Cardinal’s Outfield Answer?

The Cardinals shocked the baseball world when they made a huge trade this season.  I am of course talking about trading Dexter Fowler to the Los Angeles Angels.  Fowler’s tenure in St. Louis was not a complete disaster. His first season and his last season were serviceable.  The Cardinals moving on from Fowler leaves a hole in the outfield that will likely be filled with a young bat.  The Cardinals will fill from within.  There is a guy that will have to step up and it’s not the player that most would think. 

With Marcell Ozuna signing with the Braves and Andrew Benintendi being traded to the Royals  there are no impact bats on the market that are going to be able to step in and make a difference behind Goldschmidt and Arenado.  The Cardinals are looking to step into the future with a projected outfield consisting of Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neil and Dylan Carlson.  Each of the aforementioned outfielders are not above the age of 26 and none have proven to be an efficient major league player for a full 162 game schedule.  

The Cardinals outfield youth will be a challenge to a team that is looking to contend immediately.  St. Louis will likely have to look to its organizational depth to protect their team.  While 2020 free agent signee Austin Dean impressed in spring training and when given opportunities in-season he is not the long term answer to the Cardinals question.  Justin Williams was picked up in the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Rays in July of 2019.  Williams has been a long time prospect in every system he has been a part of.  The former second round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks finished his first season with the Cardinals impressively with a slash line of .340/.427/.553. When healthy Williams has shown serious power, blasting 14 homers with the Rays in double-A (2017) and seven homers in 31 games in triple-A Memphis (2019).

The Cardinals have moved on from left-handed bats Brad Miller, Matt Wieters (switch), Kolten Wong and of course Dexter Fowler.  The acquisition of Nolan Arenado will likely lead to less at bats for Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals will need to have more threats from the left side of the plate and Williams will find his chance to make the difference for the organization in late game situations, pinch hitting for O’Neil and Bader. 

The Cards future is based on Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter sucked in 2019.  I wanted to come up with a more sophisticated way of saying that but as a Cardinals fan and a baseball fan there are really no other words that encapsulate the horrible season the Cardinals third baseman had.  He stunk, he knew and we knew it.

An MLB player having a regression year happens, pitchers begin to understand how to pitch to him or an injury slows them down.  The regression level Carpenter saw when compared to 2018 though was astronomical. You may call it Dexter Fowler-esque.

WAR WRC+ ISO SLUG

2018- 5.0 2018- 141 2018- .266 2018- .523

2019- 1.2 2019- 95 2019- .166 2019- .392

Analytics driven stats destroy Carpenter..  The acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt was made to solidify the middle of the order behind Carpenter.  Carpenter, well known for starting the season slow, started about as slow as you can possibly start.  Starting the season hitting just .204 along with a .328 OBP during the first month and a half of the year.  Things didn’t get much better for Carp as his struggles forced the organization to move Carpenter from the top of the order.

The point is, Carpenter sucked last year.  There are no ways around it. Entering his age 34 season Carpenter’s regression seems real.  The scariest stat is his 12% walk rate in 2019. Carpenter was known for his ability to get on base and that took a huge hit last season dropping his OBP a staggering 40 points!  St. Louis needed Carpenter to step up his power in 2018 so a likely regression from 2017 OBP was going to happen. His approach at the plate changed and he has not been able to get back to where they need it to be.  

The question is which Carpenter are they going to get enteing 2020?  A change in his swing is the early story of spring training so hopefully he can regain his batting eye.  Being locked into a contract that is going to pay him $18.5 million over the next three seasons will force him into the order.   He has to retool his approach at the plate, find that batting eye that forced opposing pitchers to put the ball over the plate and allow him to extend and drive the ball. If he bounces back to even a shadow of the player that became a cornerstone in the lineup from 2012-2018 the Cardinals will be able to wait on the further development of their young players.  

Carpenter’s role on the Cardinals will be an interesting case in how the season will develop.  If he continues to struggle the organization will be forced to play Tommy Edman more at 3rd base which would most likely lead to more playing time for Lane Thomas in the outfield.  If they go another route the Cardinals could be forced to push Dylan Carlson up whether they believe he is ready or not. I am a believer in waiting for the development of minor league talent.  In today’s baseball world patients is not a virtue. Talented players are put into positions to sink or swim. The players that swim, jump straight into the limelight of the profession. The Cardinals giant marketing push of Harrison Bader heading into 2019 was an example of a team that saw a spark in a young player and rode with it.  That didn’t work out very well, which could halt the organization from pushing the talented Carlson to the big club. 

The Cardinals didn’t add Anthony Rendon or Nolan Arenado to the team due to the fact that they had Carpenter written in at 3rd base in permanent marker.  A team that should be looking to always be moving forward has shown an inability to move on from players and coaches that have impeded the growth of the organization.  Carpenter’s play will be the biggest factor to determine the success and direction of the franchise for the next three years. While I hope he is successful, I’m not going to hold my breath.