To quote the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.”
After missing the playoffs and losing the division by double digit games, the Cardinal faithful is ready for significant change. The team needed a better defense, they needed more power, they needed reliable arms.
Center field was addressed through Dexter Fowler. The rotation should benefit from Lance Lynn’s return and Alex Reyes’ full time deployment. The bullpen got a versatile new lefty. $100 million was spent on external help, but the city remains restless. What about the infield, they ask?
Justin Turner’s availability came and went. Edwin Encarnacion packed up his 310 career home runs and took them to Cleveland. Brian Dozier, despite being loosely tied to the Cardinals for a moment, is still a Minnesota Twin.
All the while, Cardinal fans have taken stock of the plethora of current Redbird infielders and appeared dissatisfied.
They shouldn’t be.
Change for change’s sake is rarely a pragmatic move, and given the price of incremental improvement, it’s time to take an honest look at St. Louis’ assets.
The most common cause of consternation is the increasing likelihood the familiar faces of Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta- with the assistance of Jedd Gyorko- will again be handling second and third base duties in 2017.
Wong is regarded as one of the best defenders on the team. He doesn’t just make good plays, he steals hits away from batters and changes whole innings with a lightning-quick double play exchange. He glides across the base paths. Occasionally, he can deposit a baseball into the stands.
The issue has been his consistency at the plate.
The Hawaii-native struggled mightily last season, hitting just .229 over the first month and a half. His slow start earned him a demotion to Memphis. There, he flourished, hitting .429 with 4 homers and an OPS of 1.458 over 7 games.
He’s dominated the minors, batting below .300 only once in his career. That hasn’t translated to the professional level, largely because he has shown little discipline at the plate; often behind 0-2 and 1-2 and ending up at the mercy of better pitching than exists in Triple-A.
He’s only 26, though. A breakout performance in 2017 is a very real possibility as long as consistent playing time is as well. Unlike similar prospects on other teams, Wong has had little freedom to fail. The Cardinals appear to be ready to lessen the stress.
If the five-year, $25.5 million contract John Mozeliak offered Wong wasn’t indication enough of the franchise’s faith, both Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny have remained outwardly committed to the young infielder’s ability this offseason. His potential stardom is alive and well.
Concerns over Peralta come from the opposite end of the spectrum.
The veteran is proven, just on the wrong side of 30 and coming off of injury. In his first two seasons with St. Louis, he had more than 140 RBIs to go with 38 homers and 64 doubles. His track record shows, when healthy, he produces. Peralta tore a ligament in his thumb that required surgery last year, restricting him to just 82 games and he ran out of time to regain full health. Limited playing time to preserve his body would help ensure a return to his 2015 form (which earned him an All-Star selection).
A dose of Gyroko may be just what the doctor ordered.
The former San Diego Padre exceeded all expectations by blasting a career-high 30 home runs last year in a career-low number of at bats. Along with Peralta, the two play a reliable defense while being able to provide pop at the plate.
A lifetime .238 batter, Gyorko’s value is as a team-carrying streak hitter. When he’s hot, almost nothing can be done to slow him down. Like during a string of games from July 18-22 when he slugged 1.316, hit five homers and drove in eight runs. The Cardinals won all five games despite hitting .255.
With San Diego swallowing $2 million of his $6 million salary in 2017, the Cardinals struck a solid deal and will have a player that reads on paper a lot like Dozier-lite. Gyroko compliments Peralta and Wong well, and the trio is more than a reasonable alternative to overpaying for a marginal upgrade.
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you know the rest.
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