Cheap Seats

When will St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, hitting coach John Mabry and GM John Mozeliak start to feel the heat?

I can understand why the St. Louis Cardinals demoted struggling outfield Randal Grichuk.

He was fighting lately to keep his batting average above .220 while piling up the strikeouts.

But I can’t understand two things:

1) Why do the folks in the front office seem to be continually surprised that people with a three or four-year history in big leagues continue to play the way they’ve always played before?

2) Why is it that the Cardinals can’t seem to develop good all-around players anymore? Grichuk is a mess. Kolten Wong is a picture of inconsistency. Stephen Piscotty has regressed...

I was more than a little surprised over the off-season when the Cardinals said they didn’t believe they needed to go out and get a middle of the order bat because they expected Grichuk to take a more prominent role in the middle of the lineup. Really? Are we talking about the guy who was twice demoted last year for striking out too often and producing too seldom? While Grichuk hit pretty well over the second half of last year, what made general manager John Mozeliak decide that he was cured of all that ailed him and ready to be a consistent slugger in the big leagues?

Grichuk was a prominent part of the St. Louis plans, penciled in to improve on Matt Holliday’s defense in left field while replacing his power and run production in the offense. Why?

I am one of the increasingly rare fans in St. Louis who thinks Grichuk deserves to be in the lineup. At least as much or more than the likes of Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez or dearly departed left field experiment Matt Adams. Mozeliak said last off-season that job one was improving the defense. Grichuk is the best outfield defender besides Magneuris Sierra who has played for the club in the big leagues this year. He made two excellent plays on Saturday that I doubt anyone besides Sierra could have made. But he was shipped out on Sunday. His replacement in the field, journeyman minor leaguer Martinez, practically gave broadcaster Mike Shannon a stroke with his boneheaded play in the field Sunday, causing the member of the 1964, ’67 and ’68 World Series clubs to go on a lengthy rant about the club’s absent-minded play and shoddy defense. Martinez in the same game struck out and hit into a back-breaking double play.

While Grichuk’s hitting might be his fault, whose fault is it that he was counted on by this franchise? Whose fault is it that a better player wasn’t secured to play left field over the winter? Is it Grichuk’s fault that Matt Carpenter isn’t hitting? That Dexter Fowler isn’t hitting? That Piscotty isn’t hitting when he’s in the lineup?

When do the coaches become accountable for the mass failures of the offense and defense? When do the people who acquired these flawed players become accountable?

The Cardinals are in love with the idea of developing from within. But they failed to develop Grichuk to his fullest potential. He has power, speed and defensive ability including a strong throwing arm. A batting eye is something that can be developed. Those other traits are natural abilities you either have or you don’t.

I’d go as far as to say that Grichuk is one of the most complete players on the 40-man roster right now. And that’s not saying a lot. The team STILL can’t do anything with him. Aledmys Diaz is here for his bat but he’s not a very good defender at all. Carpenter is the same — good hitter, crummy fielder. He’s playing his third starting position as the front office tries to find a place where he can hurt them the least in the field. Piscotty has had trouble finding consistency at the plate. His numbers aren’t much different than Grichuk’s — except that he has less power. And, while it initially seemed he would be an excellent outfielder, his defense has deteriorated the last season and a half. Yadier Molina is an excellent catcher and a team leader. But he’s slow as molasses and doesn’t have the pop to be a middle of the order slugger.

This team has a tendency to draft players who do some things well — but they have other glaring deficiencies. Then it makes questionable decisions about their development. Reports indicate that yesterday Magneuris Sierra was summoned back to the big leagues from Class AA Springfield — but then, after he was already on his way to St. Louis, club officials called him to say they’d changed their mind and were leaving him in the minors. Is that any way to treat a prospect? How messed up must his head be now? Whether or not the National League eventually adopts the designated hitter (and I hope it doesn’t) teams will only have room for one player who can hit but can’t field even one position decently. So the Birds need to stop rolling the dice on guys who seem to be able to hit who have no decent fielding position.

I still believe, as I have said before, that this is a team that is secretly trying to rebuild. It’s leaders don’t want to alienate ticket buying fans with a public overhaul. But, with the minors full of young talent and the refusal to fill obvious needs, can there be any other explanation than that the Redbirds are trying to keep the Busch Stadium seats warm until Harrison Bader, Sierra, Carson Kelly and others are brought in to take the place of their mediocre current players?