The St. Louis Cardinals have consistently found success over the past decade partly through their exceptional depth. Well, if they wanted to keep that trend going forward, they just missed a great opportunity.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Brett Cecil and Dexter Fowler this offseason. While both those moves were necessary and good for the team, there have been other, more minor, opportunities that have passed John Mozeliak by. Most recently, outfielder Austin Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians that includes an invite to spring training. The deal is worth $1.5 million if he makes the major league team and includes incentives that could boost it to $4M.
This deal is exactly the type of deal that some have expected out of John Mozeliak. He likes those under the radar, give them a chance type deals and often times, they have worked out perfectly for the Redbirds. Austin Jackson could have been one of those deals, especially since the bulk of his contract relies on making the major league roster.
The Cardinals currently have an outfield of Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez. The starting three have the potential to be one of the best outfields in all of baseball but the depth is underwhelming to say the least.
Tommy Pham has totaled 136 major league games over three seasons and has batted .245/.333/.455 while recording 14 home runs and 35 RBI. While this type of production isn’t too bad for a bench player making the league minimum, the issue with Pham is his inability to stay healthy. He has been consistently injured and as a result has been unreliable. If a starter is injured or slumps, can we go to him? And if not, then what?
Jose Martinez has been a career minor league player up until 2016 where he made his major league début. He ended up playing in 12 games, had 18 plate attempts and batted .438/.500/.500. Out of his seven total hits, six were singles and one was a double.
In his 10 minor league seasons, the lack of power and extra base hits has been the norm for Martinez. However, he’s also shown a consistent ability to get on base and hit for a decent average. Similarly to Pham, Martinez has performed well in the minor leagues but his profile doesn’t translate well when moving on to the next level. That is why the 28-year-old made his rookie début in 2016 and not earlier in his career.
The other purpose for bench players, other than to fill in adequately offensively, is to fill a void defensively. Immediately, there is an issue with Martinez considering he can only play the corner OF positions. Now, that may be acceptable if only one of Grichuk, Fowler, or Piscotty are injured/slumping but if two of them are, then some major issues can arise. Pham, however, can play all three OF positions without being a defensive liability.
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The whole point here is that even though Martinez and Pham can be okay bench players, there was a cheap option to make the Cardinals depth pretty strong that passed by. Austin Jackson’s ability to add depth and security would have been a great asset, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Grichuk.
Jackson has played in 7 major league seasons recording a slash-line of .272/.332/.396. He’s primarily been a starter throughout his career but had a 2016 season derailed by injury. And for what Jackson lacks in power, he makes up defensively.
He’s usually been a center fielder throughout his career but has played some LF and RF in the majors and for what it is worth, he’s been a plus defender across the board. Over his 7-year career in the outfield, AJax has recorded a positive 6.9 UZR while also being worth 41 defensive runs saved.
Letting Austin Jackson slip by on a cheap contract is a missed opportunity by John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals. The bulk of his contract is based on whether Jackson is healthy and if he can make the major league roster. There is no risk to this deal with all reward and those are the types of contracts Mozeliak usually makes. The Cardinals have consistently had strong depth in their success but for 2017, it doesn’t seem too reliable. Austin Jackson could have changed that.