This season didn’t go like most seasons. The Cardinals were terrible. I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary. However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series! Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same. As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!
Player: Tyler O’Neill
Stats: 72 G, 266 PA, 27 R, 14 2B, 9 HR, 21 RBI, 5 SB, .231/.312/.403, 0.3 bWAR
Statcast: 12.3% barrel, 29.2% sweet spot, 111.4 max exit velocity, .313 wOBA, .338 xwOBA, 25.2% K, 10.5% BB
There’s no player that has more “if only” surrounding him than O’Neill. It’s not like you have to go back far to see what can happen when he gets on track. 2021 had him with 34 homers, a .912 OPS, and a top 10 finish in the MVP voting. When you do that in your Age 26 season, it would seem that you’ve taken your first step into a larger world of successful seasons and big contracts.
Did you know that TON has 78 home runs in his career? That means 44% of his career total came in that one remarkable season. Of course, 29% of his career games came that year as well, the only year where he’s been in triple digits in the games played column. There’s the rub, though. (Shakespearean, not whatever Kyle Reis is thinking about reading that sentence.) His health has never let him stay on the field very much and lately, even the stretches he gets to play it’s not overwhelming.
This year, for instance, O’Neill was healthy on Opening Day and went until May 5 until reaching the injured list. He played in 29 games, started 22, and hit just two homers with an OPS of .620. He wasn’t the entire reason that the Cardinals botched their first month, nor was he the only outfielder that struggled, but the idea of “if he just got consistent time” takes a hit with a stretch like that. He didn’t return until July 20 and then he stayed active until a couple of weeks until the end of the season, when he returned to the IL in the midst of what seemed like daily transactions with that list. As you can tell from him overall numbers, the second stretch of games didn’t go much better than the first.
This is all without the controversy that came early on in the season, when O’Neill was thrown out at home plate in a game against the Braves only for his manager to call him out publicly for a lack of hustle. There were certainly extenuating circumstances–it was a wet night, O’Neill was likely factoring in his injury history, and there was really no reason for him to be sent with Ronald Acuna Jr. set to throw–but it also was suggested that this was something that some of the leaders in the clubhouse thought needed to happen. It’s hard to know if there is an attitude or other issue when you aren’t actually in the clubhouse, but it would not be surprising if there was some conflict between expectations and perceived approach in his case. When Oli Marmol talked about weeding out the clubhouse, everyone assumed he was referring to O’Neill. Time will tell if that was the truth.
What’s in store for 2024: With the outfield glut and the seeming conflict between TON and the organization, it seems really hard to believe he’ll be a Cardinal next season. That said, his value is at a low point–much lower than fellow disappointing outfielder Dylan Carlson–and there’s no real expectation that you could get much that would help the team for him and there’s just enough potential and promise that the organization won’t want to release him. Even though I expect him to go elsewhere one way or another, I don’t think I’d be stunned if inertia took hold and he was still with the club when they reported to Jupiter in February.