ST. LOUIS — Oscar time could be coming to the Cardinals as soon as Wednesday.
At first glance, a week of playing AL teams on the road looks like an ideal time to call up the organization’s prized prospect, Oscar Taveras.
Because the Cardinals will need a designated hitter, regular at-bats will be available. As hot as Taveras has been, he’d make a fine choice to take them. Over his past 10 games for Class AAA Memphis, Taveras is hitting .462 with a 1.129 OPS. He’s been good all season, too: .325/.373/.524 with seven homers and 40 RBIs in 49 games. Those are ready-for-a-shot-type numbers.
So what’s the holdup? Send out the press release and make sure the young man arrives in Kansas City by Wednesday night to face the Royals. Put him in the lineup — the seven-hole seems about right to begin with — and watch him put his sweet lefty swing to work.
If only the decision were that simple. Unfortunately for all those Cardinals fans yearning for Oscar’s arrival — and the bandwagon grows daily — other factors must be considered.
Is Taveras really the best choice? Randal Grichuk has been just as productive for Memphis and owns two advantages: He’s a better defender in center field and he’s already sampled big-league pitching this season, if only for a couple of weeks. Stephen Piscotty, the third outfielder trying to knock down the door to St. Louis, has played well, too, though he hasn’t matched his outfield mates over the past couple of weeks.
Whose place would he take on the 25-man roster? This one should not be difficult. Let Shelby Miller make his next scheduled start Tuesday at home against the Royals and then skip a turn. He could get an innings break and, given his rough outings lately, would be spared having to face a DH lineup. Because of off days, the other starters would not have to work on short rest. The club could send down a reliever — sorry, Sam Freeman — and have Miller available only for emergencies.
What happens when the interleague gig is up? This is the tough one. After two games at Kansas City, three at Toronto and two at Tampa Bay, the Cardinals won’t have a need for a DH and the St. Louis outfield again becomes uncomfortably crowded.
The club could inform Taveras from the onset that this would be a short-term deal. Then what if he hits like he’s been hitting at Memphis? Sending him back to the minors would not be good for his psyche. It wouldn’t seem to help the Cardinals’ chances of winning, either, unless the rest of the outfield picked up its production. As a group, the Cardinals’ outfield ranks in the bottom third in the NL in homers (10), average (.254), OBP (.325) and slugging percentage (.368).
So far, the club has shown little indication that it is ready to shake up its outfield. What seems to have become clear in recent weeks, however, is that Taveras is not best-suited for center field. With Matt Holliday and Allen Craig entrenched in the corners — at least for now — center field is where the team’s need is greatest.
The Cardinals have yet to promote Taveras, only 22, in large part because they want him to play every day. The way the Cardinals’ roster is set up now, at-bats would be hard for him to come by.
At some point, perhaps as soon as the July trade deadline, general manager John Mozeliak will reduce his stock of outfielders. Between St. Louis and Memphis, there are no fewer than seven outfielders who either have proven to be everyday big leaguers or are projected to become big-league regulars. Of the seven, only Holliday, who has full no-trade protection, and Taveras would seem to be untouchable.
A week-long look at Taveras in the majors could help the Cardinals determine a timetable for shaking up the outfield. If Taveras did not appear ready to take on major-league pitching — hey, it could happen — he could return to the minors until September and the outfield surplus could be addressed in the offseason.
If Taveras is as ready as his Class AAA numbers indicate, Mozeliak would have a dilemma in need of a quick solution. While having too many outfielders is one of those good problems to have, it still’s a problem. It would need to be fixed.