Although Randal Grichuk’s demotion was surprising, it certainly wasn’t unwarranted. While waiting for him to return, though, Tommy Pham needs to play everyday.
Tommy Pham really didn’t earn a trip back to the major leagues with his play in Triple-A. He was actually having his worst season with a reasonable number of at-bats since 2009. The reason for his promotion was that Randal Grichuk’s demotion created a giant hole in center field.
I have been one of Grichuk’s supporters throughout his season long slump. I believe that his fielding has been phenomenal and that he made some adjustments at the plate that will help him become a better hitter in the long term (find my article about it here). Most importantly, though, the Cardinals had nobody else who was adequate in center field. In other words, I was strongly against benching him for someone who couldn’t play the position.
I did not consider the idea of a demotion because, well, it’s a pretty gutsy move. However, yesterday John Mozeliak and the Cardinals did just that and it might actually work out very well.
The first thing to note is that Pham can also play center field. He saved five runs there last year in just under 250 innings, so the Cardinals shouldn’t lose too much defensively after sending down Grichuk. Pham may not provide a ton at the plate, but he should give something of value. His incredibly high walk rate may be enough to make him an improvement over Grichuk.
The only question now is whether or not Pham will actually get the chance to play center field. I was shocked to see Kolten Wong out there the other day, and would be pretty surprised if he does well there. Until this year, Wong played very well defensively. Nonetheless, his arm should be viewed as more of a liability in the outfield and he was struggling with getting good jumps on the ball this season. That shouldn’t get better when he starts that much further away from the plate.
If Pham plays center field, then I don’t think the Cardinals lose much from what they were previously producing. If anyone else plays center field, then the team will have some problems to deal with.
The other part of the equation, of course, is Grichuk. Something had to be tried, and I prefer this option to benching him, so I don’t think this is a bad move in a vacuum. We’ll see what happens outside of that vacuum, but the list of young players who have benefitted from a demotion is pretty long.
— Scott (@TexasCardsFan1) June 18, 2016
I have to believe that Wong’s AAA results factored into the Cardinals’ thinking, but he is just the latest example of why sending young players down can work out sometimes. Gregory Polanco and Marcell Ozuna are both currently in the middle of what appear to be breakout seasons and they have both spent time in the minors following initial call-ups.
Another team that has historically done very well with this strategy is the Cincinnati Reds. The list of players that they have sent down after a good portion of time in the major leagues includes Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Devin Mesoraco. Each of those players performed significantly better after being recalled than before being optioned.
The Cardinals are obviously hoping that Grichuk comes back more like the first player on that list than anyone else, but each of those guys either is in a significant role for his team or was in one before getting injured. Wong posted encouraging numbers in Memphis and Grichuk could be headed down a similar path. Time will tell if these are the right moves, but a demotion doesn’t look to be a bad thing.
The demotion could end up helping Grichuk and may be the best move for him in the long term. The real question facing the team is what to do about center field. The Cardinals already got step one right by bringing up a legitimate center fielder in Pham. Step two is actually playing that center fielder. Pham must start in order to make this roster move work while Grichuk is in the minors.
,Photo Captured by: Jasen Vinlove USA TODAY Sports