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If the Cardinals want to get better, they need to stop moving people around

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter on getting first start of season at second base
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Matt Carpenter on getting first start of season at second base

I get that the St. Louis Cardinals love Matt Carpenter's bat so they'll do just about anything to find him a place in the lineup.

But I can't help but believe the fact that the team is constantly moving him around in the field is affecting him negatively both on defense and at the plate. Since 2012, he has been the team's starting first baseman, third baseman, second baseman, third baseman again and first baseman again. Constantly changing his role, perspective and the way he practices might have a little something to do with the fact that the lefty swinger isn't particularly good defensively at any of those spots.

The Redbirds seemed set to leave Carpenter at first base for good two years ago. And that made sense because, while he isn't the most adept player with the leather, his throws definitely leave something to be desired. The first baseman's primary job is to catch the ball while the third baseman is counted on to make good throws. A second baseman has a shorter throw on a routine force out at first base. But he's got to be able to catch and throw in traffic at second base to turn a double play. And, if he goes up the middle to field a grounder, he has make a tough heave against his momentum to nail the runner at first.

Jose Martinez 1.jpg
The Cardinals are trying to shoehorn Jose Martinez into the offense at the expense of defensive stability. Steve Nagy snagy@bnd.com

So, just when it seemed Carpenter had finally found a permanent home, along comes Jose Martinez, whom the Birds front office has suddenly fallen in love with. It's a great story. Martinez was thrown on the trash heap by the Kansas City Royals after winning a Class AAA batting title and the Cardinals — as they love to do — turned the product of a dumpster dive into a productive major league player. Can Martinez hit? Absolutely. But he isn't any better with the glove at first than Carpenter before him. And, suddenly, Carpenter is spending most of his playing time in training back at third base. Those two might be productive with the bat. But will it make up how many runs they give back on defense? Instead of shoehorning one poor defender into the batting order, the team suddenly has two.

The move of Carpenter to third has a ripple effect on other defensive positions, too. Jedd Gyorko was solid at third base last year. But, suddenly, he's been moved over to second base for much of his spring training work. Gyorko has played second before and can handle the job. But playing second is a lot different than playing third. At second, you have to have range more than anything else — and you have to be good with your footwork. At third, you have one step and a dive before the ball is past you. So reaction time and sure hands are the tools of the trade. That's why it's difficult to be good at more than one position.

If Gyorko ends up back at third, how much will it have hurt him to lose reps there during spring training? And if Gyorko is playing second base, what happens to Kolten Wong and his fragile ego?

The Cardinals messed around with the defense last year and front office leader John Mozeliak said he thought the team tried to display too much flexibility. In 2018, he said, the St. Louis lineup would be more structured and players would have more consistency for it. That plan didn't even make it until April.

This isn't the first time that the Birds have fiddled around with a player until he couldn't function. And I'm sure it won't be the last. But, if they want to get the most out of their core players, they at least need to leave them in place and build around them instead of moving the stars around to make room for projects.

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