St. Louis Cardinals: Left-handed options for the bench

With an added bench spot and a need for power, the St. Louis Cardinals should go after Eric Thames or Greg Bird for a bench bat. Why are they good options?

Last week, I wrote about a recently released Jesus Aguilar and why he would be a good fit for the St. Louis Cardinals. That piece was met with some fair criticism about how Aguilar is a worse version of Jose Martinez. While I disagree, the batting profiles of both are similar enough to make that argument. The thing is, neither of those players fills a role the team has said they wanted to fill for the last couple of years. That role is the mystical lefty off the bench.

This isn’t something that the team has said in 2019, but it’s a role they have wanted to fill in years past and still haven’t. The premise I wrote about with Aguilar was basically that with the addition of a 26th man on the roster, teams can now afford to have a player on the bench who is strictly there to pinch-hit and do it with some power.

This isn’t a novel idea as plenty of teams do this, it’s just not something we have seen the Cardinals do very often. Now there are two more names who are free agents who could be great fits for this role.

Eric Thames

Eric Thames deserves a ton of credit for resurrecting his career. After stalling in the MLB in 2012 after just two years in the league, he jumped the pond and played for the NC Dinos in Korea for three years. In the KBO, Thames was basically a superhero, hitting for an average OPS of 1.172 while also averaging 41 homers per year.

That performance netted him a deal back in the USA with the Brewers. Other than some injury issues in 2018, Thames has been dangerous since returning to the MLB. Seeing him all the time with the Brewers, Cardinals fans should know this.

Looking at the numbers, Thames has averaged an .848 OPS with 31 homers a year. Now going into his age 33 season, Thames was released by the Brewers because the team apparently thought his $7.5M salary was too much for 2020.

Now a free agent, the Cardinals could sign him for this bench role. He will probably want a starting job, but if the team can convince him to fill that bench role, he would be a huge get. Thames plays first base primarily but can also play a corner outfield spot. In reality, he could be a part-time or even full-time left field replacement for Marcell Ozuna as Thames is just slightly below average defensively in the outfield.

If the Brewers are trying to resign Thames for less than that $7.5M mark that he was due in 2020, it would make sense to think that the Cardinals could sign Thames for around that amount. Stealing the slugger from the NL Central rivals would also be a big win too.

Greg Bird

Bird is admittedly a much less attractive option than Thames as Bird has a career bWAR of 0.1 over his four years in the MLB. For Bird, the biggest thing is health. The former New York Yankee came up as a top prospect but in his four seasons in the MLB, he’s only played 140 games. In his 611 total at-bats, Bird does have 32 homers but his power is really his only tool.

A career .211 batter, Bird looked like a future star after his 2015 rookie season where he had an .871 OPS and 11 homers in just 178 at-bats. That was four years ago and now Bird finds himself as a free agent.

Bird only plays first base and with no sustained track record, a bench role may be the perfect fit for him. He would come a ton cheaper than what Thames would take to sign and he fits the bargain-bin John Mozeliak signing well. He is no sure thing, but if Bird could stay healthy, there’s a chance that he could return to what he was his rookie year.

At the age of 27, Bird’s still got two years before he’s out of arbitration, all he needs is a team.

There is definitely a difference between Thames and Bird, but with that difference in numbers, there’s a difference in price. Thames would be a great veteran presence to bring in as a safety net for left field and an added weapon off of the bench. Bird would be a guy who would be strictly a bench bat (like Aguilar) but one who could return to form with health.

Next: Trade chains to remember — and one to forget

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As the Cardinals look at ways to upgrade this winter, the bench will definitely be a spot they look to. Thames and Bird are honestly better options than Aguilar because they are lefties, but hopefully the Cardinals choose to use the new 26th roster spot in a way that helps an offense that needs plenty of help after what we saw in 2019.

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