Shaping Up the Cardinals’ Potential Bench for 2015
National League bench players may arguably have the toughest job in baseball. While receiving limited big league action, many are expected to be flexible and contribute in minor aspects of the game.
Rather if primarily used as a hitting specialist, pinch-runner or defensive replacement, bench players with strong qualities can oftentimes be the difference between a playoff threat and a playoff contender. In the last few seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals have learned this quite well.
The bench has immensely transformed since last season, losing the potential and character of Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras, Daniel Descalso and plenty of others within the past six months. However, the Cardinals hold many reasonable options to fill in five ideal bench spots.
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Similar to recent winters, the Cardinals added a veteran presence to their bench with the signing of Mark Reynolds. The 8-year veteran adds instant pop to a relatively anemic bench and serves as a solid substitute at either of the corner infield position against southpaws.
The acquisition still presents concerns for many, especially given the Cardinals’ recent history of faulty contracts for aging veterans. Ty Wigginton signed a two-year, $5 million deal before 2013, but was released after slashing .158 just months into his contract. Meanwhile, Mark Ellis battled nagging injuries and similar offensive slumps following his 1-year, $5.5 million deal, only to find himself off the postseason roster in October.
Despite these scares, Reynolds may prove to be a better fit than some Cardinal fans think. His deal encompasses less money than Wigginton or Ellis, and he adjusted to a platoon role with the Milwaukee Brewers last year. Reynolds made several hitting adjustments in Milwaukee last year, recording his lowest strikeout ratio (28%) since his rookie season. Add that to the fact he slashed more home runs (22) than any single Cardinal in 2014, Reynolds factors in as a low-risk, high-reward utility player.
Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk have also shown occasional glimpses of power, but not nearly to the extent of Reynolds. The former Angels will begin their seasons in slightly unfamiliar roles, but could challenge one another for at bats if they play to their potential. Both Bourjos and Grichuk have the capabilities to pinch-run and play tight defensively in the outfield, making them viable options in St. Louis to start the season.
Rather if primarily used as a hitting specialist, pinch-runner or defensive replacement, bench players with strong qualities can oftentimes be the difference between a playoff threat and a playoff contender.
Tony Cruz is projected to assist starting catcher Yadier Molina once again. The club has been insistent with Cruz as the secondary backstop for the last three years, primarily in part to his defensive attributes. However, if Molina were to miss a long period of time, it’s very possible that the Cardinals could sign a free agent for insurance behind the plate.
Perhaps the Cardinals’ biggest concern in regards to the bench would be the middle infield. Former starting shortstop Pete Kozma has shown the ability to cover second base, but he will have to reclaim the trust of the Cardinals after a demotion to Triple-A Memphis last season. Look for offseason pick-ups Dean Anna and Ty Kelly to challenge Kozma for the back-up middle infield role in Spring Training.
In the process of constructing the bench, many touted prospects could also make a case for a big-league stint in St. Louis. Xavier Scruggs, Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz and Cody Stanley are among potential call-ups if the bench were to suffer from injury or need a change of scenery.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals are in a fortunate position to have major-league ready depth in several positions. There’s no clear cut answer as to how the bench will shape up, but the Cardinals have enough talent to be creative when constructing their bench for 2015 and beyond.