Heading into the offseason, the Cardinals didn’t seem to have too much work to do with their outfield. Sure, they were set to lose Carlos Beltran, but they had depth within the organization and there hardly seemed to be a need to go fishing on the free agent market. A quick trade to maybe give themselves some improvement in center field happened early in the winter, but everything else was left alone. Now here we are with less than two weeks before pitchers and catcher report and less than a month before position players make their way and there’s still no room for potential rookie sensation, Oscar Taveras.
Let’s start with the easy stuff first…
Left field will, once again, be patrolled by veteran outfielder Matt Holliday. Is there really anything that needs to be said here? Since coming over to the Cardinals, he’s averaged just under 25 home runs, 94 runs scored, 94 RBI and five stolen bases each year, all while maintaining a career slash line of .311/.387/.531. And that includes one season where he got hurt and played in just 124 games. As our own Mike Podhorzer said, he is the model of consistency. Sure, there’s eventually going to be some drop-off. He’s 34-years old, after all. But based on his batted ball data and his plate discipline numbers, it doesn;t appear as if he’s goign to be falling off the cliff anytime soon. Bottom line, he’s the type of guy you want on your fantasy team. You’re not breaking the bank to acquire him, but he’s probably been a part of a lot more fantasy championship teams than many would think. As a top-20 outfielder in the NFBC, his ADP is at 54.33 right now and in the series of mocks I’ve done to date, he’s gone between the 55th and 60th pick, regularly. While ADP data, at this time, may not be the most reliable, that seems about right.
In center field, it looked as if the Cardinals were going to go into the season with Jon Jay. He’s not your ideal choice, but he’s certainly not a liability out there. Defensively he can cover plenty of ground, though there seemed to be a number of times where he didn’t look to get the best jump on the ball, and offensively, he’s got decent plate discipline and is sporting a career .356 on-base percentage. He’s got 10-home run power and 15-steal potential, so from a reality standpoint, he’s definitely passable. From a fantasy standpoint, he’s filler material from your waiver wire.
But the Cards then went out and swapped third baseman David Freese for under-utilized Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos. Defensively, Bourjos is probably the better player and he’s got more speed on the bases. But he’s also got his shortcomings at the plate as well, such as a high strikeout rate and a career slash line of just .251/.306/.398. If he could make the adjustment to turn that excessively-high ground ball rate into some line drives and maybe take a walk a little more often, then he could man the job by himself this season. He and Jay should fight it out this spring, but we’ll likely see them in more of a straight-up lefty/righty platoon.
And finally, over in right field, we’ve got Allen Craig. With the emergence of Matt Adams and the loss of Beltran, the Cardinals felt comfortable moving Craig out to right field on a permanent basis. Now I’m not going to get into the debate about Craig here again. We’ve had it here on the site already and I don’t need a comments section full of people asking me where all this hate is coming from. I don’t hate the guy. This isn’t some personal vendetta. I just won’t recommend him for fantasy purposes. He’s got solid power potential and has shown in the past, both in the minors and the majors that he is capable of hitting 20-plus home runs each year with a strong .300-plus average. He didn’t show it last year, the power that is, but it’s probably still lurking in there somewhere. The problem for me is that, not only does Craig have an injury history that cannot and should not be ignored, but the faithful who love him so much continue to push his ADP to a level where he offers even-money at best. The NFBC have him listed as a top-10 first baseman with an ADP of 53.60 and in the mocks that I’ve done he’s hovering in that area again. For me, that’s just too high for a guy with his level of risk. I mean, he’s going right around where Holliday is going, and for me, there’s almost no comparison.
And that ultimately brings us to Taveras, because, as a fantasy guy, there’s little about back-ups Shane Robinson or Randal Grichuk that excites me. Sure, Grichuk has shown some nice power development at the lower levels in the minors, but he hasn’t had an at-bat above Double-A yet and he’s not getting the call before Taveras is. If Taveras gets the call, that is.
We’re all well-aware of the talent that Taveras possesses. He’s got good power potential, good speed potential, fairly decent plate discipline and we expect him to be a long-standing talent in the majors for years to come. He was expected to get the call last year, but an ankle injury, pretty much, decimated his entire season. He is healthy now and should resume his talented career in style. However, given the outfield personnel and the current configuration in the outfield, the Cardinals simply don’t have a spot for him right now.
He’ll get a chance to “compete” for a job this spring, but it’s highly unlikely that he starts the season in the majors. He seems destined to open the year at Triple-A and prove himself once again. Of course, that could change. Adams could forget how to hit this spring and should Taveras tear it up, the team could move Craig back to first and go with Taveras in right. Or Craig could get hurt during the spring and the team opts to go with him instead of simply moving Bourjos over to the corner. Or any combination of things could occur. We’re all well aware of the unexpected, but chances are, we won’t see Taveras until May, at the earliest. He’s still a talent worth stashing, in my opinion, so don’t dismiss him altogether, but his time is not yet now.
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