The Cardinals priority this offseason needs to go towards making sure their starting pitching – heck, their pitching in general – is good enough to compete with the best of the best next year.
I’m all about defense. Don’t get me wrong. But this isn’t football. Offense and defense are not mutually exclusive. If you go out and get a stout defender they still have to hit. Thus, run prevention is all about who is on the mound for me.
So since the pitching aspect will largely have to come from internal solutions (i.e. Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake being more consistent) there really isn’t a lot to think about on that front until spring training arrives.
The Cardinals next priority needs to turn towards the lineup. And that means making sure your best hitter hits third. For years we knew some guy named Albert Pujols was going to hit third. It was a forgone conclusion.
Tony La Russa could write that spot down in ink and not have to worry about it.
After Pujols left the obvious replacement was on the roster. His name is Matt Holliday. Now after a good five-year run of Holliday manning that all-important spot in the lineup it’s time for someone knew.
And it’s good news for the Cardinals they have a ready replacement waiting to take over in Matt Carpenter. After hitting out of place – leadoff – for a few years it’s time to hand him over the keys to the most critical spot in the batting order.
Carpenter’s OPS the last two seasons (.870 and .885 OPS) makes him more than qualified for the role. The 30-year old has turned himself from an on-base machine to an on-base machine with power. Home runs were never really his thing until, well, he decided to make it his thing.
After hitting a combined 25 homers from the time he made his debut in 2011 through 2014, Carpenter has knocked 49 out of the park the last two seasons. That’s not the work of a leadoff hitter.
A 2-3-4 of Aledmys Diaz-Matt Carpenter-Stephen Piscotty which goes righty-lefty-righty just looks perfect in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. There’s on-base percentage there. There’s power there. There’s balance there.
All that’s missing is someone to hit first and set the table. The problem is if you can’t find that person to lead it off then it really hinders your ability to do damage at 2-3-4. That’s why finding that new center fielder is so important. I’m a fan of Randal Grichuk in center field but he’s not a leadoff hitter. If you keep Grichuk in center and find a left fielder that person won’t be able to hit first.
Where’s that new leadoff hitter going to come from?
A big part of this offseason is going to go towards making sure Matt Carpenter can comfortably slide into that number three spot without fear of being moved back to the top.
Will it happen? Time will tell.