The signing of Carlos Beltran will provide the St. Louis Cardinals with a potent bat in the middle of the lineup. It has also created a cluster of players who will try to fill roles in the outfield and first base. In the beginning of the season it will be easy to deal with as Allen Craig is set to miss at least one month. However, when he returns, there will be 5 players vying for 3 outfield spots; Beltran, Craig, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Skip Schumaker. There are several occurrences which could transpire which would make this easier for manager Mike Matheny.
Before we can talk about the outfield and first base, we need to discuss an issue at second base that could affect the other positions. The Cardinals will probably conduct some type of competition for the position during spring training between Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene. Descalso seems to have the early nod, but if he (or Greene) does not run with the job, that could leave Schumaker to pick up the slack as it seems he would be number 4 on the depth chart in the outfield when Craig returns.
The same type of scenario could happen with Jon Jay. Despite a very successful 2011 season, Jay would not be the first person to suffer a slump as a young player still learning to be a starter. I’m not suggesting that this is going to happen, but if it was, Schumaker would be the initial fill-in. It would become difficult for Matheny if both of these instances occurred, but that is unlikely. It does show the importance of the Schumaker signing.
If neither of these things happens, it will be a full house when Craig returns in May. Matheny will have to juggle six players for four positions since Craig will probably spell Lance Berkman on occasion. Matt Holliday is pretty much cemented in left field. He may be given some time off over the course of the season but more than most likely he will play in about 155 games, barring injury. While Beltran can play center field, it is highly unlikely that he will play an abundance of games there. I would figure no more than 20, with Jay or Schumaker starting the rest. In right field Beltran will be the main starter with Craig giving him some rest on occasion.
Optimally all the players will be performing to their abilities and if so, then the Cardinals may have a hard time getting Craig 350 at-bats. The following chart shows an estimated number of games played in what would be the most desirable situation for Matheny. It uses rough estimates for days off, injuries and lefty/righty matchups. I put Jay and Schumaker as the predominant CFs as they would be the options other than Beltran. There are only 6 dates where the Cardinals will be able to use the DH and I split those between Beltran and Berkman.
As you can see, Craig will get to start about 72 games in various positions. If he averages 4 plate appearances per game he’ll have 288 plate appearances from games started. Earlier I mentioned the Cardinals may have a hard time getting Craig 350 plate appearances. He could probably gain the rest of the plate appearances from substitutions made throughout the season. He could easily gain more from extended injuries to any of the other players.
In the perfect world, Matheny will get to play the hot hand between Jay, Schumaker or Craig, especially if Beltran seems healthy enough to garner more starts in center. I just don’t see this being the case. I would bet that the Cardinals would prefer to limit the time Beltran is running around the outfield to minimize the chances he get hurt. He was not signed for his fielding.
No matter the scenario, the rookie manager is going to have his hands full trying to get everyone enough playing time to keep them sharp. But, I would venture to guess that he would prefer that scenario versus one where one or more of the focal points of the lineup (Holliday, Berkman and Beltran) is severely injured and his hand is forced. Regardless, Matheny better be a good juggler, or be a quick study.