St. Louis Cardinals: Either/or series, part 2- outfielders

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 6: Stephen Piscotty
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 6: Stephen Piscotty /

The St. Louis Cardinals have decisions to make this offseason and many of these boil down to either/or questions with players already on the roster.

The St. Louis Cardinals enter the offseason with a gluttony of players on the roster. This is a very good problem to have as the team thinks ahead to what it wants to be in 2018. First, however, the team must decide who to keep and who to let depart.

As we fans await the St. Louis Cardinals’ first move, let’s take a look at the players on the roster in whom the Cards must trust or bid farewell.

In part one of this series, the either/or question stuck with Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter. If you missed part one, you can read it here. The short of it was this: numerically speaking, Carpenter is the better bet to keep on the squad (even if our hearts tell us otherwise).

In this part two, the either/or question sticks with Stephen Piscotty and Jose Martinez. As in the Gyorko/Carpenter dilemma, I have a certain name to which my heart is connected. But is this the right choice?

First, we must agree that the Cardinals will add someone to the outfield this offseason. Should this happen, then the either/or scenario comes into play. For the purpose of this article then, let’s assume the Cardinals pick up a corner outfield (perhaps named Giancarlo Stanton).

The St. Louis Cardinals, thanks to their added power player at the corner (cough, cough: Stanton), must now decide if it is wise to keep both Piscotty and Martinez. A wise GM would look at the numbers.

Starting financially first, Piscotty is under contract through 2022 with a team option for 2023 thanks to his extension signed early in 2017. He will make $1.333M in 2018, $7.333M in 2019 and 2020, and $7.583M in 2021 and 2022. The 2023 team option is valued at $15M with a $1M buyout. Stephen’s option increased $0.5M with each All-Star selection during his contract years.

Martinez is under team control through 2022 but has no contract in hand for the 2018 season. Does this make him the easier weight to shed? 2018 brings with it pre-arbitration eligibility for Martinez who performed extremely well for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 being paid the league minimum. Jose’s first arbitration year is 2020.

Financially speaking, the St. Louis Cardinals could easily shed the weight of Martinez thanks to the lack of contract, but this isn’t necessarily that easy of an option. Likewise, the team control and friendly value of Piscotty’s financials could make him highly attractive to a team in rebuild mode who would like to add a “veteran” presence (quotations used since Stephen is still young).

In the financial side of things, the advantage seems to rest with Martinez whose floor level is as low as it can go. In other words, if the St. Louis Cardinals are looking at saving some dollars for a larger contract (cough, cough: Stanton), then selecting the cheapest option makes the most sense.

To the numbers then for some clarity… Piscotty has watched his batting numbers decline steadily over the past three seasons. His average has gone from .305 to .273. to .235 from 2015 to 2017. Much of this decline is due to injury which has sidelined Stephen considerably in the past two seasons. Even under injury, Piscotty has amassed 582 and 341 at-bats in ’16 and ’17.

Martinez made a splash for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 when he burst onto the scene and made his MLB debut some 10 years after entering the baseball world. This career minor-league hitter who already had a minor league batting title under his belt, blasted his way to a .438 average in 16 at-bats.

2017, a full season spent in the majors (save for 12 at-bats in high-A during a rehab stint), saw Martinez bat .309 in 272 at-bats. The tandem of Martinez/Piscotty in right field presented a .309 batting average in 272 at-bats and a .235 average in 341 at-bats (albeit some of Martinez’s at-bats came at first base, left field, and as DH).

If we combined these as one player, the resulting player would present a .272 batting average. While a decent player, the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals simply don’t have the space for both of these names, especially if the team is lucky enough to grab a power bat in the outfield (cough, cough: Stanton).

How about power hitting? Piscotty mashed 15 doubles in 2015, 35 in 2016, and 16 in 2017. Martinez hit 13 doubles in 2017 (not fair to examine his doubles in his few at-bats in 2016). In the doubles category, it is almost impossible to award an advantage with Martinez’s small sample size.

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Home run hitting has been something of an inconsistency for Piscotty who hit a mere seven in his 2015 season followed by his stellar season of 2016 wherein he hit 22 and then followed by his injured year of 2017 having hit only nine. Martinez, to his credit, showed his changed swing in 2017 which allowed him to mash 14 homers. If looking for power as a backup, it seems the advantage rests with Martinez but even that is tough to tell with the small sample size.

Defensively speaking, Piscotty manned right field primarily in 2017 when he played but has held down first base and the other outfield posts in the past. Similarly, Martinez manned right field primarily in 2017 but appeared at other positions including first base and the other outfield spots. Piscotty’s 2017 dWAR was a 0.4. Martinez’s 2017 dWAR was -1.1 Advantage: Piscotty.

But hold on! If we are talking about a corner outfield spot, shouldn’t we look at range factor to determine the real helper here should one of these remain on the roster to compliment a power batter who resides in right field?

In this regard, then, Piscotty presented an RF/9 of 1.84 in right field in 2017. Martinez, in the same season, presented a right field RF/9 of 2.52. Advantage: Martinez. By the way, Stanton- if this is our golden goal- presented in 2017 with a RF/9 of 2.26. Just saying…

If we are keeping score, we see that this is one muddled argument and largely so because of the limited sample presented by both of these players. With the question resting on who would serve better from the bench, the real question is answered then based on who the St. Louis Cardinals feel would present a deeper supporting role defensively and a stronger fear tactic from the bench offensively.

If I’m thinking along these lines, then my vote goes to Martinez as I am more comfortable with Martinez serving as back to right field and first base. I’m just not comfortable saying that Piscotty can man first- albeit I know he can- based on numbers from 2015.

Bottom line for me is this: I’m not really comfortable calling this either/or in favor of one of these names over the other. I want Martinez to stay on the team because my heart says so and because I’ve interviewed him and think him one of the nicest guys around.

But, the numbers don’t really seem to agree with me on this one. Additionally, even the numbers seem to be unclear as to the picture they want to paint since the samples are just too darn small.

Oh, and there is this one little wrinkle to the issue: Randall Grichuk. Stay tuned to see whether he mixes into the mess as an “either” or an “or” or even as a “neither.”

Next: Bullpen solutions

All that said, I wish the decision was simple but we know it is not. Either way, I hope the St. Louis Cardinals find players who will make this team better in 2018. And with adding must come subtracting and wise decisions must be made in this regard.