Morning all. Been a while, so let’s get to it.
The Cardinals haven’t done too much this offseason, though I like the trade for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore in a nice bit of what I call recycling. Basically, when a player with value hits or gets close to arbitration, you “recycle” him for a prospect or picks. In this case, Jose Martinez, who will be arbitration eligible after this season, was recycled.
Adding to that was the fact that we have a surplus of outfielders, as we have cheap prospects like Dylan Carlson ready for a shot. All in all, we saved some money and improved the team long term, not a bad combo.
Speaking of the outfield, how does it look for next year? Offhand, it doesn’t seem to have much pop and is more speed/contact/defense based, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Dexter Fowler is the veteran of the group. He “rebounded” from a horrendous 2018, where he was worth -1.4 WAR, due to .190 batting average and a .298 slugging percentage. He still wasn’t very good though. He netted 1.7 WAR, a far cry from the 4 WAR season he was coming off of when we signed him. (That 4 WAR season was the only one of career over 3 WAR and now is starting to look like a fluke.)
The career high 19 homers were nice, but everybody was hitting more homers last year so it’s hard to know what to make of those. His batting average was just .238, though his obp was a respectable .346. He’s always had a good eye and I’m glad that hasn’t changed at least. He doesn’t run much anymore as he hasn’t stolen over 8 bases in a season since he was with the Cubs. As to his defense, he played more games in RF last year than CF, which is now Harrison Bader’s spot. He was OK out there, but he’s not the CF we signed anymore.
Moving on to center and Bader, who is definitely a CF. He’s got nice range out there and get to most balls hit in his general area. That’s due to his speed, which also helps him on the base paths. He stole 11 while only getting caught 3 times. The issue here is the bat. He hit .205. Even with a nice eye (he had a OBP of .314 due to 46 walks in 407 plate appearances) that’s not good enough. He’s shown some swagger this offseason, saying he will be the starting CF for the team this year, to which I say: prove it and improve that bat and convince the team to let you loose on the base paths more.
Tyler O’Neill looks to be our starting LF. He’s a young slugger capable of knocking the cover off of the ball. He’s been up for about 150 plate appearances each of the last two seasons. The problem is he’s struck out about 50 times, or roughly 33 percent each season. Also, while he flashed solid OBP skills in the minors, that hasn’t shown up in the bigs yet. Until he cuts down the k’s and increases the walks, I’m not sure he’s ready for the starting gig he seems to be in line for.
Dylan Carlson is a promising young prospect who has excelled in the minors and rightly earned an invite to spring training with a possibility for more. He’s got both pop and speed and while he started out as a corner outfielder, he has also learned to play a solid CF. He has a cannon for an arm and as time went by fewer and fewer runners challenged it. He has demonstrated advanced plate discipline in the minors. Plus he has some intangibles in the sense that he is mature for his age. He was raised by a high school baseball coach and is the living definition of gym rat. If anybody is going to continually get better, it’s this kid. if he has a good spring training, both Fowler and Bader should be looking over their backs.
Lastly we have Tommy Edman. He’s not an outfielder you say? You’re right, he’s not. He’s Ben Zobrist in disguise. In his rookie season the kid played 6 positions (only missing 1B and C) while hitting over .300 and racking up 3.8 WAR. He doesn’t have Zobrist’s pop, but he can hit .300 with his eyes closed. I hope he doesn’t have a sophomore slump because I love this kid and I love the flexibility he brings to the team. Get this man a first baseman’s mitt AND a catchers mitt! I want to see him play all eight positions! But seriously, he held his own in the outfield, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays more than the 13 games he played out there last year, especially if more than one of the guys mentioned struggles.
If it were up to me, providing they all had a good spring training, I’d let the kids play. An outfield of Carlson/Bader/O’Neill would be an exciting combination of power, speed, and defense. That’d leave Fowler as an aging (and admittedly expensive) 4th OF, along with Edman to make a cameo when he’s not flying all over the infield.
A shout out to Birds On The Black for a ton of awesome prospect info.
As always, thanks for reading.