St. Louis Cardinals: The losses of Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras, and the impact on the current lineup

The St. Louis Cardinals’ loss of Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras , three years ago, have impacted the current lineup and its need for a “Big Bat.”

After winning the 2013 NL Pennant, the St. Louis Cardinals had high expectations going into the 2014 season.  Particularly with the return of Allen Craig and the highly-anticipated, soon-to-be-called-up, number two prospect in baseball, Oscar Taveras.

The St Louis Cardinals 3-4-5 expected batting lineup of Allen Craig, Matt Holiday, and Oscar Taveras was suppose to give the Redbirds an offensive punch for several seasons.

A few short months later, Allen Craig was struggling in the Boston Red Sox organization and Oscar Taveras had tragically died in a car accident.  The loss of these two players from the St. Louis Cardinals are still being felt by the organization today.

By 2014, Allen Craig had established himself in the middle of the lineup as a consistent .300 hitter and RBI producer.  In 2013, Craig hit an impressive .315 with 13 HR and 97 RBIs. His 2012 season of .307 with 22 HR and 92 RBIs, earned him a 5-year $31 million contract from the Cardinals.

However, in early September of 2013, Craig suffered a foot injury during a game with the Cincinnati Reds that ended his regular season. Craig did return as a DH during the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, but was not allowed to play in the field.

Allen Craig’s 2014 season started off poorly and never got much better. In 97 games with the Cardinals that year, Craig hit only .237 with 7 HR and 44 RBIs. His OBP, SLG, and OPS of .291, .346, and .638 respectfully, dropped significantly from 2013 averages of .373, .457, and .830.

On July 31 of that season, Allen Craig was traded to the Boston Red Sox along with pitcher Joe Kelly, for John Lackey and prospect Corey Littrell.

A more detailed look at Allen Craig’s career with the Cardinals and his demise, can be seen at Nathan Grime’s piece at Redbird Rants.

Oscar Taveras, going into the 2014 season, was considered by MLB.com as the second best prospect in all of MLB.  Taveras was invited to the Cardinal’s spring training, but a hamstring injury limited his spring.  As a precautionary move the Cards decided to option him to minor league camp.

On May 30, 2014, after hitting .325 with 7 HR and 40 RBIs in 49 games, Oscar Taveras was called up from AAA Memphis to the St. Louis Cardinals. In his last 10 games at Memphis, he hit .462 with two three-hit games and one four-hit game.

Although, Taveras only hit .189 during this first stint, he showed a remarkable ability to make contact off MLB pitching. His 92.3% contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone surpassed the MLB average of 65.7% for all non-pitchers.  His miss rate of 2.5% on swinging strikes was significantly lower than the MLB average of 9.1%.

On June 19, Taveras returned to Memphis for a short stint.  He was recalled on June 30.  Ironically, the July 31 trade of Allen Craig was engineered to give Taveras more playing time. Oscar Taveras’ final numbers for 2014 was a .239 BA, 3 HR, and 22 RBIs in 80 games.  However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story of Taveras’ lone season with the Cardinals.

During the latter part of the 2014 season, Taveras’ production had picked up.  In three games in an early September series against the Milwaukee Brewers, he had five hits in eight at-bats, with a home run and 4 RBIs. By the end of the regular season he had eight multi-hit games.  He also collected three hits in seven at-bats during the Cardinals post season.

Tragically, on October 26, 2014, Oscar Taveras  died in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic.

Suddenly, with demise of Allen Craig and the death of Oscar Taveras, the St. Louis Cardinals lineup lost two thirds of their middle-of-the-lineup offensive punch.  Matt Holiday being the only one of three who remained.

This forced the St. Louis Cardinals to address the issue during the 2014 offseason by trading 24-year-old starting pitcher Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves for 25-year-old outfielder Jason Heyward.

By trading for Heyward, the Cardinals were hoping in part to fill the void left by Oscar Taveras and Allen Craig.  After the 2015 season, the transaction looked like it might have been a good move.  Heyward hit a career-high .293 with 13 HR and 60 RBIs.

However, Jason Heyward became a free agent in the offseason and rejected a Cardinal multi-year offer.  On December 15, 2015, Heyward signed an eight-year $184-million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

The sudden demise of Allen Craig and death of Oscar Taveras have kept the St. Louis Cardinals struggling to find offensive punch to the batting order.  Many of the moves they have made to address this since 2014 have frankly been a failure.

The attempt to make Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk as middle-of-the-lineup hitters have all been in vain.  Along with Matt Holiday’s departure, the case could be made that this is the primary reason the St. Louis Cardinals have missed the playoffs in the last two years.

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This spells out why the St. Louis Cardinals current search for a “big bat” this offseason is in large part related to the loss of Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras in 2014.