It's been a tough year for Stephen Piscotty.
Following the joy of signing a $33.5 million contract in April, Piscotty has experienced turbulence on the field and heartbreak away from it. His mother's diagnosis with ALS, a trial that would be devastating for anyone, is an assuredly difficult burden to bear while managing the expectations of starting right fielder in one of the most demanding baseball towns in the country.
Through four months, the Cardinals have been a disappointment in the standings, and Piscotty’s contributions haven’t helped matters. Piscotty’s numbers over his first year and a half in the big leagues–the .282/.346/.467 line that earned him the multi-year extension–have faded to a paltry .232/.340/.362 for 2017. After manning a smooth right field previously, his defensive play has been uneven this year.
For whatever reason, it’s clear he hasn’t been himself this season. In response, the Cardinals demoted Piscotty to Class-AAA Memphis on Monday–a move one can safely assume was not in the plans back in April when they gave him the six-year deal.
Though it would have been unthinkable at the time, it’s hard to criticize the Cardinals for taking this bold step at a juncture of the season where every win or loss will be scrutinized more than the one prior. Before going to the DL in mid-July, Piscotty was 6 for 35 (.171) for the month. In a short August stint after his return, he went 3 for 17 (.176), continuing his season-long struggles.
Instead of improving, things were trending further down for Piscotty.
With Dexter Fowler back from the DL, Tommy Pham’s continued career-year, and Jose Martinez (.391/.516/.826 his last 10 games) earning more consideration in the daily lineup, the outfield mixture was getting too crowded for the Cardinals to justify Piscotty’s continued role in it, given his current production.
Rather than force his continued presence on the roster to keep up appearances, the Cardinals took a harsh but practical approach in sending Piscotty to the minor leagues.
It’s not a move without precedent. Already this season, the Cardinals demoted Aledmys Diaz, an All-Star who earned Rookie of the Year consideration a year ago. Even a better example was Kolten Wong’s 2016 demotion, which took place after he signed his own contract extension before the season for $25.5 million.
Diaz still awaits his return to the majors, though his offensive numbers have seen an uptick in recent weeks for Memphis. For Wong, his tumultuous 2016 has been followed up by a career year this season.
That can be the blueprint for Piscotty. By sending him to the minors, the Cardinals aren’t giving up on Piscotty’s future–they’re trying to propel him toward fulfilling it, while not sacrificing their lingering hopes of a postseason appearance this season. The trip to Memphis can represent a reprieve from the daily grind of the stress of navigating this frustrating season–for Piscotty personally, but also as part of the Cardinals. It’s a chance to hit the reset button on a season where nothing has broke his way.
It’s fair to wonder why so many young Cardinals players–Diaz, Wong, Randal Grichuk, and now Piscotty–have needed a Memphis tune-up (or two, in some cases) after experiencing the heights of success at some point during their time in the major leagues. It’s frustrating players that have proven to be of a certain talent level are unable to work through their issues with the St. Louis coaching staff.
Piscotty’s answer might not be directly related to the coaching he receives–maybe it is. Regardless of the fix, it starts with a clearing of the mechanism for the Cardinals right fielder. Hopefully Memphis can provide it.