It's a terrible blow to the St. Louis Cardinals to lost team leader and starting catcher Yadier Molina, productive center fielder Tommy Pham and incumbent closer Bud Norris in the course of one game.
But if the Redbirds can manage to hold things together until these key players are able to return to the field, this injury spell could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
First, the Molina situation. It's not a secret that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would like to get his star catcher more rest throughout the season, but Molina isn't having it. While it's a shame that Yadi had to suffer a horrific injury in order for this to happen, the silver lining is that he'll have a couple dozen less games on his knees and back when we get to crunch time after the All-Star Game. It seems like, ever since Molina signed his contract extension before last season, a segment of Cardinals fans think the club ought to ship catching prospect Carson Kelly off to the highest bidder. But Kelly is invaluable now that St. Louis suddenly finds itself in need of a full-time receiver. So those who fretted about the thought that Kelly's best years would be wasted on the bench can rejoice in the idea that Kelly is going to have ample opportunity to show what he can do.
Pham's untimely absence will create the same opportunity for outfield prospect Harrison Bader, who has nothing left to prove at Class AAA Memphis. In the little bit of time he's had to play in place of Pham, he's made a spectacular catch in the field and has made his presence known on the bases and at the plate. Coach Willie McGee says he thinks Bader is going to be a star. Hopefully, that will happen in a Cardinals uniform. But, if not, it's nice that St. Louis gets a chance to showcase the prospect and potentially find a trade partner before his value diminishes from sitting on the bench or playing in the minors.
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It was difficult for the Birds to justify using $14 million a year on reliever Greg Holland when he's struggling after missing spring training and Norris was pitching so well. But, with Norris shelved, it will give Holland a chance to finish games again and prove he's worth his sizable one-year deal. If Norris is out for more than a few days, it could also create some high leverage opportunities for another reliever, Luke Gregerson, who was expected to get a shot at closing before Holland was added to the roster on opening day.
The sum of all of this is that the Cardinals will get a chance to get their entire roster involved and contributing in the way the team envisioned before the start of the season. This isn't the easy way to do things. But if the team can ride out the storm, it will likely be tougher AND better rested for the long haul that is a 162-game season. If there is one thing the Cardinals have over their competitors in the National League Central, it's depth. The Chicago Cubs have traded off a lot of their upper farm system in the last couple of years in an effort to push for the playoffs, and the Milwaukee Brewers are dealing with injury problems of their own. Every team is going to have players get hurt over the course of a long year. But St. Louis seems to be better suited to deal with it.