St. Louis Cardinals: Fourth Outfielder, Non-roster Invitee or Trade?

Jun 17, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Todd Cunningham (37) celebrates scoring the tying run against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Todd Cunningham (37) celebrates scoring the tying run against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals have said they would seek a fourth outfielder during the offseason. Nothing has- of yet- materialized.

The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals will feature an outfield of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty. Currently, the Cardinals have the made-of-glass Tommy Pham slated to serve as the fourth outfielder. Noting this, the team shared that one of their offseason plans was to explore the market for a fourth outfielder.

Ouch if you are Pham, right? Ouch indeed but certainly understood. 2017 will be Pham’s fourth year in the majors. In his previous three years, in only 314 at-bats (a career backup), Pham has posted a career slash of .245/.333/.455. While not impressive, not too shabby either for a backup.

Defensively, Pham is noted as a below-average left fielder with a -1.4 MLB career UZR. He is noted as a below-average center fielder with a -2.9 MLB career UZR. In keeping fashion, he is noted as a below-average right fielder as well with a -1.5 MLB career UZR. When appearing in multiple outfield spots, Pham is significantly below average at -5.8 UZR.

Yikes, right? Now that we see why the St. Louis Cardinals would have interest in a different fourth outfielder (don’t forget Pham’s penchant for injury), can we all gnash teeth the organization has failed to find a solution this offseason?

I have already written a few pieces seeking outfield help this offseason (see them here and here). These surrounded the question of having Brandon Moss return to serve as backup and compared him to the likes of Sam Fuld and Chris Coghlan.

These are the updates as of today (2/12/2017). Moss is now no longer an option since he signed with Kansas City. Fuld is still available after missing 2016 due to injury and is currently rumored to be in discussions with Tampa Bay. He will also play for team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in an effort to show what’s left in his tank.

Chris Coghlan, my favorite solution to the Cardinals’ need, is sadly no longer available after having signed a minor league deal with the Phillies this past week for a mere $3M plus incentives. I’m sad about this as I believe the Cardinals could have snatched him up for this value and replaced the Pham risk with Coghlan production.

So… Should we want the Cardinals to take the rider on Fuld? Does his injury in 2016 make him too much like Pham?

In my Moss-v-Fuld piece, I shared that Fuld (age 35) has posted an eight-year career slash of .227/.307/.325 which is not an improvement over Pham offensively. Defensively, however, Fuld is an improvement over Pham owning a a UZR of 6.0 in LF, a 0.9 UZR in CF, and a -0.4 UZR in RF (these from 2015 before his injury).

Financially, Fuld would be more of an expense and one that I’m not sure the Cardinals should undertake. In other words, I’d rather we sit with Pham and hope no one throws rocks (…because he is made of glass…?).

But wait, there’s more! The St. Louis Cardinals might actually already have their fourth outfielder and his name might not be Pham. Todd Cunningham is one of this season’s non-roster invitees to spring training and I believe he could well be the solution not-named Pham.

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I’ve covered Cunningham slightly in my non-roster invitees article but let’s take a deeper look. Cunningham, who will turn 28 next month, was drafted by the Braves in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft. He made his MLB debut in July of 2013 for the Braves. He appeared in the majors briefly in 2013 (eight at-bats), again in 2015 (eight-six at-bats), and then again last season (twenty-seven at-bats).

In his MLB experience, Cunningham has posted a .207/.256/.264 slash. In his minor league career, however, he has posted a .276/.350/.370. Okay, okay, neither of these out-perform Pham’s numbers offensively but he far out-performs Pham defensively.

In his three seasons of MLB appearances (small samples sizes admitted), Cunningham has a 1.6 UZR in left field, a 3.6 UR in center field, a 0.1 UZR in right field, and a 5.2 UZR when appearing in multiple outfield spots. These- to me- make him far more worth the gamble than Pham.

Spring training therefore will be very important for both Pham and Cunningham. At this rate, they are almost exactly a wash financially so this spring they must each show their value both at the plate and in the field. I look for both of them to get a good deal of playing time early in the spring.

Next: Who has the better infield, Cardinals or Pirates?

Who would you keep? Would you ignore both of these and look elsewhere? Thanks for reading. Stay with us as baseball activities begin this week for updates and news.