It’s that time of spring training when tedium sets in. Bored players, staff and media are itchy to head out of Florida. Fans want to throw a homecoming party. Everyone is anxious to commence playing or watching real baseball and get this 162-game exploration underway.
So when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Jupiter-station media members that he wanted to take a look at Matt Adams in left field, it was good news. Odd news — more on that in a bit — but good news for one reason: finally, after chewing on the same old topics and narratives, we have something fresh to discuss.
This was a gift from Matheny.
I suppose I should thank him — thanks, Mike — but I do have a few thoughts:
1. It may lead to absolutely nothing, but this is an intriguing idea and worthy of consideration. Adams lost 30 pounds over the offseason. He is notably slimmer and more agile. He deserves a lot of credit for working so hard to improve his athleticism. And by reshaping his physique and increasing his mobility, Adams has a chance to try some some new things that can enhance his value … like learning a new position.
Left field isn’t as physically challenging as most spots on the field; it is where many teams use their slowest, range-restricted fielders. In his last three seasons as a Cardinal, Matt Holliday was a minus 10 in Defensive Runs Saved. The Cardinals lived with the poor defensive range to keep Holliday’s bat in the lineup. But GM John Mozeliak had other ideas after a disappointing 2016 season: strive for a more athletic team and upgrade the defense. And left field was one of the biggest problems in ’16 … collectively Cardinals’ left fielders were a minus 10 in Defensive Runs Saved. That’s brutal.
So why would it make sense to give the untested Adams — a catcher as an amateur, and a first baseman in pro ball — a spin in left field? Answer: it’s because it’s spring training … and who cares? Spring training is when you experiment. Adams in left field may turn out to be a terrible idea, but I don’t think any of these Grapefruit League games count in the regular-season standings.
Adams — the heavier version — was quick around the first base bag. He was an underrated defender. Mopes often stick a stereotype on big fellows; a large man can’t possibly be fleet of foot, can’t possibly move well, can’t possibly be an above-average fielder. Yeah, except that Adams was (and is) an above-average first baseman. Over the past three seasons Adams was credited with a combined +13 Defensive Runs Saved. He ranked 5th among MLB first baseman in 2014, and was 15th last season. (Adams was injured for much of 2015 and wasn’t ranked.)
Understand what I am saying here: it’s worth taking a look at, simply to give the Cardinals more roster flexibility, additional corner-outfield depth, and provide more at-bats for Adams. He bounced back for a .471 slugging percentage in 2016, and has a beefy .483 career slugging percentage against RH pitchers.
I am not saying Adams should platoon with Randal Grichuk in left. I am not saying Adams will glide into the position without a hitch or pratfall, as if he’s zoomed in left field his entire baseball life. I’m not even saying Adams will approach competence out there. I have no idea what Adams would do in left. Hopefully he would not run into harm, or Dexter Fowler. But it is spring training. A time to tinker, to experiment, to fiddle with something new, to ponder the unconventional. If Adams gives left field whirl — and doesn’t actually whirl out there — maybe he’d be usable on occasion. But if Adams tries to play left field and is goofy and helpless and a menace to himself and teammates … well, forget about it. But let’s find out when the games don’t count.
I was never opposed to the idea of Holliday playing first base. I was against the idea of Holliday switching to first base — an entirely foreign position to him — in the middle of a baseball season when he had no time to really learn the position and get a handle on the necessary fundamentals. It was pointless to set up Holliday for failure. How would that possibly help the team? The Cardinals and Holliday did it the right way. He worked on first-base fielding fundamentals during the offseason before 2016, and got a chance to play there fairly regularly in exhibition games. Holliday could at least function at first base (regular season) without embarrassing himself. The point is, Holliday was given time to prepare.
Speaking of which …
2. What the hell took so long with Adams? Why now? It makes no sense. Why not try Adams in a new and unfamiliar habitat earlier in the spring? The Cardinals played their first exhibition game Feb. 25. Through Sunday, they’d played 23 official games. But there have been split-squad games. And the back-field games — with minor-league Cardinals, young Cardinals and some veterans — working on various projects. Going into Monday, the Cardinals had only 11 exhibition games remaining on their schedule. Yeah, I know that Adams has been shagging fly balls in left field for a while. But he did this on his own. Matheny took notice and evidently has been thinking about this over a period of time.
But shagging fly balls doesn’t compare to live action. And if the manager wanted to see what Adams could do in left field — if this was a real possibility or a half-mad fantasy — it was imperative to get started on this a helluva lot sooner than the third week of March. Adams doesn’t have much time to prepare (in LF) for the regular season. The season-opener is less than two weeks from now. And you can’t just throw Adams out there to learn on the fly in regular-season games. The Cardinals wasted an awful lot of time that could have been used to polish Adams’ readiness for a new position.
3. If the goal is to get Adams’ bat in the lineup more often … is there a federal law that prohibits first baseman Matt Carpenter from playing some games at third base and/or second base? I know that Mozeliak and Matheny have talked about installing Carpenter at first base and leaving him there instead of moving him around. And that’s understandable.
But we’re not suggesting that Carpenter play first base for a week, then go to third base for five days, then come back to first for three days, then slide over to second base for four days, then go occupy first base again, then trek across the diamond to take over third base … and … well … you get the point. I’m talking about Carpenter playing either third or second base once a week (twice at the most) in addition to his scheduled days off at first base. Wouldn’t that be an easier way to get more ABs for Adams?
This left field idea isn’t nuts.
But the Cardinals should have acted on it a lot sooner.
Thanks for reading …