UCB Roundtable: Replacing Oscar Taveras

Taveras leads UCB questions

Every fall, the United Cardinal Bloggers bring a group of their membership together to ask and answer questions that face the club. This project, known as the UCB Roundtable, will span multiple websites over the next two and a half weeks.

Once again, the UCB has asked i70baseball to kick off the roundtable. The important questions deserve to be asked and there is one situation that has suddenly come to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Tragedy struck the St. Louis Cardinals recently with the fatal car crash involving Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend. While the team, the fans and the organization will miss the smile and personality of Oscar Taveras, the manager, general manager and front office have to figure out how to fill his role on the field.

Who is that person? Do prospects like Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham suddenly find themselves competing for a spot? Is there a free agent that John Mozeliak now has on his radar? Is there a rumored name via trade that could step in to the role? Will anyone challenge Randall Grichuk for the starting role?

In short form – How do the Cardinals respond to the absence of Oscar Taveras on the field and the roster?

Tom Knuppel – Cardinals GM
Before the tragedy it was said the Cardinals needed a right-handed power bat and now they may need one of each or at the least either one. Although Piscotty and Pham and a host others may be able to man the outfield, I don’t see them as an impact bat.

Finding an impact bat is likely hard to do as the other teams are looking for that also. Sure we could trade our now best prospects in Carlos Martinez and/or Kolten Wong along with other prospects like Gonzales or Kaminsky but that doesn’t appear to be the standard operating procedure of John Mozeliak. Heck, we may even see Matt Adams on the block for a stud first baseman.

Likely, the Cardinals will have to turn to free agents to fill the power void (link to Top 50 FA) and that presents new issues. The bat that had the most impact last season may not be highly coveted by the fans, due to HGH issues in the past, and that is Nelson Cruz. His 30-40 home runs would be a welcome sight for a roster that didn’t show the propensity to hit long balls at sustained rate. There are other FA such as Melky Cabrera (another HGH) and a few more than pop about 20 homers but we have those kind of players.

So in conclusion, I believe that any help has to be a powerful bat (I hear salivating over Giancarlo Stanton going on) that the Cardinals will have to “give something to get something” before the 2015 campaign.

Daniel Shoptaw – C70 At The Bat
I figure in the short term, Grichuk will be pretty ensconced in right field.  I would be surprised if Piscotty could do enough to unseat him, for instance.  That’s the most likely thing that’s going to happen.

However, as Tom said, we could see Mo get creative.  I’m not sure that there’s anyone out there on the market that really makes sense (I don’t think going big bucks on Nelson Cruz is in the team’s best interest) so it’d likely have to be a trade.  That’s pretty unclear as well, as I don’t know where Mo would be looking that’s reasonable.  I’m as fond of Stanton as the next guy, but would Mo really want to give up all that it would take? Probably not.

If Grichuk isn’t the regular starter in right when 2015 rolls around, I’d be pretty surprised.

Daniel Solzman – Redbird Rants
I’m leaning towards Grichuk starting in right with either Pham or Piscotty as a platoon.

The big question to me is getting a right-handed bat to complement Matt Adams at first base.  It’s very well possible that Mo goes after a RHB that plays both first and right field.

Ben Chambers – The View From Here
Before the tragic passing of Taveras, I was firmly entrenched in the position that Jay should be traded as his value is high and he’s unlikely to repeat this season. That said, I’m a little less adamant about it.

I think that an outfield that had Bourjos in CF and Jay in RF could work pretty well, but if the Cardinals do trade for someone to play in right, let them take from the outfield to feed the outfield, I.E. trade Jay.

I also feel like an outfield that had Piscotty in RF would be good, as Piscotty has a the best outfield arm of the guys with a chance to make the roster, and has been a better hitter than Grichuk in the high minors (AA & AAA).

The problem I have is that I don’t trust Matheny to play Piscotty over Grichuk even though he’s a better player. Matheny tends to play favorites and Grichuk is already one of those favorites.

I do want to add one thing: I see a lot of people looking for someone who can play the outfield and first base, and that’s understandable, but one reason why I’m looking for an internal option for the right field conundrum is because I don’t want them to go out and get someone to platoon with Adams. I want Yadi to platoon at 1B.

Yadi’s not getting any younger, and has spent some of the last two seasons on the DL. I’d like Yadi to get some time at 1B against LHP to help his legs. If Mo could look for a power right-handed bat that can be a backup catcher, pinch hitter, and maybe play corner infield or outfield spots to get a few extra starts, I think that would be better for the club and Yadi’s health.

Marilyn Green – Red Cleat Diaries
We know that Mike Matheny sticks with what is familiar to him, and is quite stubborn in that respect.  Exhibit A—Allen Craig.  Does anyone truly think that if Craig hadn’t been traded he wouldn’t have remained in RF for the rest of the season?  Because of Matheny, I suspect Randal Grichuk will be the starting RFer beginning in 2015.  Whether that is good thing or not, well that is up to the individual.  I happen to think it is not good.  I watched Randal Grichuk play in Memphis and have read every scouting report available on him.  While Grichuk mashes lefties, he does not hit RHP with any consistency.  He also has an issue with pitch recognition.  Every scouting report I read emphasizes that he does not have the profile to be a starting outfielder.  That won’t matter, however, because Matheny will play him anyway.

Therefore, any RFer that Mozeliak would sign or trade for is going to have to fight for playing time with Grichuk.  I don’t think Giancarlo Stanton is a realistic option; the Marlins are not going to trade him if they believe they have a chance to contend.  If Mozeliak is resigned to placating Matheny (if that Monday press conference is any true indication,that appears to be the strategy), then I doubt Mozeliak would go all out to find a RFer that he knows Matheny is not likely to play all that much.  Therefore, I imagine an internal option like Pham (as a back up) is where I think Mozeliak will end up.

Dan Buffa – Cardinal Never Center
Before the unlikely demise of Oscar, I was already talking about pursuing a guy like Michael Cuddyer. He is a free agent, can play a number of positions and only 35 years old. He just finished a 3 year deal but may be willing to take a 1 or 2 year deal to come play in St. Louis. He can play right field with Grichuk, Piscotty or Jay or play first base and be a righthanded compliment to Matt Adams. He has also played some third base in his day. He isn’t going to light up the Arch like Giancarlo Stanton or Nelson Cruz but he can hit for average and has some pop left in his bat. He is also a good clubhouse guy and could help with the young guns that are starting to overflow the roster.

Losing Oscar was untimely and highly unfortunate, but bringing a guy like Cuddyer into the fold could ease the transition of Grichuk and Piscotty into full time players while keeping an eye at Jon Jay or Peter Bourjos in center field. The outfield is the most interesting situation for the Cards, and that was true before the tragic death of Taveras.

I expect Mo to be aggressive and smart here and for a proven veteran that won’t crack his safe in half or cost him too many of his young toys.

Doug Vollet – Baseball Geek in Galveston
What about a Josh Harrison/Ben Zobrist type? Super utility guys that can hit. They can lend a hand in right, back up first and provide solid hitting off the bench. Now, since the Pirates are within the division, it’d be hard to pry Harrison from them (though a phone call attempting to try never hurts)….But the Rays are efficient, so efficient that some of our pitching prospects might overcome their sentimentality.

That’d provide overall depth, help ease guys like Piscotty onto the roster, and give us some flexibility.

AJ Blankenship – Gateway SC
The answer I don’t understand in this case is people suggesting that we stick with out current prospects (Piscotty, Grichuk, Pham). This team’s number one need in my opinion is POWER. While Grichuk projects to provide significant power at some point in his career, I personally don’t believe him ready to be an every day player. Then you have Piscotty. I’m admittedly lower on Piscotty than most. He doesn’t seem to possess any real power in his bat, and for a corner outfielder, that isn’t a good sign. Perhaps Piscotty will have a monster year at AAA Memphis and win me over, but he has done nothing to show me that he is ready for a starting job on the big club.

My initial answer is Michael Cuddyer. There is no more perfect fit for this roster. Cuddy should be able to be had fairly cheap on a 2-3 year deal and could platoon perfectly with Grichuk in RF and Adams at 1B. I would love to see Cuddyer start every day in RF against RHP and slide in to 1B against LHP. Grichuk and Cuddyer both crush lefties, and it would relieve Adams of his duties against lefties.

However, I’ll go with a name that I don’t believe has been mentioned yet. Joe Strauss mentioned a couple weeks back that the name Scott Van Slyke had come up among Cardinals brass. That was before the tragic passing of Oscar Taveras, and I can only imagine that talks have intensified since. While Cuddyer could be had just by spending a little money, Van Slyke would have to come via trade. One would have to imagine that he is availabe though, seeing as the Dodgers have a surplus of outfielders. Who knows what the price tag on a guy like Van Slyke would be. He has never had the chance to be an every day player, but whenver given an oppurtunity he has crushed the ball. Much like Cuddyer, Van Slyke can slide down to 1st base to spell Adams against LHP. However, unlike Cuddyer, Van Slyke is available to play all three OF positions. I mentioned the Cardinals desperate need for power, and that is exactly what SVS would provide. Van Slyke’s career .215 ISO would look great in the middle of the Cardinals order. He has only looked better with more exposure in his career and is still pre-arbitration eligible making him very affordable for the coming years.

Kevin Reynolds – Stl Cards N Stuff
I have to say, I think most of you are giving great answers but still thinking too small. The biggest question facing the Cardinals right now isn’t what to do in 2015. It’s what the heck do we do after that?!

Oscar Taveras was more than just the hopeful right fielder next season…he was THE core player the Cardinals were planning on building around for the next 10 years, much like the first ten years of Albert Pujols’ career.

That plan is now gone.

The biggest challenge facing Mozeliak now is not just how to address right field…it’s how to address a middle of the lineup spot on the roster — perhaps even the number three hole — and a core, franchise-like player/hitter for years to come.

Guys…this is bigger than a platoon-like hitter. This is Matt Holliday/Albert Pujols/Yadier Molina/etc. country.

For 2015? Sure, this tragically opens the door for Stephen Piscotty, who I suspect could eventually swap roles with Randal Grichuk. I look for Grichuk to start the season as the starter in RF and Piscotty on the bench to provide a better bench bat and platoon starter in the outfield. But then Grichuk will inevitably swoon mid-season with so many exposure-heavy at-bats for the first time at this level, and then I expect the approach and swing of Piscotty to supplant him as the RF starter. Grichuk likely has a future as a fourth outfielder in this organization, barring a pretty dramatic improvement in his swing.

Maybe Pham impresses to the point of getting a look, but unless Bourjos is traded in the offseason — something less likely now — I would expect him to put together another strong season in AAA, maybe even get some looks at this level, and then get traded…perhaps in a package for a core player.

And that brings us to this…

Are the Cardinals finally ready to pull the trigger on Tulowitski? Or a Tulo-level player to add to the middle of their lineup and cement their core for years to come?

Oscar’s death changed everything. Suddenly, this organization is faced with the ongoing decline of Molina and Holliday. Holliday could be a free agent as soon as 2016 (just two years), and Yadi as early as 2017 (although much less likely) a year later. In other words, the Cardinals could be without their two most prominent core players — and their clean-up hitting shortstop — in three years time.

Oscar was supposed to step in then and be ready to shoulder the offensive load. Now, someone else needs to be found.

Look for Mo to use Spring Training and the offseason to evaluate Piscotty/Grichuk and the trade market, and then use 2015 to further evaluate his young outfielders to see if one of them can be THE PLAYER to step into a core spot in the future. But also look for him to look hard for a future core player outside the organization.

Nelson Cruz? Sure…he could be valuable for a season or two…especially with the power outage the Cardinals faced last season…but he’s not the long-term answer Mo needs to find. And blocking Piscotty/Pham/Grichuk in the outfield makes it even harder for Mo to evaluate their core-player-possibility in 2015.

I expect him to shop for a RH-ed addition to the bench that hits for power and can play first base…but I also expect Matt Adams to make HUGE improvements in 2015 as he finally has a “play every day at 1B at the MLB level” season under his belt.

But ultimately, I expect Mo to be looking hardest for a core player to replace Oscar for the next 10 years.

That won’t be easy.

Bob Netherton – On The Outside Corner
I do agree with Kevin that the longer term challenge for the Cardinals is the loss of Oscar Taveras as the core of a team for the next decade.   But to the specific question about what they do in the short term, the simple answer is Stephen Piscotty.

While many fans will be clamoring for more power, that nearly always comes with a price.  Someone like Nelson Cruz would be a liability in the outfield.  Michael Cuddyer is coming off some impressive, though Mile High inflated numbers, and this will be looking for something that the Cardinals should not be willing to spend.

That leaves us with Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty.   Since Piscotty has not had to be Rule 5 protected just yet, he has been allowed to develop undisturbed in Memphis.  He put together a fine season, in many ways superior to that of Grichuk, Scruggs and even Tommy Pham.

Piscotty’s splits last year were

vs RHP – .285 / .353 / .391
vs LHP  – .296 / .361 / .444

If you look at his previous two seasons, you will see similar numbers.  This guy does not need a platoon.

Piscotty’s overall numbers in 2014 look a bit down, thanks to a month when he seemed to run out of gas.  This was around the time of the AAA All Star Game.  Not sure how much that contributed, but he was very consistent otherwise.

The big thing I like about Piscotty is that he does not strike out – around 11% of his plate appearances compared to Grichuk (23%) and Xavier Scruggs (down to 21%).  He puts the ball in play, and like Matt Carpenter, gives the Cardinals productive at bats.

As for the defense, we’ve all seen Grichuk’s talent and understand why he won a minor league gold glove.  You don’t lose that much with Piscotty over Grichuk.  He is as quick to lay out for a sinking line drive and has just as much of a canon to keep runners honest.

Let’s not forget that Piscotty was a first round draft choice and not some overachieving low level pick.   He is a top 100 prospect (Baseball Prospectus.com and Baseball America).   Right field has always been his in the long term, with Taveras replacing Holliday in left field.  His timetable has just been moved up due to the Taveras tragedy.   There is no need for the Cardinals front office to go get crazy and sign another Jhonny Peralta type of player which they scout the next Taveras.

Let Grichuk have a full season to improve on his strikeout rate and close his lefty/right splits a bit.

Mark Tomasik – Retro Simba
The Cardinals have been in this spot before and have acquired a stopgap veteran – Reggie Sanders, Larry Walker, Eric Davis – to fill the role for a year or two. They should do that again this time while Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk matures into the job. A possible candidate for 2015: Michael Cuddyer or someone like that.

Cole Claybourn – High Sock Sunday
I think as we stand today, the job is Randal Grichuk’s to lose. I thought even before Oscar’s tragic death that it was still Grichuk’s to lose. It’s clear that Matheny really likes his game and what he can bring to the table. He’s young, has upside, a plus arm and can hit for power. In reality, those are traits I think we’d like to see in our right fielder. I think Grichuk can certainly improve on hitting righties, and I expect Mozeliak to acquire someone as a safety net to spell Grichuk in case he still struggles next year. However, I think he realized that he’ll have to hit both lefties and righties if he wants to start full time, and we saw him start to improve vs. righties toward the end of the playoffs.

The loss of Oscar was extraordinarily heartbreaking, so whoever does end up with the job will obviously have a huge spotlight. If they don’t succeed, well, you know what the narrative will be. I think we’ll see Piscotty at some point next season but I don’t foresee him playing a major role unless someone gets hurt. Fortunately, if injuries to strike the outfield, this is one of the deepest positions in the organization.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball
Follow him on Twitter to discuss baseball year round

5 thoughts on “UCB Roundtable: Replacing Oscar Taveras

  1. Nelson Cruz would be my choice. I was originally afraid his homer total was a result of playing in Camden, but 25 of his 40 homers came on the road. He hit better on the road than he did at home.

    Grichuk can play center and I don’t have much faith in Jay holding onto that position this year. I saw him playing more in center anyway as Taveras took hold of right field next year.

    Piscotty is still at least a year away in my opinion, so maybe you mix him in at first base this year in Memphis to make him more versatile for a Craig-like role in 2016. If he succeeds, you can consider declining Holliday’s 2017 option and handing a corner outfield spot to Piscotty.

    A signing of Cruz would really kill two birds with one stone. Provide a power boost in the lineup and relegate Grichuk’s bat to the bench where he would change the makeup and could change some games late.

    As much as I’d love Stanton, the reason we need him is the reason we can’t afford him. They’ll want a star caliber prospect back and without Taveras, we don’t have one.

    1. Nelson Cruz would be ANOTHER HGH using, Biogenesis Clinic suspended, player on the Cardinals. He would be a playmate and fellow felon, as HGH purchase and use without Rx is a felony, for the Cardinals richly rewarded and highly praised SS PEDalta. Cruz and PEDalta together might be more successful at mentoring the next young Dominican prospect and player who comes up with the Cardinals. Actually, no, don’t let them near any younger players, and please keep them away from Carlos Martinez.
      PEDs and HGH using players are cheaters, and gain a disgraceful and disrespectful advantage over players who don’t use these drugs in the competitive ‘sport’, actually business, of MLB.
      Whatever is accepted, whether right or wrong, will eventually be embraced.

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