Mediocre Cardinals Finally Begin To Make Changes, But Don’t Expect a Major Shake-Up

A lot has happened with the Cardinals over the last few days. It’s been a busy time … a time of change. I don’t think I’d call it a major shake-up, but GM John Mozeliak is beginning to lose patience with his .500 team.

Several moves were made. And the roster was roiled by other events.

— In a long overdue move, the Cardinals finally designated reliever Miguel Socolovich for assignment and summoned a 27-year-old RH reliever, John Brebbia, for an audition in the big-league bullpen. That isn’t enough. More moves should be made. Two words: Jonathan Broxton. And if Triple A Memphis pitcher Luke Weaver — who is dominant this season — can’t earn a gig in this bullpen, then I don’t know what to say.

— Infielder Paul DeJong was promoted from Triple A Memphis to fill a spot opened when second baseman Kolten Wong went on the DL with a sore left elbow. DeJong made a quick splash. He has power, can play three infield positions and is an organizational favorite. His his arrival in the big leagues is no surprise; DeJong impressed in spring training to move onto the big-league bound fast track.

— OK, we know that the Cardinals are high on DeJong … but when Wong returns will they love DeJong enough to keep him on the 25-man roster and dump Jhonny Peralta? In his last 625 MLB plate appearances Peralta is slugging .358 (ugh) and is 22 percent below league average in park adjusted runs created. We’ll see how payroll politics determine roster decisions.

— Stephen Piscotty left the team to tend to a “personal matter” which reportedly is family related. He should be back soon. First of all, I hope everything is OK with Piscotty and his family. But when Piscotty makes it back into the lineup — and I’m not trying to be cold here — will his head be right? For the Cardinals’ flat offense to ignite, Piscotty must return to the form he displayed in 2015 and through much of ’16. Piscotty is batting .224 with a .353 OBP and .337 slug. I am surprised by his struggled at the plate and I’m sure many of you are too. Piscotty has to settle in, and regroup. Soon.

And the big one: the demotion of outfielder Randal Grichuk.  

Mozeliak got everyone’s attention by shipping Grichuk to Class A Palm Beach. Outfielder Jose Martinez was activated from the DL to take Grichuk’s spot. And Tommy Pham, deservedly, takes over as the starter in left field. This was another smart intervention by Mozeliak; with Grichuk in the minors, Matheny can no longer start him ahead of Pham, the superior player.

Pham absolutely should be the starter in a corner outfield spot; since a recall from Memphis on May 5, he’s batted .333 with a .419 OBP, .609 slug, 1.023 OPS, and five homers and 14 RBIs. It would be ludicrous to sit Pham behind any Cardinals outfielder right now. Go with him while he’s hot. And don’t turn on him as soon as he cools a little. This offense ranks 23rd (and 11th in the NL) in runs per game.

And this opinion isn’t just based on Pham’s time with the Cards this season. In 440 MLB plate appearances Pham has a .349 OBP, .483 slug and is 23 percent above league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created. Why would Pham sit?

This move had to be made. Grichuk isn’t a kid; he will turn 26 in August. Including postseason, he’s had 1,169 MLB plate appearances. By now Grichuk should be improving; instead he’s getting worse. His season batting line:  .222 average, .276 onbase percentage, .377 slug. In 99 plate appearances since April 28, Grichuk was hitting .198 with a .253 OBP, a .319 slug and one homer.

Grichuk will never be a high-OBP guy, but his onbase skills have deteriorated, dropping 53 percentage points from where he finished in a promising 2015 season. Grichuk has become an out-making machine. And if he isn’t hitting for power, then what’s the point? That was the reason for his existence in the Cards’ lineup.

Note the regression in Grichuk’s slugging percentage across the last three seasons:  .548 in 2015 … .480 in 2016 … .377 in 2017.  And Grichuk’s current OPS, .653, is down 224 points from his 2015 level.

Grichuk’s park-adjusted runs created, 37 percent above the league average in 2015, was 29 percent below league average this year.

You can’t play a hitter with no real OBP skills, a 30 percent strikeout rate, and little power.

You can live with his flaws as long as the doubles and homers are flying.

Maybe Grichuk will get this figured out. Maybe he’s a so-called late bloomer. But when can we expect Grichuk to refine his plate discipline? Is it even possible? It’s premature to declare that Grichuk’s time with the Cardinals is done. But other young outfielders are cueing up for a big-league chance, and I don’t know how long Grichuk can hold them off. I’m talking about Harrison Bader at Triple A Memphis … and an impressive Double A Springfield starting outfield of Mags Sierra, Jose Aroldis Garcia and Oscar Mercado.

That’s at least four outfielders on the way. They will be here relatively soon, perhaps later this season (Bader) or most likely at some point in 2018. They may be progressing on their journey to the majors, but it doesn’t matter if their paths are blocked.

Mozeliak will have to make a decision in the relatively near future: invest more time, patience and at-bats in Grichuk, or give big-league opportunities to younger, up-and-coming outfielders.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie 

More: Karraker – Cardinals Need a Star; Aren’t Built to Win in 2017