Few teams have an outfield as “set in stone” as the St. Louis Cardinals. The team nearly missed making it to the World Series, losing a drawn-out seven-game series to the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, and they did it while getting a combined 12.8 WAR from the three guys expected to man the outfield in 2013. So while the team’s outfield features three “safe” fantasy bets for the 2013 season, there’s a wild card hidden away here that may pay fantasy dividends at the end of the season.
Consistency, thy name is Matt Holliday. Aside from the loss of his stolen base totals from the mid-00s, Holliday has hardly dropped off one bit in terms of fantasy production. Playing in all but five games in 2012, Holliday delivered his usual combination of runs (95), RBI (102), homers (27), and batting average (.295). Do you play in an OBP league? Holliday does that too, posting a .379 on-base percentage last season. And though he may have struck out just a hair more than in previous seasons, all signs look good from a peripherals standpoint.
Holliday consistently gets drafted as about a fourth- or fifth-rounder in most standard drafts, but if you’re especially risk-averse, I’d consider plucking him even a little higher. There aren’t many more safer bets than an elite hitter in the heart of a solid lineup, especially with Holliday’s track record of success.
Jon Jay turned out to be a nice fantasy pickup for several teams in 2012. While the Cardinals’ center fielder didn’t play a full slate of games, dealing with a shoulder injury, he was actually pretty great when he was on the field and hitting in the leadoff spot. Jay hit .305 on the back on a .355 BABIP, which is high, but not much different from his career number. He also logged 19 steals and scored 70 runs, putting him in prime position to be third outfielder on any fantasy squad, shallow or deep. He may not post the sexiest numbers, but as long as he’s hitting atop the potent Cardinal lineup, he’s a sneaky-good outfield option in the middle rounds of a draft.
Carlos Beltran started off his Cardinals career red-hot, but faded as the 2012 season went on. While his overall stat line was very, very good (32 HR, 13 SB, 83 R, and 92 RBI) he didn’t perform consistently all season. Erik Hahmann posted an article detailing Carlos’s decline during July and August at the end of last year, which was driven in part by bad BABIP luck, and in part by a career-high strikeout rate (20% for the season). In addition, Beltran remains a considerable injury risk, given the condition of his knees (bad) and his age (old). Expecting 600+ plate appearances and the same level of performance next season may be a bit optimistic, but his bat still works. If he remains healthy, the Cards have a fearsome middle-of-the-order hitter here, and so should your fantasy team.
If Beltran does not remain healthy, though, perhaps the Cardinals still have a fearsome middle-of-the-order hitter in right field. Oscar Taveras has shot up prospect leaderboards on the heels of a ridiculous 2012 in Double-A, where Taveras hit 23 home runs and posted a .321 batting average. He’s got precious little to prove in the minors, with blazing-fast hands and prodigious power for a player entering his age-21 season. The only thing likely stopping Taveras from being a better-than-average major-league hitter in 2013 are the players ahead of him, like Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. If Beltran does have his knee injuries flare up, and he expects to miss a substantive amount of time in the second half of the season, I’d expect Taveras to get the call, and for him to produce a high average and a bit of pop right away. But unless you’re in a keeper league, draft Beltran first in the middle rounds, and save Taveras for either a late-round flier or a mid-season acquisition. He’s too blocked to be of immediate value.
Shane Robinson is probably the “fourth” outfielder on the team, in terms of his ability to back up all three outfield positions without embarassing himself. If Jon Jay is going to hit the 15-day DL, or Carlos Beltran needs a late-inning defensive replacement, Shane is probably the guy. But when it comes to fantasy, he’s nothing you’d want to invest in. Robinson has little power, indifferent stolen base totals, and no hit tool to speak of (.274 wOBA over 215 major-league PA). Worst of all, if one of the three Cardinals starters goes down for an extended period, it seems unlikely that Robinson will get regular PT. The same’s basically true for Adron Chambers, if he steals this position away from Robinson.
The guys who will get first crack if Holliday or Carlos Beltran can’t go are likely to be one of Matt Carpenter or offseason acquisition Ty Wigginton. Carpenter is an interesting fantasy play this season, as he’s reportedly contending for the second base job with Daniel Descalso and Kolten Wong. Carpenter posted a solid average (.294) and wOBA (.355) in 340 PA last season, but is more likely to find a home in the infield. Wigginton has seen his overall offensive ability decline in recent years, but still posted 11 HR in 360 PA in 2012 for Philadelphia. He’s a cheap source of power in an emergency, but is unlikely to get all that many plate appearances, or help you in any other way.
In the end, the three guys who suit up Opening Day are likely to be the three guys in the outfield when the season finishes up, provided the team contends as expected. Robinson, Wigginton, Adron Chambers … all these guys are ulikely to be factors at all. Matt Carpenter could be a multi-positional asset to your team, but it’s less likely that he’ll have value in the outfield. And Oscar Taveras is lurking, but he’s probably only a consideration if a serious injury strikes, if the team fails miserably, or if you’re playing in a keeper league. Look to him in 2014, but look to the vets for this season.
Left field: Matt Holliday
Center field: Jon Jay
Right field: Carlos Beltran
Bench: Shane Robinson, Matt Carpenter and/or Ty Wigginton
Coming soon: Oscar Taveras