The St. Louis Cardinals fell in love with Tyler O'Neill during his exceptional season in 2021, and they have been too tantalized by his talent to let him go despite his maddening injury problems and lack of consistent effort on the field.
The Cardinals scratched O'Neill from the lineup on August 8th and 9th against the Tampa Bay Rays because of left knee discomfort. It was the latest in what has been a seemingly endless list of injuries for the outfielder, but what opened eyes was O'Neill's comment about his malady. According to O'Neill, he wanted to be "full throttle" and didn't believe he could do that. He also said that turf, such as that at Tampa's Tropicana Field, "isn't kind to my knees."
Players are going to be banged up, and the ability to play through pain is a core facet of being an athlete. O'Neill's refusal to play unless he feels completely pain-free likely does not endear him to his teammates who battle through their injuries and give their best effort on the field. Nor would it seem to please manager Oliver Marmol, who plans on how to construct the lineup and utilize the designated hitter spot and the days off for other players.
Early in the season, Marmol received some flak for calling out O'Neill on his failure to hustle on a play at the plate. Many fans at the time criticized Marmol for airing his grievances with O'Neill publicly instead of behind closed doors. But Marmol might have the last laugh, as fans' perspective on O'Neill may have changed from "injury-prone guy trying to recapture his 2021 form" to "guy who doesn't care enough to give his best effort every game."
Not only are the Cardinals suffering because of O'Neill's unwillingness to play, but his reluctance will continue to torpedo his trade value as other teams aren't able to see him play and they become aware of his desire to play only when he is all systems go. His comment about turf being unkind to his knees will likely sink his chances of being traded to any team that has artificial turf, which includes the Rays, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Blue Jays, and Rangers.
O'Neill's lengthy injury history will probably cost him when he gets to arbitration as well, although that likely won't be with the Cardinals. The arbiters will undoubtedly use his litany of injuries and his choice not to play through minor ones as reasons to give O'Neill a lower salary.
O'Neill has all the tools that exist in a baseball player, but his Cardinals tenure is tracking like that of Carlos Martinez: a player adorned with significant gifts who rarely use them to their full potential. He appears to be taking his career for granted right now, and he could be in for a rude awakening when offered his next contract. O'Neill's lackadaisical approach to the game has hampered the Cardinals, and other teams are taking note of it.