St. Louis Cardinals: What Piscotty’s Extension Means For Harrison Bader

Mar 18, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Harrison Bader (88) connects for a base hit against the New York Mets during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Harrison Bader (88) connects for a base hit against the New York Mets during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

For the second time in as many days, the St. Louis Cardinals announced a contract extension for one of its cornerstone players. On Opening Day, it was Yadier Molina. On Monday’s off day, it was Stephen Piscotty.

Yadier Molina‘s extension with the St. Louis Cardinals obscures the immediate outlook for Carson Kelly in St. Louis. The top catching prospect has spent the last two years in the minor leagues readying to replace Molina behind the plate. That hand-off will be delayed for at least four more years, if Kelly is still in the organization by then.

On Monday, I wrote in favor of retaining Kelly with the plan that he’d still eventually take over the catching duties in St. Louis, even if its not as soon as he’d expected.

Also on Monday, owner Bill DeWitt II and General Manager John Mozeliak announced a six-year extension for Stephen Piscotty worth $33.5M in guaranteed money. Piscotty’s contract extension similarly affects another young prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system: Harrison Bader.

Bader is already the organization’s top outfield prospect less than two years after being drafted. He had a strong spring with the Cardinals last month and begins this season at triple-A Memphis and on the doorstep of the major leagues.

Does Piscotty’s Contract Even Block Bader?

At the big-league level, the St. Louis Cardinals begin 2017 with an outfield of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Piscotty.

Grichuk will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after this season. That means the team has control of his contract through the 2020 year. Fowler signed a five year deal with St. Louis this past offseason, so he’ll be with the Cardinals through 2021. Piscotty’s six year deal keeps him around through 2022, with an option for the 2023 season.

All to say, the Cardinals have their projected outfield set for at least the next four seasons. Of course, injuries can happen, players can under perform, and guys sometimes get traded too.

But if Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty are all in the lineup for the next few years, where does that leave Bader? At best, a fourth outfielder. Currently, Jose Martinez is on the Cardinals’ roster in that role, but whether or not he has big league longevity remains to be seen.

Tommy Pham has had his chances at the fourth outfielder position in previous years but has yet to take hold of it because of injury and inconsistency.

Bader has a path to the big leagues as a fourth outfielder even with Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty locked in. But he, like Kelly, may have to wait a while longer until he’s a suitor for regular playing time in the Cardinals lineup.

He has age on his side, as he’s just 22 years old (again, like Kelly). Grichuk is the first of the three St. Louis starting outfielders that will be eligible for free agency on his current contract, so Bader could theoretically be a starter in left field at the age of 25 if he replaces Grichuk.

Piscotty’s contract extends through what would have been his three arbitration years anyways, so it’s not like Bader would have been able to replace Piscotty any sooner.

Do the Cardinals View Bader As a Starter In a Few Years?

The Cardinals’ plan, evident by their control over Grichuk’s, Fowler’s, and Piscotty’s contracts, is for that trio to be their starting outfield for multiple seasons to come. Having Harrison Bader in triple-A this year is a luxury. Some teams would probably have him starting in their outfield to begin this season, especially given his hot spring.

As was mentioned, baseball is a game of unpredictability, so Bader will likely be needed in some capacity or another this season and in the following years. It might be sooner than the organization expects, or he could have to wait longer than he wants to before he gets his shot (again, like Kelly).

The Cardinals also have depth in the organization in the outfield, particularly in center field, which is Bader’s primary position. At double-A, they have Cuban center fielder Adolis Garcia, and in lower levels they have Randy Arozarena, Magneuris Sierra, and Nick Plummer.

Bader leads that pack of outfield talent and will almost certainly be the first to debut in the major leagues, although Garcia could be pushed along through the system this season as well.

The vision that the Cardinals’ front office likely has for Bader is he’ll keep himself busy as a fourth outfielder once he breaks into the majors, and then necessity and performance will dictate where he goes from there.

It’s also a possibility that St. Louis uses Bader as a trade chip if they’re looking to complete a deal sometime this season (again, like Kelly).

Carson Kelly and Harrison Bader Are in Similar Situations

By now, you’ve noticed a handful of similarities between Carson Kelly and Harrison Bader regarding their pending big-league debuts (in Kelly’s case, it’d be a big-league return). They’re the top prospects at their positions in the St. Louis system, and with that comes heightened attention not only from the Cardinals, but from other teams as well.

Both are blocked from starting positions in the major leagues with St. Louis for now, but both can also use this year in triple-A to further develop and arrive in the bigs as more complete players. Both have youth on their side, so their careers aren’t wasting away by not being in the everyday lineup at Busch Stadium this season.

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Both might also be backups at the beginning of their careers.

Over the course of this season, it’s likely that both of their names will swirl around the rumor mill, especially if the Cardinals are buyers at the trade deadline. Although they and the organization will have to be patient with their progress, their value to the St. Louis Cardinals in the future is real.

There’s no guarantee that Kelly or Bader will stick as major-league starters for the Cardinals or any other team. But their status as top prospects with high ceilings suggests that they’ll eventually get their chance.

Mozeliak usually keeps that type of talent, and after graduating so many impact players from the organization’s minor leagues, it’d be unlike the Cardinals’ GM to deplete the system as it ascends back to the ranks of strongest farm systems in baseball.

Time will tell the course of action the Cardinals plan to take with their young prospects. The intentions the organization have now might not be the intentions it has mid-season or by the end of the year.

Next: Five Players Who Surged In Spring Training 2017

Like the organization, Kelly and Bader should be ready for the unpredictability that comes with the game. Their success in the future will partially hinge on their ability to prepare and adjust to those things they didn’t see coming. That could arrive in the form of a promotion to St. Louis this season, a relocation to a new team, or a lesson of patience as they await the opportunity to make a splash.