Bernie Miklasz of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an article up in which he makes the case for the Cardinals keeping top prospect Oscar Taveras on the major league roster as a fourth outfielder, and in the antagonizing tone that only comes with years of "credential-carrying" observation (his words, not mine), he titled his article "Call us crazy: Cards could use Oscar here."
Ok, I'll jump on that grenade. You're crazy. Or perhaps just misinformed. Whatever you want to call it, you're wrong.
It's not that Taveras isn't ready for the majors. I have no idea if he's ready any more than the Cardinals do, but he certainly has done everything asked of him, and significantly more, at every minor league level he's visited. The guy can hit in his sleep and would probably hit well enough in the majors this April to warrant being there. In fact, FanGraphs.com's ZIPS projections have him at .279/.334/.457 and 2.5 wins if he got 540 plate appearances this season, and that seems about right.
But the Cardinals shouldn't plan for that happen, unless it's out of necessity.
I'm going to take on Miklasz's points one by one (direct quotes from the article in bold):
"In right field you have Carlos Beltran, who turns 36 in April and did little at the plate over the final three-plus months last season"
True. And an injury to Beltran is exactly the necessity to which I spoke earlier. Beltran's achy knees are probably Tavares' quickest ticket to the majors in 2013, but only if Beltran misses significant time. Miklasz goes on to argue that the Cardinals should "play him [Beltran] less, keep him fresh," which is true, but not by using Taveras in a part-time role.
"In center field you have Jon Jay, a plus defender that who couldn’t hit on the road, at all, in 2012. The performance could have been an outlier, but Jay’s road offensive numbers were horrendous last season."
Could have been, or was? About 10 seconds on the internet determined the difference. Yes, Jay was really bad on the road last season (.590 OPS vs. .948 at home), but the Cardinals don't play at Coors Field, so those kinds of dramatic splits rarely repeat themselves, especially to that extent. Home/Road splits for players who play primarily at neutral parks don't typically repeat themselves from year to year, unless the player has some kind of bad partying habit when he gets away from his wife and kids, or some kind of hotel insomnia that affects his performance.
In Jay's case, we can see easily that 2012 was almost certainly a fluke. We don't have a huge track record for Jay's career, but in 2010 he hit .287 on the road against .317 at home and in 2011 he was actually better on the road (.743 OPS at home vs. .791 on the road). He's been a better hitter at home than on the road in his career (largely due to the huge difference last season), but most hitters are better at home.
If this were the Rockies, or a platoon split, there would be legitimate concern. In this case, I'm not worried about Jon Jay's ability to hit on the road.
"And I’m supposed to endorse the idea that Shane Robinson should be the fourth outfielder instead of Oscar Taveras?"
Oh, hello there Straw Man. I was wondering when you were coming out to play.
Are there people in St. Louis suggesting that the next best option for the days when manager Mike Matheny wants to rest Carlos Beltran is Robinson? I'm not there so I don't know, but if there are many of them, we need to take a closer look at the city's reputation as having a smart fan base.
Robinson can fill in from time to time (especially in center, where he's actually quite good defensively) but in the corner outfield spots, the Cardinals have all kinds of options.
Allen Craig, the team's starting first baseman, has played more games in the outfield corners than at first base. He can slide out to right or left with Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Ty Wigginton, or any other number of players filling in at first base. Essentially, while also acting as the team's starting first baseman, Craig is also the fourth outfielder for any situations that don't involve center field. Carpenter and Wigginton can even even head out to the outfield themselves if the Cardinals don't want to bounce Craig around (at this point, we've pretty much written off defense for these games anyway).
Essentially, the only way Shane Robinson gets regular playing time is if something happens to Jay, in which case calling up Taveras would be perfectly appropriate, but in no way is anyone suggesting voluntarily starting Robinson 2-3 times per week.
"Just because the Anaheim Angels were stupid last season by choosing to start CF Mike Trout at Class AAA, I don’t see why the Cardinals have to be as dense."
And herein lies the heart of my argument. Holding back Taveras doesn't have to mean the Cardinals are dense. The Angels decision to hold back Trout (which was fueled by the fact that Trout got a virus in camp last year and lost about 15 pounds) was a terrible decision not just because of how well he played after he was called up, but because of how slow of a start the Angels got off to and, most importantly, because the Angels used Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu in his place for 19 of the 21 games before he arrived.
The Cardinals options are significantly better than Wells and Abreu.
If the Cardinals were planning to employ Abreu or Wells in right field in order to hold off Taveras' service clock or get him 75 at-bats in Triple-A, I'd be screaming along side of Miklasz. But they don't have that problem.
The Cardinals have three solid outfielders. Sure, Jay is looking at some regression ahead of him (sorry Cards fans, but his .355 BABIP is too high to sustain), but even coming back to Earth, he's worthy of being a starting outfielder. Beltran will need his days off, but the Cardinals have plenty of ways to make that happen without having to have Taveras sit on the bench three days a week.
For any team, no matter of their budget or track record of success, getting impact production from inexpensive players is a requirement. The Cardinals have been no better example of that over the years, with their 2011 championship team getting solid production from Craig, David Freese and Jaime Garcia, all of whom were pre-arbitration.
Freese is getting more expensive the next few years, as is Craig, who will hit arbitration for the first time after this season. Holliday will remain expensive, even as his production begins to diminish, as will franchise cornerstone Yadier Molina. Lastly, Carlos Beltran leaves after this season.
Much of Beltran's money will go towards raises for Freese and Craig (not to mention potentially having to shell out big bucks to keep Adam Wainwright around), so Taveras will be needed to take on the role as the young, cheap, impact bat for a few years. The Cardinals don't need him to be that this year. They need three years of him playing that roll from 2014-16.
The concern of the Cardinals, when it comes to Taveras' service clock should not be that they're afraid of losing him. As Miklasz accurately says in the article, "if Taveras is as good as Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt Jr. believe he is, then the Cardinals will have Taveras secured in a long-term deal long before arbitration or free agency is a factor." But an organization only gets so many chances of getting impact talent for a league-minimum price, and they need to use those chances wisely.
With their roster essentially set for this season, it's too late for them to exploit that budgetary advantage in free agency. But they can next season. Additionally, while Taveras could likely handle the majors right now, he probably won't be an impact player just yet. We were spoiled with Trout and Bryce Harper last year. Not every prospect has that immediate of an impact. Even if he doesn't need more time in the minors to avoid falling on his face in the majors, isn't the goal for a player of Taveras' caliber higher than that? Any extra time in the minors will allow him to be closer to his full potential when he finally does arrive in St. Louis for good.
I fully expect Taveras to be in St. Louis at some point this season, and it wouldn't shock me to see him get 200-300 at-bats, mainly because I don't fully trust Beltran of Holliday staying off the DL all season. Heck, Beltran could get hurt tomorrow and Taveras could win the Rookie of the Year award and I wouldn't be surprised in the least. While the Cardinals can give their corner outfielders plenty of days rest sporadically throughout the season with their versatile bench, any longer stretch of time without Beltran (or Jay or Holliday, for that matter) would be a good time for Taveras to come up and wet his feet in the major league waters.
I don't think Taveras needs a ton of time in Triple-A, and if he was thrown directly into the fire this season, he'd probably hold his own, if not better. But barring an injury, there is simply not room in the Cardinals lineup to get Taveras regular at-bats, and using one of his most cost-friendly years as a part-time player in his 21-year-old season is a near-sighted use of resources.
And, yes, you could call it crazy.