Cheap Seats

St. Louis Cardinals need to decide which outfield prospects to hold — and which ones to fold

Sooner or later, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to make some tough roster decisions regarding their glut of outfielders, especially those that play center.

I’m hoping, unlike with the trade of Matt Adams, the local nine can swap out some pieces they can’t use for bits that can help this club contend in 2017 and beyond.

According to some reports, the reason top international prospect Luis Robert opted to sign with the Chicago White Sox over the Redbirds is the fact that he saw too much competition in the St. Louis system for the premium spot in the center of the outfield. Who could blame a guy if he knows he is on the fast track to the majors but he looks at the depth chart and doesn’t see a path?

The Cardinals just signed center fielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract. Left fielder Randal Grichuk is a center fielder who was moved to find some playing time. Top-rated prospect Harrison Bader plays center. Magneuris Sierra, who we just saw in a brief stint in St. Louis, is playing left field in Class AA Memphis because Oscar Mercado is batting over .300 playing center field on that club. Also in Springfield, right fielder Jose Aroldis Garcia is a capable center fielder.

There’s depth and then there’s deeeeeepth. The Cardinals have SIX guys who are serious contenders to play center field for the team over the next several years. Still, it’s going to be a shame if Robert turns out to be the superstar many project and the Birds couldn’t find a way to somehow fit him in the picture.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or the added pressure for playing time. But when Sierra was sent to Class AA from the major leagues, Mercado was batting .331. But, since that time, he’s seen his average drop to .302 with three hits in his last 23 at-bats.

Far too many times in recent years we’ve seen can’t-miss prospects somehow elude their target of becoming major-league mainstays. Brett Wallace, Colby Rasmus, Zack Cox… And those are the epic busts, not the shades of gray that are Michael Wacha and Marco Gonzales thanks to injuries and Kolten Wong has been thanks to inconsistency.

It’s up to the Redbirds to figure out who is the real deal and who isn’t. They need to trade away some of the surplus outfielders for some help in other places around the diamond. But it’s always tough to part with top prospects because general managers cringe at the thought of the guy they gave up on going on to star someplace else. That’s no excuse. There just isn’t room for all of the talent to fit into the picture. The team needs to convert resources it can’t use into ones it can.

The Cardinals could try to hang on to a few of these kids by continuing to fan them out to left and right field. But even those spots are jammed with Stephen Piscotty under contract at very reasonable terms for the next five years and Grichuk still years away from hitting the free agent market.

Will the Redbirds be willing to trade Piscotty’s team-friendly deal or will they hang on to him to have a cost-controlled major-leaguer in the fold for half a decade?

While a lot of Cardinals fans were very excited about the imminent arrival of Bader as recently as spring training, it now looks like he might be the odd man out. Bader, who is hitting .299 with six home runs in Class AAA with two four-hit games in the past week, is a very capable player. But it doesn’t seem like the parent club has a place to put him with Fowler freshly under contract. Besides, the speed demon Sierra seems to have passed Bader on the depth chart, earning the call to the big leagues first.

I’m glad I don’t have to be the one who decides who stays and who goes. The Cardinals can’t afford to let the most talented of these players slip through their fingers. But they can’t afford to stand pat, either.