(BaseballStL)-- Last offseason Mike Matheny was pretty adamant that his bench needed to improve for the 2013 season. The resulting move was to sign Ty Wigginton, whose .158 batting average through 57 at-bats prompted his release less than a quarter of a way through his two year contract.
Now, entering 2014, the bench is no less of an issue for the club.
Injuries played a part, namely Allen Craig, but that part of the roster severely let the Cardinals down in the postseason. Matt Adams getting forced into the starting lineup certainly didn’t help.
There will be no big signing a la Ty Wigginton to attempt to provide some punch. No, Mark Ellis doesn’t count. Here’s merely Kolten Wong insurance at second base and an option against left handed pitchers so the former first round pick isn’t overloaded in his rookie season.
Where will the production on the bench come then, you may ask? That’s a great question. It’s one even the Cardinals couldn’t tell you for certain right about now.
Here’s a look at how the Cards bench appears to look right this moment:
Tony Cruz - C
Mark Ellis - IF
Daniel Descalso - IF
Jon Jay - OF
Shane Robinson - OF
The name that could blow all of that up is, of course, Oscar Taveras. With Peter Bourjos in the fold as the presumptive starting center fielder there is no need to force Taveras onto this team right away, especially if he’s not healthy. The Cardinals could ease their best prospect back from ankle surgery by starting him off in AAA-Memphis to A) gain confidence in his health and B) make up for some of the at-bats he lost last year.
Now they’ve created a situation where they don’t need Taveras in St. Louis right away. BUT, should he surprise them and report to Jupiter, Florida healthy and hitting, the Cards could easily adapt and find a spot for him in the 25-man roster. This forces Taveras to PROVE he belongs in the big leagues. He won’t just be handed a job. The man has to earn it.
What, then, would happen if Taveras did break through in spring and force his way onto the roster? Well, the easy solution would be to move either Robinson or Jay. There is a big difference between the 4th outfielder and the 5th on a Major League roster. The 4th, as the Cardinals use it, gets all spot starts when someone needs a day off. Think Colby Rasmus in 2009. Even think Matt Adams a season ago. No, he’s not an outfielder, but he needed at-bats so Mike Matheny found ways to give him starts as often as he could.
The 5th guy almost never starts. It’s the role Robinson had over the last couple years. And it’s one Taveras would never be given. If Oscar Taveras is in St. Louis, he’s playing. A lot.
That would mean either Jay or Robinson would have to fill the role coming off the bench on a daily basis without the benefit of starting games occasionally to stay sharp. As mentioned already, Robinson has experience in this role. Jay does not. It will be interesting, should Taveras force the Cardinals hand, to see how they would massage the roster if that were the case.
So there you have it. Things appear to be very cut and dry without Taveras in St. Louis. If he shows he’s past the surgically repaired ankle and hits too much in spring training to resist, that’s when things get crazy.