The St. Louis Cardinals have been stockpiling elite prospects in the minor league system for years now. They have had the luxury of letting their talent properly develop instead of rushing them to the majors like most of the other teams in Major League Baseball are forced to do. The organization is constantly the focus of trade rumors around the league but as we well know, the Cardinals’ way of handling business does not generally include parting ways with such prospects.
It’s nice to let prospects develop in the minor leagues while the organization is a World Series favorite year after year but there comes a time when those prospects need to get their chance in St. Louis. Kolten Wong has been one of the best prospects in the Cardinals’ organization the last few years and is finally getting the chance to prove himself. Meanwhile, outfielder Oscar Taveras (who is arguably the best prospect in baseball right now) continues to rake in Memphis while the Cardinals’ offense struggles. Two other outfield prospects (Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty) are also widely considered “major league ready” but essentially have no place (much like Taveras) in St. Louis at the moment.
The Cardinals’ basically have eight players (Taveras, Grichuk, Piscotty, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Matt Adams, and Peter Bourjos) to fill four positions (left field, center field, right field, and first base). General Manager John Mozeliak is now tasked with figuring out how to manage this delima, albeit a dilemma 29 other teams in baseball wish they had. Here is a breakdown of how each position and how they can play out:
Matt Holliday is signed through the 2016 season at big money, which makes him a lock at the position for the next few years. The Cardinals’ could attempt to trade Holliday if they so choose but will have a hard time finding any takers without eating some of the salary themselves. I wouldn’t expect any change at this position until the 2017 season.
When St. Louis traded for Peter Bourjos last winter, they expected him to immediately take over the center fielder duties – this hasn’t happened. To this point in the season, Bourjos has split time with Jon Jay and neither have really separated themselves as the superior player. In a perfect world, the Cardinals’ could call up Oscar Taveras and solidify the position for the next 10+ years but there are concerns as to whether or not he can play the position in the majors. The Cardinals’ could elect to let both Jay and Bourjos walk after the 2014 season but it’s more likely they only let one or the other go.
Allen Craig entered the 2014 season coming off a historic 2013 campaign in which he set the record for runners in scoring position (RISP) batting average. His 5 year/$31 million contract through 2017 at the time looked like one of the steals in baseball but he has struggled mightily so far this season. If Taveras does not project to be a long-term center fielder, the organization will have no choice but to slide him into right field for the time being and move Craig to first base (see below) or trade him.
Matt Adams was handed the job after an impressive 17 home runs in only 296 at bats in limited duty during the 2013 season. While the batting average has significantly improved (.284 to .321) the power numbers have been brutal (only 3 home runs). For a team that is loaded with quality contact hitters and in desperate need of power, Adams has to provide more big time hits to be the force in the lineup the organization was anticipating before the season. Allen Craig also has the ability to play first base defensively, which means that if Taveras is called up to play right field, either Adams or Craig will be traded in the coming weeks.