As I thought about the options facing the Cardinals this coming spring - including my belief that the club will still add a middle infielder before the season begins – I have come up with the configuration of my ideal bench.
For purposes of this article, I will assume the new infielder will either be signed as a free agent or acquired in trade for minor leaguers and/or pitching. In other words, I am not removing any current position players from the potential mix.
|Can Carpenter handle second?|
Like I said, I think the Cardinals will soon add another middle infielder to the 2013 mix. However, as much as I would like to see it, I will not go so far out onto a limb to suggest he will become the immediate starter at second base.
I do think that is possible, but at this point, I give it less than 50 percent odds. So, I am going with what I consider the most likely scenario – that the opening day starting middle infield will consist of Daniel Descalso and Rafael Furcal.
I consider several factors in the construction of my five-man bench. They include defensive versatility, handed-ness and offensive ability with the overall goal of selecting the best five players possible.
Catcher (1): Right-handed hitting Tony Cruz has shown he can handle the job and should keep it until he gets too expensive.
Corner infield-outfield (2): Left-handed hitting Carpenter and right-handed hitting Ty Wigginton cover the same ground defensively, while hitting from opposite sides of the plate. In his younger years, Wigginton played some second base, but those days appear to be over. As I will explain below, on the infield, I would see these two potentially playing more third base than first.
Middle infield (1): Incumbents set to battle for the position are right-handed hitters Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson, but here is where I think a player will be added to the roster. Likely, he will be a right-handed hitter. Ideally, he could steal a base if needed.
If Carpenter can cut it at second, he could serve as a reserve there, with Descalso as the back up shortstop. If an injury arose, Kozma and Jackson would be a phone call away in Memphis.
My true best-case plan - but one not assumed here - is that a new starting second baseman is added. Then Descalso would become the top reserve at both middle infield spots. This lessens any dependency on Carpenter to man second.
Outfielder/final spot (1): Normally, there might be as many as two outfielders on the bench, but in this scenario, I have no traditional reserve outfielders.
Bear with me for a moment on this. With Carpenter and Wigginton outfield-ready along with Craig, the Cards have the corner outfield positions well-covered.
What the club needs is someone to spell Jon Jay in centerfield. They already have that in Carlos Beltran, a former Gold Glover in center whose increasing age and injuries preclude him from playing there regularly. With more frequent rest in 2013, Beltran could better step in when Jay needs a day off. As noted, the Cards have plenty of options to cover Beltran's normal home in right-field more often this season.
If Jay is injured and out for any period of time, the Cardinals could call up Adron Chambers from Memphis, where he should be playing every day in the interim. The left-handed hitter made big strides in 2012, but has yet to take hold in the majors. Later on, the organization's top hitting prospect, Oscar Taveras, could earn that role.
So, who would I add as my final player coming out of spring training?
First-baseman Matt Adams is who. The left-handed slugger has nothing else to prove at Triple-A and I believe it is he who should play first base for St. Louis when Craig is rested or moves to the corner outfield to cover for Beltran or Matt Holliday.
The left-handed-hitting Adams has the power potential as a pinch-hitter that none of the other options possess, save perhaps Wigginton from the right side. Adams adds a second left-handed bat off the bench in addition to Carpenter.
The odd man out in this scenario is Shane Robinson. While Robinson is a very strong defender in the outfield, his bat is a weakness that is not going to improve. As I noted above, centerfield can be covered by others. Now 28 years of age, Robinson is out of minor league options, so if not traded, he could be lost via waivers. Still, I think the time is right for the Cardinals to take that chance to improve the team.
I realize this bench configuration puts a lot of emphasis on offense, but isn't that what the current plan of trying to fit Carpenter into second base indicates? This scenario would also work with Kozma/Jackson on the roster instead of a new middle infield acquisition, but that could put more pressure on Carpenter due to his substantial offensive advantage over the pair.
My bottom line is that I would rather see Adams on the roster than weak-hitting Robinson or Chambers.
In summary, my ideal 2013 Cardinals bench:
Catcher: Tony Cruz, RHH
Corner infield-outfield: Matt Carpenter, LHH and Ty Wigginton, RHH
Middle infield: New acquisition, RHH (or Pete Kozma/Ryan Jackson, RHH)
First base: Matt Adams, LHH
Reserves by position:
Catcher: Cruz, minor leaguer
First base: Adams, Wigginton/Carpenter
Second base: New acquisition, Carpenter, Kozma/Jackson (minors)
Shortstop: New acquisition, Descalso, Kozma/Jackson (minors)
Third base: Wigginton/Carpenter
Left/right field: Craig, Wigginton/Carpenter
Centerfield: Beltran, Chambers (minors)
Agree or disagree? Stop by The Cardinal Nation premium forum to weigh in with your view.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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