same number of at-bats. Kelly has a higher OBP, but Grichuk’s SLG is far higher.

          • crdswmn says:

            Yeah, I did focus more on Kozma, sorry. That just is the area where I see most of the complaining occurring when the roster decision is made.

            I always hesitate to get too excited about any ST ABs because the caliber of pitching being faced is so much different than what will be seen in the regular season. Even the good major league pitchers are not pitching to regular season levels at this point. If Grichuk continues to hit into the last week of ST games, I could be more convinced.

            • Brian Walton says:

              No problem. Part of the reason I wrote this article is to call more attention to what I believe the real competition is, not the one the people you are reading seemed focused on.

              I accept that generally, spring training stats do not matter. However, when there are roster decisions hanging in the balance and two of the players have no Cardinals history (Anna and Kelly), these at-bats and innings played have greater significance. Maybe less for more known quantities like Grichuk and Kozma.

              Generally, I believe incumbents have to play their way off the team and I don’t see that happening yet. That doesn’t mean that others could not pass them with very strong spring performances, but as you point out, spring results are no more than that – spring results.

              • crdswmn says:

                I agree that ST stats have significance for fringe roster decisions. That is with the caveat that most of those fringe players tend to look better in ST than they ever will in the regular season. We have past ST’s of Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, etc, to make us realize that. With guys like Grichuk and Pham, we know that they are more talented than the Pete Kozma’s of the world, but that doesn’t make their ST performances any more predictive of the regular season. With unknowns like Kelly and Anna, we have to use ST performances but I still think you have to view them with a jaundiced eye. I think you have to view most ST performances carefully, because players are doing things that they wouldn’t normally do in regular season play to get ready, like tweaking their swing, throwing a lot of their weaker pitches, etc.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Agreed. Past performances are why I see the newcomers really needing to shine. Yes, Anna had a batting title in the PCL in 2013, but the Padres traded him away, anyway. Since, he made the Yankees last spring but was back in the minors in less than a month. Then he was removed from both the Yankees’ and the Pirates’ 40-man rosters last season. Kelly is entirely unproven in MLB and was acquired for a mid-tier prospect.

  2. blingboy says:

    I enjoyed and appreciate the discussion above, as well as the article. I have found out on the main site board that it is basically impossible to get a conversation going about what people think the cards will do and why. It instantly degenerates into arguments for whatever the commenter thinks is the thing to do, which we have been hearing about all winter.

  3. blingboy says:

    Some local sports media types are addressing the question of whether Bourjos has a future with the Cards, whether he will be on the team opening day, etc. What exactly they think about that doesn’t interest me as much as the fact that it is deemed worthy of public discussion. I expect media discussion of the topic will pick up steam the longer Bourjos flops around.

    I am interested in what other commenters think the Cards will do.

    • crdswmn says:

      What is worthy of public discussion these days is what is thought will get the most page clicks. Fans have to have something or someone to hate and bitch about which gets page clicks. The internet these days is a vast wasteland of crap.

      Given the often inverse relationship between what most fans believe and what the Cardinals will do, I don’t think there is a lot I have to add.

  4. blingboy says:

    A thought which I am starting to convince myself of is that the Cards will only devote one roster slot to a glove only guy. In other words, either Kozma or Bourjos, but not both.

    If that is accepted as a possibility, it raises the question of which can be more readily done without.

  5. Bw52 says:

    Very interesting discussion.Myself I am not a Kozma fan.Kind of surprised Greg Garcia got shipped out so quick.Anna has not hit but isn`t being a backup guy who can play SS the main qualification.Surely Cards can do better than Kozma winning by default.I think Kozma and Grichuk stay and Pham to AAA with Anna and Kelly.Bourgos gets traded back to Angels for mid level prospect.

    • blingboy says:

      I assume your remark about Bourjos reflects your disdain rather than any actual belief that the Angels in particular would have any interest.

      I have been trying to direct my thinking toward what I think will happen based upon what we are seeing, rather than on what I think should be done. Based on Garcia’s usage this spring, taken with his bench warming experience in St. Louis last year, I am not surprised he was shipped out.

      Anna looks like he is not in the ML picture. Of all players with any possibility of making the ML roster, the Cards are not taking a good look at anybody in the shortstop position, other than Kozma, whom they already know about. This means no one else is under consideration for the middle infield/shortstop capable UT slot, and there will be a shortstop capable UT on the roster.

      I think Grichuk’s heavy use, as well as his usage in STL last year, including starting everyday in post season, and his CF capability, makes him highly likely to get an OF reserve slot. De facto 4th OF, however they try to spin Bourjos’s role. He has payed his way past Bourjos in the depth chart, plain and simple. There is also a clear need for somebody off the bench who can hit, besides Reynolds.

      Bourjos was obtained to be a starting CF, not a late inning defensive replacement for Holliday, which is what his role became last season. The team is looking for evidence that post-surgery he will be a different player. If he is not, he will not be around long, although there is no need to make a decision or a move by opening day. There is no evidence, or reason to believe, that the team is interest in a glorified Robinson role on the 25 man roster. If he does reprise that the role of defensive replacement for Holliday, it would be easy and painless (except perhaps to Mo’s ego) to give his roster slot to Pham or Kelly. The extensive look both of those guys are getting suggests that the team is preparing for exactly that. Bourjos, in other words, has to play his way back into the picture. By that I mean he has to be useful for something beyond late inning defensive replacement. Assuming no move before opening day, we will know the answer to that by observing how he is used.

      • Brian Walton says:

        A thorough analysis. I agree about Grichuk and Kozma – not surprising since I said made similar comments even before camp opened – other than the depth chart stuff. As outfield reserves, Bourjos and Grichuk would be used very differently. Calling one #4 and the other #5 is nothing the Cardinals would ever endorse.

        I am not with you on Bourjos, though. Bourjos is on the team until someone knocks him off it. Pham is injured and who knows how well he is going to hit whenever he makes it back. Every day out increases his chance of opening in Memphis. Kelly is the wild card at this point, IMO. He looks like a good guy to have around, but that also could be just a phone call away in Memphis.

        • blingboy says:

          I agree that Boujos is on until someone kicks him off. My point is that what it takes to kick him off depends on how useful he is. My belief is that the role of late inning replacement would put him on very thin ice.

        • crdswmn says:

          FWiW, Matheny did say in the pre-game media scrum yesterday that Bourjos will be the 4th OFer. Granted, things can change depending on how he plays.

          All of the scouting reports I have read on Grichuk have expressed doubts that he could stick as a CFer. He doesn’t have great speed for one thing. He does have a good arm which is more useful in RF than CF. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t occasionally play there, but I don’t see him as a regular CFer. A healthy Pham would be a better option than Grichuk, assuming no Bourjos.

          • blingboy says:

            I do not dispute that Bourjos could be a different, better player post surgery.

            What follows is just my take on the situation. I understand that others believe that more optimism is called for and that the time frame in which results must be seen is more lengthy.

            I don’t know how much his hip had to do with his problems, or how much the surgery will help. I am reluctant to believe that the Cards brought in a player with a significant injury expecting him to assume the role of everyday starting center fielder. Or that a player with a significant injury would be chomping at the bit, talking about stealing 40 bases, etc. I think that the Cards and Bourjos were surprised that he did not bounce back from 2013 and the hip injury then emerged as a plausible explanation. I consider it probable that the surgery is sort of a last ditch effort to turn his career around but I am afraid it is wishful thinking
            .
            If Jay goes down long term, I think it likely that neither Pham nor Grichuk would be satisfactory as an everyday CF starter. 2014 Boujos would not either, as was proven early last year. I think the job would be Grichuk’s to lose.

    • blingboy says:

      I forgot to give my thoughts on Jacob Wilson. As of now I see the Cards wanting to know if he could be an everyday fill in if Wong, Carpenter or Adams goes down for a while requiring shifting around of infielders. Longer term, he could play his way into a roster slot, say for instance, replacing Reynolds next year as an infield UT.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Wilson is a nice player but is not ready for the majors. He has just 36 career games above A-ball. If they need a second baseman, Kelly is clearly ahead of him and should be. For that matter, they could play Kozma every day if Wong is hurt. As you note, Wilson could enter the discussion in 2016 if he continues to grow this season.

        • blingboy says:

          Yes, Wilson will need to look good in the higher levels. He is in a good position, with brought in guys like Anna and Kelly between him and the majors, and Garcia all but circling the drain. We will have to see how Diaz looks in real life and whether Breyvic (sp?) is stalling out.

          • Brian Walton says:

            From a development-only perspective, Kelly making St. Louis would be a positive. It would free up one IF roster spot in Memphis for a prospect up from Springfield (such as Wilson) and enable Grichuk to play every day in Triple-A. I don’t think that would put the best team in St. Louis, though, and that will trump all other considerations.

            • blingboy says:

              There would be no particular reason to give Kelly the reps over Wilson if both were at AAA. It would likely get Wilson to AAA sooner, though, I agree.

              I have heard that Grichuk has some sort of new hitting mechanics twist. Working on that 4 PAs everyday for a while is the only reason I can think for him opening in AAA. It would take a deluge of Ks over the next two weeks to make it happen, I think.

              • blingboy says:

                Speaking of 4 PAs everyday to work on hitting mechanics, it would seem that would be ideal for Bourjos as he tries to set things to rights with his fixed hip. I can’t think how it could be done, though. It will be difficult as a bench player in STL.

                Bourjos is not on the lineup Card today for some reason, even though Grichuk has a sore knee. I could have seen him in CF and Jay in left instead of Grichuk. With Jay back, I wouldn’t think an opportunity to get Peter some PAs would be wasted. This is an example of what I mean by trying to deduce what is going to happen based upon what we are seeing. I wonder if he is even on the bus. If he is, maybe he will come in later.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  It may be time for you to set down the magnifying glass for awhile. Analyzing one day’s lineup? Really?

                  How do you know that they didn’t decide to have Bourjos take at bats every inning in minor league games today, for example?

                  We don’t know what we don’t know.

                  • blingboy says:

                    “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

                    True, which is why I am trying to trying focus on what we do know. We know that a guy with a sore knee is getting the start instead of him. I add that to the list of things we know and see. I base my conclusions on that list.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      C’mon, man! Get real! What is happening in left field is irrelevant.

                      Bourjos is a CENTERFIELDER. He has zero games in five seasons as an MLB player at ANY other position in the field. Jay is back and he is getting the start in CF today instead. That is understandable. After all, Jay is the team’s starting CF and has NO games there yet this spring. I would give him the priority too. It likely is not any more complicated than that.

                      If you want to continue, maybe Jumbo can pick up the discussion from here.

                    • blingboy says:

                      Brian, I think you are resisting getting my point. I agree that this is meaningless taken in isolation. My point is that it adds to a body of evidence.

                      I think the tendency is to dismiss each individually meaningless thing as they present without considering the larger picture presented by the totality. Taken in that sense, each things adds to and clarifies the picture.

  6. blingboy says:

    Rob Rains is a fellow over-reacter. At least he was Wednesday:

    ” At the moment, it is very difficult to see Bourjos winning a spot on the roster but what that means is uncertain.”

    http://www.stlsportspage.com/CARDSBASEBALL/tabid/91/entryid/2608/who-are-favorites-to-win-final-spots-on-cardinals-roster.aspx

    Rick Hummell and I are in good company.

  7. blingboy says:

    I’ve been wondering if Rob Rains would have anything else to say about Bourjos and to day he did.

    “While he has excellent speed and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, Bourjos’ contributions as the fourth outfielder would appear to be more limited than Grichuk, who can play all three outfield spots and also offers a much greater offensive threat as a pinch-hitter.
    Unlike with the fifth starter decision, the Cardinals do not really have a path of least resistance with Bourjos. The best plan is likely to hope that a team in need of an outfielder will offer a decent prospect in a trade proposal.”

    He points out later in the article that the Cards do not have any obvious hole to fill on the ML roster. That is an important point, why trade him then? Rains answer seems to be that A) the roster spot could be used for another more versatile player like Kelly or Jacob Wilson, and B) we could really use a good power prospect .

    • Brian Walton says:

      I question whether the Cards will do anything with Bourjos – i.e. sell low. My guess is if anyone inquires, they’ll want to pay 50 cents on the dollar. On the other hand, if the Cards receive what they would perceive is a fair offer, that might be a different story. I don’t get the feeling he is being shopped, though.

      • blingboy says:

        Since there is no hole to fill, and no Pujols-like prospect who must make the team at once, I don’t think he is being shopped either.

        It looks to me like he no longer fits into the organization’s plans and will be moved out when the opportunity presents or the need arises.

        He has proven to be a one dimensional player and that just is not what the Cardinals were looking for when they brought him in. There is no real reason to think they now plan on making room for something they never wanted in the first place.

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