Friday is apparently D-Day for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Stephen Piscotty is eligible to come off the disabled list after a mild hamstring strain while struggling third baseman Jhonny Peralta has just about completed his rehab stint as he attempts to recover from — ahem — a cold.
With two regulars ready to come back into the fold, the Birds have some tough decisions to make, specifically, who is coming and who is going? Are the Cardinals going to do the easy thing and reset the roster back to the configuration that lead them to a 3-9 start? Or are they going to eat some cash by showing veteran players the door, gambling their season on kids who are hot now but who haven’t got a long track record of success
If it was up to me, I’d take the gamble and keep electric prospect Magneuris Sierra in St. Louis — at least a while longer — waving the veteran infielder Peralta to make room.
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Piscotty was hitting .241 with two homers and 11 RBIs when he went on the shelf after 98 plate appearances. His replacement, Tommy Pham, is hitting .326 with three home runs and 10 RBIs after 51 plate appearances.
Jose Martinez was hitting .313 with a homer and four RBIs when he pulled a groin muscle while running to first base, creating an opportunity for Sierra to make the massive leap from high-Class A Palm Beach to Busch Stadium. Since his arrival, Sierra is batting .367 with a .406 on base percentage. And he’s played stellar outfield defense.
Peralta was batting an embarrassing .120 with a .185 on-base percentage when he was disabled. That created a chance for Jedd Gyorko to find regular playing time at the hot corner. He’s batting .331 with a team-leading seven home runs.
Piscotty obviously isn’t going anywhere. He just signed a long-term contract extension with the Cardinals. So he’s going to be a starter. With Martinez out for a while longer, that leaves one outfield spot to be filled. Who do the Birds keep between Peralta, Pham and Sierra?
The easy choice is to keep Peralta because he’s got a $10-million contract for this season. But instead of forcing Peralta into the mix to justify his paycheck, St. Louis should put him on waivers to see if another team will claim the remaining 4 ½ months of his pact. No team will, almost certainly. But if Peralta clears waivers, the Birds can keep him down in the minor leagues to see if he justifies a call-up at some later point.
So who’s next on the list? Pham?
Not so fast. Pham still has options left. That means the Cardinals can send him to the minors and call him up at will without the fear of losing him. There’s flexibility there. Pham is a known quantity — a fourth or fifth outfielder who is 29 years old.
I’m more interested in taking a chance to see where the Sierra experiment goes. Willie McGee, Vince Coleman and Albert Pujols were all supposedly temporary call-ups at one point. But they played so well they never were demoted. While Sierra made a huge jump, who is to say that he needs to go back down? Let him play until he starts to struggle at least.
The other option is to keep both Sierra and Pham, replacing a relief pitcher with an extra infielder. The Redbirds could send away Miguel Socolovich or Jonathon Broxton to make room to keep both outfielders.
The Cardinals were a lifeless team before Sierra arrived. He’s created a lot of excitement with his offensive contributions and his speed. But let’s not forget that he’s the best center fielder in the St. Louis organization. And that means he could contribute to a defensively challenged team whether he hits or not.
Pham is a mediocre outfielder at best. If he remains, he’s going to strictly be a reserve after Piscotty comes back. Sierra has game-changing talent, so he’s a guy who could be a pseudo starter by playing once or twice a week in each of the three outfield positions. If he gets the playing time and he’s producing, it would be silly to take the team’s spark plug out of the engine and put it back on the shelf.
I don’t believe this is what the Birds will do. But I firmly believe it’s what they should do.