The Cardinals have yet to see consistent production from their center fielders, so what could they do to add more value to a premium outfield position?
In 2016, center field was one of the weaker positions on the Cardinals roster. Randal Grichuk, after a successful rookie season, struggled his sophomore year, batting just .240 while spending time in the Minor Leagues (although that may have been due to his inconsistent playing time). Tommy Pham looked promising at times, but struggled down the stretch, finishing the season with just a .226 batting average. Even Kolten Wong spent time in centerfield. Due to the ineffectiveness of several of these players, the Cardinals may look to upgrade in the outfield.
The free agent class this offseason is weak. Because of this, the Cardinals may want to extend the leash on Grichuk, as towards the end of the year he began playing like his 2015 self. I have full confidence in Grichuk’s ability to grow as a baseball player, and play a solid center field for years to come. But if the Cardinals feel the need to win next year, there are a few options.
Yoenis Cespedes is one of the top players to hit free agency this offseason. As such, he will likely look for a long-term, high-salary deal that could cripple a team towards the back end of his career. Don’t expect to see him wearing Cardinal red next season.
Ian Desmond looks like the best option on the free agent market this offseason. Plus, his value at shortstop would add another body to the Cardinals infield. Desmond has been solid throughout his career, discounting a disappointing 2015 campaign, consistently hitting above .250 while also providing his share of power, hitting about 20 homers a year. Desmond would prove to be a valuable asset to the team, adding depth to a strong lineup and instantly improve the Cardinals’ chances of competing for a title next year.
Another possibility, and stick with me here, is Justin Turner. You might be thinking, isn’t Turner a third basemen? Yes. If Turner was signed by the Cardinals, an infield rotation would occur, as Matt Carpenter would move from third to second, and Kolten Wong could be pushed into the outfield. Adding Turner to the infield would give the Cardinals more depth, and having both Wong and Grichuk confined to center field would allow the Cardinals to play the matchups, having Wong hit against righties while Grichuk plays against righties.
I think a full season of Wong and Grichuk sharing the spotlight in center field would be good for the team, as Wong would be able to focus on his abilities in center field rather than constantly moving around, and Grichuk would be able to finally see some semblance of a spot in the lineup.
Trade for a Center Fielder?
The Cardinals could also trade for a player, but with the way the farm system has been able to consistently churn out big-league ready players, I don’t see that happening. Plus, 22 year-old Harrison Bader has been consistently improving, and if whoever the Cardinals play in center next year fails, expect Bader to make an impact early.
Center field hasn’t been a particularly strong spot for the Cardinals recently. Jon Jay struggled in 2015, although the team did get a great season out of Grichuk. And both Rasmus and Ankiel before him had their upsides, but never truly became great.
The Randal Grichuk experiment has, to this point, not yet yielded a result. Randal Grichuk will be a successful baseball player for his career. But the Cardinals are a perennial playoff contender, and they must expect greatness out of their players. Whether or not Grichuk is the man for the job has yet to be determined, but if the team believes he isn’t, there are some options, one of which being Kolten Wong.
What do I think? Even with Grichuk’s struggles last season, I think the team should stay still this offseason in the outfield, maybe signing some infield help to let Wong platoon and pull some pressure off Grichuk. But I think Grichuk’s rookie campaign gave us enough to extend the leash another year and see if he can’t become the next great Cardinals outfielder.
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