It’s something that has been on everyone’s minds ever since Allen Craig returned from the DL. From about the fourth inning on in last night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it was all the announcers would talk about. How on Earth is everyone going to get playing time when Lance Berkman returns from the DL. Also, who will get sent down? Obviously, having too many good players for the positions is a decent position for Mike Matheny to be in, but how he handles this situation is the first major challenge of his young career.
The situation arises because, once Berkman returns, the Cardinals essentially have five players for four positions. We know that Freese is locked in at third base, Furcal at short, and second base is its own situation so Matheny won’t want to throw any wrenches in there. What that leaves is Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, Lance Berkman, and Allen Craig for first base and the outfield slots. The first question to take care of is figuring out who gets sent down to AAA.
It’s a lot easier this time around than when Skip Schumaker returned. You have a thirteen man bench. The previously mentioned five are safe, as are David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Yadier Molina, and Tony Cruz. That makes it a toss-up between Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Matt Carpenter. Schumaker, Descalso, and Greene are embroiled in the battle for the starting second base position. I think it becomes easy to see that Carpenter will get sent down due to the fact that he needs to be given regular at bats to establish his trade value and he, more or less, has the same versatility as Craig. This makes him a little redundant to have on the roster.
So now that that situation is sorted, where does everyone play? As I stated, we can rule out any of the five in question from playing at second, third, or short. Obviously, what it will boil down to, is four players will be penciled in as starters and the fifth will rotate around to give guys days off. What makes the most sense is for the floater to be Allen Craig. During the playoffs, Craig was labeled as the starter who doesn’t start. He has the ability to be an everyday starter, but he’s on a team that has all the holes that he can fill covered. Due to his offseason knee surgery, the Cardinals absolutely had to sign Carlos Beltran. I don’t think anyone blamed them then and they definitely don’t now after his strong start to the season. It sucks for Allen Craig, but it gives the Cardinals a plethora of weapons.
Now the question that arises is can Allen Craig get a full season’s worth of at bats playing as a floater? With some creativity, the answer is yes. You just have to look at the numbers.
Right away, you can pencil him in for 24-30 at bats playing as the DH in the Cardinals interleague games against the Royals and Tigers. Now to look at the expected days off for the other players, we should look at the past few seasons. Jay played in 140 games last season, 107 of them as a starter. We’ve seen that his offense comes in hot and cold streaks, so let’s ballpark him at about 145 games. He already has 22 under his belt, so that leaves 123 the rest of the way. Accounting for the amount of games left, that leaves ten games for Craig to start in center field. Carlos Beltran’s days of 150+ starts are over. He started 134 games split between the Mets and Giants last season. I’ll be slightly optimistic and give him 135 starts for the season. This leaves about 24 games for Craig to pick up in right field. Matt Holliday was bitten by the injury bug last season, so I don’t think his 115 games is a good estimate. ZiPS pegged him as a 145 game starter, which seems conservative so we’ll go with that. That gives Craig another seventeen games in left field. Finally, Lance Berkman has already shown that he is prone to injuries. Last year he appeared in 126 games. He has already missed a fair amount, so I’m going to take the under on that and estimate him at about 120 games. This will give Craig 20 games at first base. Adding all four positions and the DH slots up, this gives Craig about 350 at bats for the rest of the season. Given the time he has lost so far, getting Craig for 350-400 at bats isn’t a bad deal for the St Louis Cardinals.
The only problem that then arises is that if all five continue to hit extremely well, there will be issues finding ways to get all five into playoff lineups. That’s a problem for another day, though.