It’s never a good thing when the manager and general manager of a baseball organization disagree on something.
It’s a more compounded issue when they disagree about the usage and management of the organization’s top prospect, especially to the extent that manager Mike Matheny and General Manager John Mozeliak do about Oscar Taveras.
Mozeliak spoke about Taveras at last month’s Blogger Event. At the time, Taveras was back at Triple-A Memphis after a two-week stint with the Cardinals in which he hit his first career home run but struggled at the plate overall, notching a .189 batting average and just two RBIs.
His demotion, albeit discouraging to see as a fan, made sense. Taveras just wasn’t hitting like we all hoped and thought he would. While most would’ve liked to have seen Mozeliak be more patient with Taveras, he’s been consistent in saying that he wants Taveras to play every day, wherever it is that he’s stationed.
So, struggling, Mozeliak sent him back to Memphis, perhaps with the hope that he would return much like Kolten Wong did following his demotion.
“I told Matheny, if he’s here he needs to play,” Mozeliak said. “He can’t gain service time sitting on the bench. Right now, he needs at bats five days a week.”
He continued: “I imagine next time he’s here, it’s for good.”
Taveras was recalled on July 1, at which point Matheny started him five of the six games to start the month. During that stretch, Taveras tallied just three hits and two RBIs in 18 at-bats. He’s now 16-for-80 at the Major League level, which equates to a .200 batting average. (He was at .190 before a pinch hit single in Tuesday’s loss to the Rays).
Taveras has started five other games in July and has been used as a pinch hitter or late-game replacement in five others.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Matheny was asked why Taveras hasn’t been given more playing time over someone like Allen Craig, who is also struggling this season with just a .244 average, 44 RBIs and seven home runs heading into Tuesday’s game. More noticeably, Craig already had 71 strikeouts heading into Tuesday.
Matheny talking Taveras/Craig pregame: “We’ve got to do what we can to win today, we’re not here in the development business.”
— Chris Hrabe (@chrabe) July 22, 2014
More Matheny: “When a guy has done a lot of what he needs to do to prove what he can do at [AAA], you figure out how can it fit in here.”
— Chris Hrabe (@chrabe) July 22, 2014
As you can see, that’s quite a different tune than what Mozeliak sang a month ago. The general manager wants Taveras to play every day, or at the very least get regular at-bats. The manager either doesn’t want to play Taveras regularly, or at best considers what he’s giving Taveras to be regular at-bats.
For two people that make important decisions about this club to be on such different pages regarding a player like Taveras is troubling. With the trade deadline looming, you wonder what the plan is for a guy like Taveras.
Rated a top five prospect by just about every scouting publication heading into the season, Taveras’ exploits are well-known. Just because he isn’t hitting right now is in no way indicative of what he could be in the future, and plenty of teams would be willing to pay a pretty penny for someone like Taveras. Perhaps Mozeliak knows that, and there’s a purpose to him not playing.
This is sort of a conspiracy theory, and in no way do I subscribe to this, but it’s possible that Taveras’ playing time has been squelched in order to preserve his health so he can be a trade chip.
The other, more rational theory, is that Matheny simply doesn’t trust Taveras yet like he does Craig.
Despite his struggles this season, Craig has proven to Matheny over the past few seasons that he can produce. He was an unreal hitter with runners in scoring position last season and was a huge reason the Cardinals had the success they did. His injury was a huge blow.
My guess is that right now, as the team is trying to fight for a division lead and win the National League Central yet again, Matheny feels more comfortable playing a guy that’s proven himself in the past over an unproven rookie. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s certainly something I can understand.
The fact is that Taveras hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given this season. In contrast, Kolten Wong, another rookie, went through similar plate struggles and even spent time in the minor leagues to refine his swing. The difference is that Wong came back and won the starting job fair and square. He’s clearly outplayed the player in front of him, Mark Ellis. He’s left no debate.
The same can’t be said about Taveras. He hasn’t outplayed those in front of him. He hasn’t shown that he can hit Major League pitching consistently. He hasn’t shown that he can make adjustments when he needs to. Is the potential there? Absolutely, and he could very well be the starting right fielder next season, or even at some point this season.
If it were me, I’d probably try Taveras out a little bit more, or really, even Peter Bourjos. But right now, Matheny is sticking with his veteran in hopes that he’ll figure things out.
I do think there is some value of simply being around the Major Leaguers, a level of insight that Taveras simply can’t get in Memphis. I also think there’s some value to him playing every day and staying fresh, although I’m not sure how much better he can get as a player by going back down to Memphis.
As some have noted, Matheny’s comments are particularly interesting given that he had no previous managerial experience before being handed the keys to one of the best franchises in baseball. It’s largely been a developmental process for him as a manager over the past three seasons.
I think to some extent, Matheny has to understand that there will be some development needed for Taveras at the big league level as well. Very few players have come up and made immediate impacts. Players like Yasiel Puig are the exception, not the rule. To expect that type of immediate production from Taveras would be unfair.
However, I think we all, including Mozeliak and Matheny, thought we’d see Taveras end up more on the Puig side of the spectrum rather than the Brett Wallace side this early on.
Taveras has the potential to be an important piece to the Cardinals’ World Series hopes this season, and future seasons to come. Whether it means making a move to free up a spot or simply giving Taveras more regular at-bats, Mozeliak and Matheny must get on the same page when it comes to Taveras.
Mismanaging him simply can’t be an option.
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