We now have more clarity on what roles Nootbaar and Edman will fill for Cardinals

The Cardinals' lineup and defensive configuration are about to get major shake-ups with the return of Lars Nootbaar and Tommy Edman.
St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves
St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

It's kind of crazy to think that the St. Louis Cardinals are right in the thick of the playoff hunt as July presses on, and they've still yet to have their full outfield at their disposal for a single game this year.

It has already been bad enough that Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have struggled as much as they have, on top of losing catcher Willson Contreras for over six weeks (who has played like an All-Star this year), but being without Lars Nootbaar for multiple prolonged stretches and still not seeing Tommy Edman hit the field has created even more issues for a lineup that was supposed to be promising.

Now that Nootbaar is just days away from his return and Edman is about to begin his rehab assignment, we are starting to see how each of the pieces will fit together once the pair return to this roster.

Lars Nootbaar and Tommy Edman's roles will shake up how the lineup looks in a significant way

When Nootbaar returns here in the next few days, he'll return to being an everyday outfielder for the Cardinals in the corners. On days when Brendan Donovan plays left field, Nootbaar can slide into right field and allow the Cardinals to DH Alec Burleson, but Nootbaar can also play left field if Donovan fills in for Nolan Arenado or Nolan Gorman at third or second base.

With Nootbaar's return being closer than Edman's, it's likely that we continue to see Gorman get significant opportunities at second base to turn things around, but his margin for error will shrink significantly once Edman is back. At the moment, it makes the most sense to just have Alec Burleson DH more, but we could see Gorman get an off-day when Pedro Pages starts at catcher and Contreras gets the DH at-bats that day.

Where things really shake up is when Edman returns. Until recently, the Cardinals have been adamant that Edman is the club's starting center fielder, and that they really don't envision him bouncing around like he has in years past. But with Michael Siani's Gold Glove defense in center field this year, the club is very open-minded to what Edman's role could look like upon his return.

According to Katie Woo of The Athletic (subscription required), the Cardinals are exploring the idea of a center field platoon with Siani and Edman. In this scenario, Siani would start in center field against right-handed pitchers while Edman would get the nod against southpaws. Woo made sure to note that it is likely that Edman will still have an everyday role against right-handed pitching, but that would likely come somewhere other than center field.

This idea makes a lot of sense for the club. While Siani's bat isn't anything special against right-handed pitching, it is significantly better than what he produces vs. left-handers. Siani has posted a .261/.288/.345 (81 wRC+) slash line on the year against right-handed pitching while regressing to a .145/.203/.236 (27 wRC+) slash line when facing lefties. Edman, on the other hand, has been slightly below league average against righties but has posted a .277/.320/.483 (117 wRC+) slash line against lefties.

The Nolan Gorman side of things will greatly dictate Edman's playing time against right-handed hitters. Should Gorman find himself before Edman returns, he'll maintain his everyday spot at second base and allow the Cardinals to get creative with Edman's usage against right-handed pitchers. While I do not think Edman would supplant any of the other Cardinal regulars, I could see him playing almost every day by spelling Winn, Gorman, Siani at shortstop, center field, and second base, and possibly see some time in the corner outfield to allow Donovan to spell Arenado at third base or Burleson to give Goldschmidt and off-day at first base.

Now, all of this assumes full health for the roster, which could change any day as we've seen already this year. If Gorman does continue to struggle, my guess is they give him a reduced role with Edman at second base against right-handed starters, or they could possibly send Gorman down to Memphis to get things worked out.

While I don't think Gorman's long-term future with the club is anywhere close to being in jeopardy, I do think two players may be seeing the writing on the wall here soon - Dylan Carlson and Ivan Herrera. Carlson just doesn't have a role anymore with Siani's emergence once Nootbaar and Edman are back, so I think it's very likely we will see him moved by the deadline. Herrera on the other hand should not be seen as a guy the Cardinals want to move, but the emergence of Pedro Pages may cause St. Louis to keep their minds open to any significant upgrades they could make by moving Herrera.

Here is how I see the Cardinals roster shaking out once both Edman and Nootbaar are back here soon.

vs. RHP
SS Masyn Winn
RF Lars Nootbaar
C Willson Contreras
DH Alec Burleson
LF Brendan Donovan
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
2B Nolan Gorman/Tommy Edman
CF Michael Siani

vs. LHP
SS Masyn Winn
RF Alec Burleson
DH Willson Contreras
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
2B Brendan Donovan
CF Tommy Edman
LF Lars Nootbaar
C Pedro Pages

That's what the tea leaves, and more importantly, the reporting, seem to indicate at the moment. We'll see how those plans potentially evolve over the coming days and weeks.