Playing Matt Adams in left field will never make sense for the St. Louis Cardinals, but manager Mike Matheny continues to try and convince himself and the media that it's a plan worth sticking with. Are these delusions of grandeur or simply a man incapable of getting out of his way? With Matheny, I would say both, and that's not good for the Cardinals.
Via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the team is bringing in Willie McGee to help Adams adjust and improve in left field. They could bring in Willie Mays Hayes, and it wouldn't help the cause. You don't teach a guy who has never played the position before this spring to suddenly be an effective defender there. Matheny tried to further explain his case to Goold:
"So we’re going to continue to get him opportunities, especially when we’re looking to find some offense,” Matheny said. “We know what his bat can do. He’s in a real good spot, in my opinion. We like where Adams is and he is going to have to just continue to improve so we can put him in the outfield and make that a viable option.”
Something isn't computing here-the Cardinals swore to get better defensively in the offseason, and have responded to that claim by putting a first baseman in left field. Adams' four starts to Randal Grichuk's five starts makes this a real live experiment, and one that has already produced a face-plant in a game against the Chicago Cubs. Adams has made catches in left, but if the fly ball is even medium rare in difficulty, it is a troubling sight to behold.
Grichuk isn't just a better outfielder than Adams, but he's also a more potent bat overall. Both players have experienced slow starts to the 2017 season, but Grichuk gives you the sudden lethal dose of power at the plate-the ability to hit the ball 450 feet like a laser beam out of a ballpark. He is better offensively and defensively than Adams, so what else is there?
The problem exists on the infield, because first base is where Adams should be getting time, but the Cards are stuck with a water-logged infield assortment. The slow swinging Jhonny Peralta can't hit water if he fell out of a boat, and the team can't decide what to do with Kolten Wong. Jedd Gyorko has played every position on the infield in the past year, hits for power, but when he plays, it feels like Mom and Dad are putting Wong in a corner without a chair. Greg Garcia is a versatile threat, but will only see a start every 2-3 weeks.
The right way to do this would be to move Matt Carpenter to either second base (where he is best defensively in his career) or third base (where he is slightly below average, but not out of position) on certain days and let Adams play first while a combination of Wong and Gyorko get in the lineup and Peralta sits down as a bench player. Grichuk should be playing every day to get his power in the lineup, and because others make better bench bats.
Matt Adams was a great compliment player off the bench in 2016, so why change that? Why force an extra helping of Adams down the throat at the expense of your team defense? The Cards had too much depth in 2016, but they are running into the same problem in 2017. There are too many players and not enough positions, and no one needs to allow Matheny to get overly creative with how he fits all the pieces into the puzzle.
Playing in Adams in left field over Grichuk doesn't just make zero sense; it makes a mockery out of the message sent out by General Manager John Mozeliak all offseason. At the Winter Warmup in January, Mozeliak mentioned "better defense and athleticism" at least six times, and that was in one day. How does Adams in left field fit into that narrative?
Last year, the Cards used Matt Holliday at first base in order to get his bat in the lineup, but it didn't come at the expense of Carpenter. It was a need to get a potent bat in the lineup, and Adams' bat doesn't come close to a healthy Matt Holliday. The experiment lasted nine starts and 61 innings and change-with Holliday making zero errors and finishing with a fielding percentage of 1.000. I'd wager moving a left fielder to first base isn't as bad as moving a career first baseman to the outfield, but there's no need. Adams' bat at the moment doesn't create a need to jam him into the daily lineup. Let him support the team off the bench or readjust the infield order.
As reported by Goold, Matheny explained, "is our offense needing that spark? Even for two at-bats, and then we make a move defensively."
Once again, playing Matt Adams in left field hinders the Cards for the five to six innings that it does occur, and takes a valuable outfielder and bat out of the lineup in Randal Grichuk. After having a great spring, Jose Martinez played first base, so Adams could start in left in Washington earlier this week. If you try to explain that, the top of your head will pop off in flames.
The 2017 season has taught us a few things and shown fans the uglier side of the team's abilities, but it has also revealed a brief look at the future. Sooner or later, Mozeliak is going to have to fix Matheny's classroom again. He's going to have to send either Adams or Wong packing in a trade. My guess is Wong, because it will bring back the most value, and the "experiment" can go on. For Mike Matheny, old habits die hard, so Mozeliak will have to step in and fix things again. The question is how many games and innings will be lost as a result of this odd brand of thinking?
I've been a Matheny apologist for years, but this season is going to test every one of his supporters, and it's hard to defend him with moves like this. Bring in McGee, Jim Edmonds, Ray Lankford, and Bernard Gilkey. Bring in a roundtable of Birds, and see if they can magically turn Adams into an outfielder.
All I know is the Cards are only nine games into the season, and they are already wiping the table clean of their offseason goals in order to get Adams' .143 batting average into the lineup at the expense of the defense.
That will never make sense.