He’s doing it again.
At this point, it’s almost like clockwork for Randal Grichuk.
The pattern typically goes as follows: after a while in the major leagues, Grichuk begins to struggle with consistent production. Then, whether it’s due to demotion or rehab assignment, Grichuk goes down to the farm and proceeds to feast upon minor league pitching. Usually upon his return to the Cardinals big-league roster, he enjoys another flash of success. After a while, though, a lack of plate discipline catches up to him, leaving Grichuk to hang his hat on the occasional home run, and not a lot else.
This formula played out earlier this season following Grichuk’s late-May demotion, one that initially sent him all the way to down to Class-A Palm Beach. More recently, Grichuk hit the DL immediately following the All-Star break, and requires a rehab stint in Springfield before making his way back to the bigs.
In his first game with the Class-AA club, Grichuk walloped a three-run home run Wednesday. Naturally.
Rinse and repeat.
Expressing annoyance at this feat seems counterproductive, but in the context of Grichuk’s career patterns, Wednesday night’s blast is exactly the kind of thing that evokes renewed faith in him as a consistent force on a contending team. Which… isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Grichuk has nine MLB home runs this season for the Cardinals in 223 at-bats. It's not an awful rate. The .215/.270/.407 batting line, on the other hand, is tough to defend for an everyday player. Instead of progressing from solid overall campaigns the last couple years, Grichuk's numbers have dipped. An OPS+ of 75 indicates his performance has been 25% below league average in 2017.
Throughout his career, Grichuk has been feast or famine. When he’s on, he can use his rare breed of power hitting to carry a club for a week, 10 days, even two weeks. But when he’s not–when pitchers go for a stretch consistently pitching him properly, avoiding mistakes–Grichuk is liable to disappear on you.
When he began as a first round pick–obligatory ‘drafted one spot ahead of Mike Trout’ mention–Grichuk was the epitome of raw talent. When the Cardinals acquired him as part of the David Freese trade, he was still an enticing prospect. He had all the tools, after all.
But there comes a point where the promise of a raw talent becoming something more–where the promise of superstardom when the body of work points in another direction–has to be shaken off by a front office for the betterment of the organization. When the trade deadline passes on July 31st, is there a chance the Cardinals will have reached that point with Grichuk?
Considering the status of the St. Louis outfield, moving Grichuk might be the most responsible thing John Mozeliak could do with him.
The Cardinals have underachieved offensively, bringing conversation regarding acquiring an impact bat to the forefront. But with a roster full of solid players, it’s hard to find an obvious area to upgrade. Grichuk began the season as the starting left fielder–and he's not that anymore. His inconsistency could turn the Cardinals' attention toward placing that upgrade somewhere in the outfield.
Even without Grichuk in the mix, there's no clear way to do that. Tommy Pham has filled in with tremendous success–if he overcomes his injury history and continues to produce at his current rate, it’d be difficult to argue against his value. Dexter Fowler has had an uneven year, but his name in the lineup is as close to written in stone as it gets thanks to his lengthy contract signed just several months ago. Over in right field, Stephen Piscotty also just received a long-term commitment from the Cardinals, though his performance has fallen off during a trying time in his personal life.
Then there’s the bevy of prospects–Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra, Adolis Garcia, et al–the Cardinals will need to place or trade in the coming years.
Three starting outfielders, a million prospective ones, and none of them named Randal Grichuk. The Cardinals outfield depth needs thinning, so resources could be allocated more appropriately; it may start with Grichuk.
Sure, moving him would perhaps mean Grichuk fulfills his promise with another organization–and that would be tough to watch. But given the circumstances of the roster, such a risk could be necessary for the Cardinals.
For as attractive as Grichuk can be at his best, those fonder memories lingering during his slumps will keep him in the lineup disproportionate to his production, which could contribute to an organization outfield logjam that jeopardizes not only the ideal development of prospects, but also the success of the major league roster.
For a player with so much potential, it wouldn’t be an easy choice. But as Mozeliak has been known to do in the past–Allen Craig, Jon Jay–he might have to take away the toy.
When the 'Stallion' is running freely, cranking dingers and doubles and laying out for smooth catches in the outfield, it’s basically impossible not to fall in love with his game.
Therein lies the problem for the St. Louis Cardinals.