Wasn’t it just a few days ago people were speculating if it was time for the St. Louis Cardinals to push the panic button?
Suddenly the Redbirds are winners of five in a row and eight of their last 10 as they make a final push for the National League Central Division championship.
St. Louis had its second offensive outburst in as many days Thursday following the return of sluggers Randal Grichuk, Matt Holliday and Matt Adams from the sidelines because of injuries (although Holliday didn’t play in the opener against Milwaukee.)
With a week and a half of baseball to play, the Cardinals are four games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates. So forgive me if I look forward a little bit to the off-season.
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There is no doubt that outfielder Stephen Piscotty has provided the Birds with a big boost. He’s the only St. Louis hitter batting over .300 and he’s knocked in an impressive 37 runs in his brief playing time. But I hope his remarkable month of baseball doesn’t influence the Cardinals in their efforts to re-sign Jason Heyward.
With the best batting average (.290) and the third-best on base percentage (.353) among regulars, Heyward has been a consistent producer since his long-forgotten slow start to the season. He’s one of the best outfielders in baseball, the Cardinals’ most prolific base stealer and he brings a lot of energy to the team.
In short, I’m not sure that the Cardinals, even with Piscotty’s contributions, would be out front in the National League Central division if they didn’t also have Heyward.
While the Cardinals certainly have a surplus of outfielders these days, none of them are better than Heyward. And there is definitely room for both Heyward and Piscotty on this team.
First, Piscotty could find time in left field at least a couple of times a week in place of Matt Holliday who seems, at 35, to be much more brittle than he has been in the past. Second, because he can play all three outfield spots, Piscotty could also find playing time in center and right on an occasional basis. He could also get some time in at first base against lefty pitchers should the Birds continue to consider Matt Adams their starting first baseman.
It’s easy to see how Piscotty could be a virtual full-time player by being the 10th man. Besides, someone ALWAYS gets hurt and he’d be there to slide into the lineup.
That’s for the short term. Looking at the bigger picture, 2016 could be Holliday’s last year with the Cardinals. He has an option for 2017. But, while the front office has expressed interest in picking up that option, if he suffers through another injury-plagued year in 2016, the team might be forced to reconsider. $17 million is a lot to pay a part-time player.
So, either in 2016 or 2017, the Cardinals could have a starting outfield of Piscotty, Grichuk and Heyward.
General manager John Mozeliak said earlier during the season that its a priority to identify a new “core player” as Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina age. At 26, Heyward certainly fills that bill. He’s got six seasons under his belt and is a unique mix of veteran experiene and youthful talent.
With Heyward signed to an extension, the Redbirds would have contributing players younger than 26 in Heyward, Grichuk, Piscotty and Wong in the field and in Wacha, Carlos Martinez and potentially Marco Gonzales or Alex Reyes in the starting rotation.
The biggest knock on Heyward is that he isn’t a big home run hitter. But he racks up doubles in bunches, collects his share of triples and hits balls far enough on occasion that I’m not convinced his power stroke won’t continue to develop as Heyward ages.
As I said before, the Cardinals can’t afford to sign Heyward to a bad contract. Maybe market forces will dictate they walk away.But they can absolutely pay him what he’s reasonably worth. And if they can work out a deal, they should. But Heyward’s potential extension needs to be based on HIS merits, not the potential of a guy who has been in the big leagues for a little more than a month.
There is nothing wrong with easing Piscotty into a regular role. We’re only talking about ONE year before left field could be available to him every day.
The Cardinals appreciate the need for depth in pitching. I hope they appreciate how much better the bench could be with players who can actually contribute on a regular basis instead of having an outfielder who can only be used as a pinch runenr and late inning defensive replacement and a shortstop who has only had 91 at-bats despite being on the roster all year.