St. Louis Cardinals: Five Outfielders when Pham Returns?

Tommy Pham has been impressive in his rehab efforts and looks to be on the verge of re-joining the St. Louis Cardinals. Would the club consider keeping five outfielders?

A couple of weeks ago, I raised the question of what would happen with the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster once injured players started to make their returns.

Not surprisingly, Greg Garcia was the first to go when Ruben Tejada got healthy. That was an instance of “seeing your investment through”, considering the Cardinals paid $1.5 million for Tejada’s services.

With Tommy Pham seemingly set to return at any moment, once again, John Mozeliak is going to have to make a decision on who to give the boot to either AAA Memphis or outright free agency.

Consider this as my “rebuttal” of sorts to Nick Childress’ piece about the situation from the other day. Nothing personal, Nick!!

It would make the most sense for that guy to be Jeremy Hazelbaker, that is, if he wasn’t slashing .281/.327/.607 with seven home runs, a pair of triples and a team-leading three (yeah, three…) stolen bases through his first 36 big league games.

Well, you could say, he’s a left-handed bat. He limits your bench or your outfield because of the lefty-lefty matchup.

I would counter by noting that he’s been arguably the Cardinals’ most productive left-handed bat against left-handed pitching, with the exception of one Matt Carpenter.

Now, I have to note that it could be a bit presumptive to assume that Pham is going to come out and torch the ball like he did in 52 games with the big club a season ago.

Even if he did, that 52-game stretch is barely up to par with what Hazelbaker has done in 36 in 2016. Check out Pham’s 2015 numbers, compared to Hazelbaker’s after that.

Pham

YearGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
20155217315328417551821941.268.347.477.824

 

Hazelbaker

YearGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
201636998915254271832730.281.327.607.933

Now, most certainly, Hazelbaker’s numbers have been in decline over the past couple of weeks. Particularly in the batting average and strikeout departments. While that 34.1% strikeout figure that Nick gave us for Hazelbaker may have shifted a bit in the past couple of days, it is still a good illustration of the high swing-and-miss issue that Hazelbaker is facing.

No, you can’t ignore the fact that Hazelbaker is hitting just .192 since the start of May after that torrid start to his big league career.

But how do boot a guy with the proven power and speed potential of Jeremy Hazelbaker when the club has been so starved in those categories over the past couple of seasons?

How do you demote Hazelbaker, when you still have a guy like Ruben Tejada taking up space on your bench? We saw what kind of impact Hazelbaker can have coming off of your bench after that bomb he hit off of Kazmir in the 9th the other night.

Hazelbaker is 5 for 13 with a double, three homers and six RBI coming off of the bench. He leads Major League Baseball in pinch-hit home runs, and he’s already tied the Cardinals franchise record in that department.

Tejada has offered the Cardinals virtually nothing other than depth up the middle. He does nothing at the shortstop position that Jedd Gyorko (and obviously Aledmys Diaz) cannot do.

The question is, do you want a surplus of quality outfield depth, or mediocre middle-infield depth?

Long story short, Jeremy Hazelbaker very well might be the guy on his way out when Pham makes his return. But, like booting Garcia for Tejada, I do not believe that that makes for the strongest ball club moving forward.

I didn’t think the Cardinals should have ever signed Tejada in the first place, and I definitely don’t see any reason to keep him around at the expense of another more qualified player.

Not when he’s hitting a team-worst .167. Not when he’s booted three balls defensively in just 25 total chances.

Tejada didn’t seem to give a hoot in New York. That doesn’t seem to have changed much now that he’s in St. Louis.

It would be a mistake to keep him around at the expense of Hazelbaker, even if that means a couple of weeks of being thin up the middle ahead of Jhonny Peralta‘s return.

Of course, at that point, we’ll have to go through this whole thing once again. We’ll be arguing Brayan Pena vs. Eric Fryer when Pena is healthy, too.

Stay tuned…

 

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