By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
This Cardinals team looks like crap. They can’t pitch, they can’t play defense, and they can’t hit well enough to put up a fight against good, bad, or ugly teams. The problem revolves around poor management, but the solution may center on Matt Carpenter.
It’s time for the St. Louis first baseman to cross the diamond and take back his old position at third base.
Think about this for a minute…
The Cardinals insist that Matt Adams‘ bat must play. Okay, I’ll bite – I mean, I’ve been a resident of the “play Matt Adams camp” for so long that I’m thinking about running for mayor – but getting him in the lineup so far has meant playing him in left field, a patently bad idea. It’s such a bad idea that the Cardinals refused to try moving Matt Holliday to first base mid-season two years ago because, guess what, moving a bat to a different position while games that matter were being played was…wait for it…a bad idea!
Such a move not only produces butt-clenching defensive blunders, but it also tends to negatively impact a player’s performance at the plate, the very reason that player was considered for a position change in the first place.
So why do we get Matt Adams in left field if it goes against all conventional wisdom? Not because we have a bad left fielder – Randal Grichuk will be a significant upgrade over his predecessor over an entire season – but because we have Matt Carpenter at first base.
Adams has been a first baseman since birth. Check with his mother’s doctor in Pennsylvania, and I’m sure the birthing room was all out of latex gloves the day he was born and the OB was forced to throw on a first baseman’s mitt to handle the girth of the bawling babe. Come to think of it, Adams probably looked a bit like Babe Ruth, too.
But Carpenter was promised first base to avoid all the position-swapping he’s endured for years. I get that. And I can be okay with that…if the team is winning. But with Carpenter at first, that means we get Jhonny Peralta at third base, and that cat just can’t play no more.
Peralta looks slow in the field and weak at the plate. He’s already looked sloppy, shaky, and just plain insufficient at Carpenter’s old spot. And he hasn’t hit worth a lick since spring training started. There’s absolutely no reason to believe Peralta should still be playing – at all – much less at a position that forces the entire roster to adjust around him.
Peralta at third means Carpenter at first and Adams in left field.
If Matheny and Mozeliak have a brain cell between them, they will immediately move Carpenter back to third, bench Peralta – and enroll him in Adams’ pilates program – and slot Matt Adams in at first base, at least until we know if Adams can hit. Don’t want him facing lefties? No problem.
Remember Martinez? He’s the guy that looked intriguing last season and unstoppable in spring training. It’s understandable if you’ve forgotten. Mike Matheny seems to have forgotten too. But the career-minor-leaguer has an exciting bat and resourceful versatility, which means he can be the fourth outfielder and the platoon-mate for a righty-mashing first baseman.
With Martinez on the roster, there’s never a reason to play Matt Adams in the outfield – unless, of course, if you’re doing your best to avoid moving Carpenter back to third.
You should stop doing that, Cardinals. You should stop that immediately.
Send Matt Carpenter home (and by home I mean third base), and that will allow you to send Jhonny Peralta home as well (and by that I actually mean his home…preferably out of state).
Let’s get into the rest of it…
While you’re moving Carpenter back to third base, let’s go ahead and bump him up to the two-hole in the order as well. Aledmys Diaz is the only Cardinal currently hitting consistently right now. Matheny should take advantage of that and drop him to third in the lineup. At the same time, he can slot Carpenter into Diaz’s old two hole spot so the left-handed hitter can again focus on just getting on base and picking pitches to drive for doubles in the gap. Lord knows he’s not doing that hitting third. Look, I know it doesn’t make sense that a hitter can’t hit at a different spot in the order. But it’s happening, and it’s happened before. Instead of being a Votto-like on-base guy who selectively swings and takes walks when they’re given, Carpenter is swinging at more first pitch strikes and trying to drive in runs. That’s not the hitter the Cardinals want/need him to be. They want the lead0ff-like hitter in the three-spot, but it’s not happening. And it’s likely because Carpenter perceives a role change when he hits third, even if it’s all in his head. Moving him up to number two would maximize the best of both worlds. It restores the get-on-base role from the leadoff spot while retaining the RBI-opportunities of the three spot. To be honest, number two was always the perfect fit for Carpenter anyway. And it allows you to plug Matt Adams in at clean-up with a 1-through-4 lineup of Switch-Left-Right-Left from Dexter Fowler to Slim City.
Mark my words…Trevor Rosenthal will be the closer by season’s end. Oh has thrown a ton of pitches in his career, and the WBC was not kind to his spring training preparation. It finally seems to be wearing on the Final Boss, as last night’s appearance showed. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finally succumbed to injury sooner rather than later. But don’t despair. Rosenthal looked like the Rosey of old in his strikeout-heavy inning, and he could be ready to work back into the familiar comfort of the ninth by June, if not before. Honestly, this is good news for Cards fans and John Mozeliak. If Oh is the Oh he’s always been, he’s going to be E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E in the free agent market. On the other hand, if Rosey returns to form, his rocky season or two will take a chunk out of his salary in the coming seasons. In other words, Rosenthal may be the more affordable option for ninth inning duties after 2017, relatively speaking anyway.
Stephen Piscotty needs to hit eighth until his swing recovers – and platoon with Martinez. If the Cardinals were winning, I would never suggest platooning a player like Piscotty. But they’re not. Instead, they’re about to fall into a hole too deep to climb out of, and they can’t afford to carry a swing-meddling player right now. Not when they have Jose Martinez warming the bench. Regardless, even when Piscotty plays, he shouldn’t be hitting higher than seventh or eighth in the order. Not for now, and not for the foreseeable future.
Don’t be surprised if the reason the Cardinals want Carpenter at first base is because they are clearing the way for a big acquisition at third, either in July or the offseason. Manny Machado, anyone? Nolan Arenado? Hell, Todd Frazier?! They need a hitter, a superstar, and a third baseman. And don’t think for a minute that they don’t know it. And that means they’re planning on it.
Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entities. He’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.