Either Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill must turn around their slumps very quickly after the All-Star break. John Mozeliak needs to know whether to go shopping for an outfielder to help the St. Louis Cardinals before the July 31 trade deadline.
It would even be better if both of them went on a tear and forced Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez to step up their games. But if neither of the Sophomore men turn it around within about 10 days after the All-Star break, it is going to put pressure on Mozeliak to make a trade for an outfielder to help the St. Louis Cardinals by the July 31 deadline.
And given the demand there is likely to be for a difference-making outfielder, and the amount of heartburn that that will cause to the front office to be dangling a bevy of future prospects as trade bait (can you say Dylan Carlson?), the team will not want to wait until midnight on the 31st. Mozeliak himself alluded to there being a new “finality” to the July 31 deadline.
Harrison Bader’s recent batting woes have been well-documented.
It is getting so bad that we sometimes forget that some analysts believe Bader is the fastest runner in the league and/or the best defensive center-fielder.
Tyler O’Neill’s woes since being called up to the St. Louis Cardinals after almost two months in Memphis seem less in focus but are still acute. His strikeout rate is up to 50% and seems to be plateauing. But that’s not a plateau a hitter wants. If he was sent down for two months in early May with a .677 OPS, how much more do we need to know if with more regular repetitions since June 28 his season OPS now stands at .648 (72 OPS+).
Even Bader’s OPS+ is at 80… i.e. 20% worse than the average hitter.
These two are not playoff-caliber players at this point. And the Cardinals are not giving up on the playoffs, far from it. They are in third-place, just 2 games out of first. If they sold-off in late July in the same year that the local hockey team was the worst team in the NHL after the midpoint of the season, they would be laughed out of St. Louis.
Bader’s and O’Neill’s potential is still limitless. But time is no longer on their side as it will already be July 12 when they return to action. If they do not turn things around, are there any less drastic options than Mozeliak signing over the deed to the ranch, figuratively speaking, on July 31? Are there any internal options?
If more information about Ozuna’s prospects for recovery is known soon, it is possible that the St. Louis Cardinals outfield with the three everyday starters of Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez could get hot all at once and lead us to a pennant. After all, that is two former All-Stars and the guy who has lead the team in batting average for each year that he’s played for the last three years including this year.
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It is also possible to start working some rookies into the starting mix. This might be called the Jordan Binnington solution. The annals of sport are filled with rookies who have stepped up to be a major part of a championship team. If it worked for the Ice Cardinals in 2019, why not try it in a real sport? (just kidding)
This rookie could be Randy Arozarena, who has yet to make his major league debut, Lane Thomas, currently back at Memphis AAA, or even the impressive at the big-league level Tommy Edman; an infielder who has only played two games in the outfield but would appear to have the speed and fielding prowess to do well there (possibly even better than – ahem – one or more of the incumbents).
Or we can keep giving regular starts to O’Neill and Bader well into August and September and hope that they work out their batting kinks. After all, the Blues won the Stanley Cup largely by trusting the guys they had in January. So maybe another player or two step up to carry the team, and we don’t worry about Bader’s bat as long as he is catching everything from the pitcher’s mound to the Arch.
So how do you vote?
Yairo Munoz, who can play the outfield and is showing as much life at the plate as any player lately, has his hands full being the designated backup for three infield positions and should probably keep his focus on ground balls (catching them, not hitting them hopefully).
Another factor to consider is, “Who will leave the 25-man roster to make room for this new outfielder that Mo will trade for?”. It might be O’Neill or Bader, either in the form of a minor-league demotion or a trade to a team that would be willing to trade an outfielder who is producing now, over whom it has minimal cost-control, for a player with still sizable upside and cost-control like an O’Neill or Bader.
We hope that O’Neill, Bader and Mozeliak are having relaxing All-star breaks. The pressure will be on these three from the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans to perform for the next fortnight.