On the Two Birds on a Bat show called Bowties and Bullshit, the day before Halloween, Birds On The Black's own Kyle Reis and Bruno (CardsCards) were guests of Jim Cromer - the host of the podcast. Part of what they discussed together over the course of an hour or so was the depth and versatility of some of the roster and how the Cardinals will need to maximize that in order for the team to do well in 2020 - at least without any MAJOR additions to the position player side of the roster.
My brain immediately started racing about how to do that. Here is my proposal (again, WITHOUT any additions to the current roster).
The Catcher Position
Yadier Molina isn't getting any younger, despite his recent claims of wanting to play until at least 2022. Andrew Knizner isn't either and he is ready to be in the majors. IF he's in the majors, he needs to start on a fairly regular basis and begin working often with the pitchers that are going to be around at the MLB level while he's the primary catcher here, whether that is 2021 or 2023.
Yadi's plate appearances the last 4 seasons have trended downward and in a hurry at ages 33-36. He's now entering his age 37 season having gone from 581 to 543 to 503 to 452 PA in the last four seasons. To keep him playing 400-450 PA this upcoming season has to be the goal. He got to 450 in 2019 by playing in 113 games. I think that if you give him more scheduled rest time throughout the season, he will have a higher likelihood of staying healthy and staying competitive at his highest level.
My proposal: Knizner gets Sunday and Wednesday starts. Those are the days most likely to be day games after night games anyway, so it stands to reason that those would be the games that Yadi would typically miss most often anyway. That would result in 51 scheduled starts for Andrew Knizner and 111 scheduled starts for Yadier Molina. That gets Molina approximately 68.5% of the plate appearances at catcher next year and Knizner approximately 31.5% of the plate appearances at catcher. Knizner could pick up another 50-60 PA or so pinch hitting, I'd assume, to help his progression as a hitter. That'd put him between 250-300 PA on the year, I'd believe.
The First Base Position
Paul Goldschmidt should ALMOST get the typical treatment that the Cardinals have reserved in the past for catcher Yadier Molina. That is, he should be able to tell the coach when he needs a day off. If he doesn't, it's Shildt's job to get him a rest every 15-20 games or so. Make sure to get him ~150 starts. He's the closest thing the team has to a superstar on offense and the Cardinals need him to bounce back in a big way.
The Second Base Position
After that, the Cardinals have several guys that they can use to play the remaining 3 spots on the infield. Kolten Wong probably needs to play every game the Cardinals can get him in next year, especially if he can just continue to hit at a reasonable level, much less the near MVP (ish) level at which he played post-ASB in 2019. However, sitting him against tough lefties can still be a huge boost to Wong, who has been semi-injury prone in his career, just to get him occasional days off. I'm thinking the Cardinals probably face lefties in about 20-25% of all starts. That would leave "tough lefties" as maybe 10% of all starts? So you're talking a 90%-10% time share at second base. I think Tommy Edman gets all 10% of those starts. That's 146 starts for Wong and 16 starts at second base for Edman.
The Third Base Position
Matt Carpenter is a huge bounce back candidate for the 2020 season and you know the Cardinals will give him every chance to succeed as they did with Fowler in 2019. If Carpenter fails, I believe the Cardinals have Edman just waiting in the wings to play 3B as the starter and won't be afraid to do so...after a couple of months. I don't think Carpenter gives them that opportunity, by hitting approximately how Ozuna hit last year (near .800 OPS).
That said, I think Carpenter needs more and more days off. He is too injury prone and hits long slumps due to his back and such. Having scheduled days off, very much like I have set up for Molina, is how I would treat the Matt Carpenter at third situation. I would have Edman start for Carpenter against lefties when he is not starting at second base for Wong against lefites (in other words, Edman is either at 3B or 2B any time the team is facing a lefty). I would do more than that, though, with Edman at third base. I would start Tommy Edman one day every week at third base, no matter what. Give him 1 out of every 7 games at third and give Carpenter 6 out of every 7. That 1 in 7 for Edman is in addition to any games Edman gets against lefties at 3B. If Edman gets 16 against lefties, then 6 out of every 7 games in the other 146 would give Carpenter 125 starts on the year. That leaves Edman with 37 starts at third base. He's up to 53 starts on the year just at second and third.
The Shortstop Position
Paul DeJong has earned the title of starting shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. He has been an absolute rock defensively. His offense fell off of a cliff when the Cardinals trusted absolutely nobody else to play SS last year to give him rests. They need to entrust that to Tommy Edman as well, just to give DeJong some days off to reset. Giving DeJong 16 days off, as Wong is getting per my plan, means that every 10 games, DeJong gets a mental break. That means another 16 starts for Edman (up to 69 planned starts) and DeJong gets 146 starts.
The Tommy Edman Factor
As I've stated, I have scheduled for Edman:
16 starts at second base
16 starts at short stop
37 starts at third base (Can we up that to 47 and keep everyone happy? See below.)
So far, that's 69 starts for Edman. What I don't have planned is how many starts he gets for Paul Goldschmidt at first base. Now, I play Matt Carpenter at first base on the days that Goldy needs a rest, but how many times is that throughout the year? This year it was once. He played 161 games. Granted, he "only" started 155 of them. So let's say instead of 7 starts missed this year, Goldy misses 10 starts. That means that Carpenter is actually only starting at THIRD base 115 times. Edman's bumps up to 47 starts at third base, giving Edman 79 overall starts planned out by the coaching staff in advance.
I also start Edman on the infield any time DeJong, Wong, Goldy, or Carpenter need an unplanned day off, and plan on pinch hitting him regularly and letting him finish games (most likely for Carpenter) in which a pinch runner and defense are needed after the 6th inning or so. I figure that's probably good for a 400-450 PA season from Edman. I really think this is more his future than an every day starter, anyway. I truly do.
The Three Outfield Positions
The St. Louis Cardinals currently have 8 players on the 40-man roster that are listed as outfielders. They also have Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz, who occasionally play the outfield. While I don't believe Munoz really has a spot on next year's roster, I'm sure that the Cardinals disagree with me; but this is simply an aside.
The 8 Cardinals outfielders that are on the 40-man are: Randy Arozarena, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Adolis Garcia (JAG), Jose Martinez, Tyler O'Neill, Lane Thomas, and Justin Williams. I feel like Justin Williams and or JAG will be roster casualties this offseason. If the Cardinals can find a landing spot for Jose Martinez, I would not be surprised to see him gone this offseason either. The Cardinals have the semi-unique opportunity as a team that is not rebuilding to truly play five outfielders a great amount of the time and get them plenty of plate appearances apiece - AND not really hurt the team in any meaningful way - unless all involved just happen to suck.
No matter which five they end up bringing north from Jupiter (would that be a great band name? North from Jupiter? I can't tell.) could end up in a platoon like I describe next. I would suggest actually doing this next season and here are the five I would use. Randy Arozarena, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O'Neill, and Lane Thomas. I would try to trade Jose Martinez, JAG, and/or Justin Williams this offseason.
That would leave you with a rotation for the three outfield spots. I would not necessarily put them on a "play 3, sit 2" rotation, but I would try to get it so basically each guy starts 60% of the year (barring injury) and is a bench bat 40% of the year. There are 162 games in a season and 3 outfield spots. There are also 10 games in American league parks to get a DH plate appearances. That would be 496 starts to split between all five of these players (if you're not getting the DH starts to Carpenter). That's over 90 starts apiece, so I try to get all of them to 90 starts. I try to optimize my players by putting them in the best position to succeed.
Part of that is playing Harrison Bader more often in the biggest parks with the larger outfields. That would utilize Bader's best skill set - his ELITE defense. Part of that is allowing Dexter Fowler to get into games in the smallest parks as he's the worst of the five defensively. You also play matchups as he is the only guy in the group that can bat left-handed. Therefore, he really doesn't need to start against right-handed pitchers. Part of that is figuring out if Tyler O'Neill's power is something that needs to be in the lineup - and potentially right in the middle at #4 taking Marcell Ozuna's place. In order to see if he can be that bat, you have to play him in places where right-handed power plays well. I don't believe that either Arozarena or Thomas has any splits akin to those three that you need to worry about. Therefore, I get them into 90 games as starters wherever I can. If it works out to simply do a "play 3, sit 2" rotation, then so be it. However, I pick and hunt spots a it more carefully than that every month at a time or so.
The Position Players Recap
So where does that leave us? Well, it gives us a starting lineup with APPROXIMATELY the following amount of plate appearances allotted per player, (with the average for the team from 2015-2019 being 5,860 PA for non-pitchers):
That only assumes 12 hitters, however. The Cardinals will most assuredly have 13 hitters on the roster due to the fact that there is a 26-man roster starting next year and that there is a limit of 13 pitchers on the roster. These assumptions above have the 26th man getting zero plate appearances. That won't happen. My suggestion is that (without additions) they either keep Yairo Munoz around due to his "positional flexibility" (of which I am not convinced) or Jose Martinez to get the other 110 pinch hit appearances and play in the field as often as I do.
Hopefully what I have laid out here before you all makes as much sense in print as it did in my head as I was typing. I believe this type of plan is something that should work at the major league level and should help a roster like the Cardinals potentially more than any other roster in the league.
The Cardinals have a depth of talent, if not the star-studded talent that other post-season rosters seem to have. Without that over-the-top talent level to buoy them, keeping your best players fresh while also keeping everyone on the roster involved more often and having a PLAN on how to do it is what I see is best for the team as a whole.
Cardinals, take it or leave it. The choice is yours.
Let's go Cardinals.