A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

What can I say about the Cardinals center field situation that hasn’t already been said? Randal Grichuk, while not as bad as you might think, played just above the replacement level by crushing baseballs after his August recall from Triple-A to make up for ‘blah’ defense.

Look, you know the deal by now, Grichuk is not a center fielder, as badly as you and I both might want him to be. For Grichuk, this season can be viewed one of two ways.

You can be disappointed in his center field defense, porous ability to get on base, high strikeout rate, and view Randal Grichuk’s 2016 season as a lost cause that will only hurt his development as a quality player. Or, as I see things, you can view his season as a positive.

See, in 2016 we learned what Randal Grichuk isn’t, which can often be more important than knowing what someone is. We learned that Randal Grichuk is not a center fielder, and he is not a hitter who gets on base at a high clip.

Right now, we’re in a situation where he had to take one step back in order to take a big leap forward, which I believe will happen in 2017 when he likely takes over the full time left field job. Grichuk is a plus defender in left field – tallying 5 DRS in just under 370 innings while playing left field in St. Louis. And he can, and will, hit 40 home runs while slugging .500 and driving in over 100 runs if the Cardinals simply leave him be in the lineup and don’t nag him about getting on base all the time.

Did we not go over this already?

Anyway, this article isn’t about Grichuk, nor is it about Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinals everyday right fielder. This article is about the hole that is left by Grichuk’s evacuation of Busch Stadium’s center field.

While not officially confirming that Grichuk will be moving to left field, Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, emphasized that two of his priorities during the 2016 offseason are upgrading the porous St. Louis defense and finding a solution in center field.

Many names have been floated around as a potential solution to the Cardinals central issue of the offseason. Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Carlos Gomez, Adam Eaton, Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are just a few of the names that have been tossed into the magic hat of potential options for the Cardinals. However, I want to zero in on one guy that wasn’t listed above.

Kevin Kiermaier.

Kiermaier.jpg
Photo by Will Vragovic for the Tampa Bay Times

John Mozeliak’s two main focuses for the offseason, as he stated, are center field and defense. So why not kill a ton of birds with just one stone?

I don’t think anyone really needs an introduction to Kiermaier’s defense, but just in case you do, here are the things you need to know.

In two seasons and just under 2,000 innings played in center field, Kiermaier has an astonishing 68 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 35.4. No one has ever posted a higher single season DRS in center field than the 42 DRS that Kiermaier posted during his gold glove season in 2015.

The man is the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, not even remotely kidding with that statement. While playing nearly 500 less innings than 2nd place Kevin Pillar, Kiermaier led all center fielders with 25 defensive runs saved and a 26.9 UZR/150 during the 2016 season. 

So, let’s say that the Cardinals make a deal for Kiermaier. Not only does this solve the problem of center field defense by nabbing the greatest center field defender of all time, but left field defense is made stronger by the simple subtraction of Matt Holliday and addition of Randal Grichuk.

And just imagine all of the extra base hits that the outfield trio of Kevin Kiermaier, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty could potentially take away from opposing hitters. It’s mesmerizing just to dream about it.

Now, I know that there are much better offensive options available, and Kiermaier’s career WRC+ of 105 isn’t ideal offense from a franchise center fielder, but with the offensive talent that the Cardinals can trot out in 2016, they do have the ability to pull Kiermaier’s potentially league average offense.

Just as I have pointed out that Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base maestro, Kevin Kiermaier – in a potential sense – would not need to carry the Cardinal offense. The 2017 Cardinals must be a puzzle in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, what does Kevin Kiermaier do well that could fit into a puzzle?

Kevin.jpg
This. He does this very well. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

I already touched on his defense, but his other plus quality is base running. If you had no prior knowledge of Kiermaier, but knew that he was an outstanding defender in center field, you might have been able to guess that he was a pretty darn good baserunner too; which he most definitely is.

In 2016, Kiermaier’s 6.5 BsR – “an all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays into runs above and below average” – ranked 7th in all of baseball, just ahead of Starling Marte.

The highest Cardinal on that list? Stephen Piscotty in a tie for 114th with Chris Carter of the Milwaukee Brewers at -2.8 BsR. Yikes.

Our findings conclude that Kevin Kiermaier’s strengths are running the bases and defense. And what were the Cardinals primary weaknesses in 2016? Running the bases and defense; it’s almost too perfect of a fit.

And even further, Kiermaier plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, a notoriously low budget team that must maximize the talent they have by trading it for young, controllable players before the current roster gets too expensive for them to keep.

Kiermaier fits this bill. Although he is still several years away from free agency, it continues to seem more and more likely that, even with his league average offense, Kiermaier will be able to command a hefty contract that Tampa Bay will not be able to afford. Considering what we all saw Jason Heyward sign for this past offseason, defense and base running can command massive contracts, and that’s what Kiermaier has.

And with a restocked farm system, the Cardinals now have the depth and young, controllable talent to be able to reasonably make this deal happen. So, not only does this appear to be an absolutely perfect fit, but the deal doesn’t seem outlandish to accomplish, as a potential trade for Andrew Mccutcheon or A.J. Pollock currently feels, as great as those would be.

Look, everyone needs to get over the fact that the Cardinals don’t have a bona fide, all encompassing superstar player that can garner MVP votes and put up 7 WAR seasons. That means, as I said, that the whole of the 2017 Cardinals must be greater than the sum of its parts.

If we include Kiermaier into this puzzle, all of the pieces are there for the Cardinals to be successful.

Power? Yup, even with the assumption that Jedd Gyorko regresses back to his career norms, the Cardinals still have Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter as power sources; and if Gyorko doesn’t regress, that’s even more power.

Speed? Kiermaier takes the reigns here and joins up with Kolten Wong to spearhead a much improved St. Louis Cardinals team on the base paths.

On base ability? Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz, step right up and show off your shiny on base percentages that set the table for the run producers behind you like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.

Defense? Kiermaier takes the reigns here as well, covering acres of ground in center field, while having Kolten Wong as the – supposed – primary second baseman in 2017 also will definitely help in this area.

From a position player standpoint, the Cardinals have every ingredient to field a very successful team in 2017 – provided that my theoretical Kevin Kiermaier addition does occur. All of those ingredients may not come from one player, but that’s the beauty of this team. All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together to produce a winning ball club.

All we need is Kevin Kiermaier to fit into those last few tricky spots.

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A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

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