Cardinals: Where does Matt Adams provide the most value?

Talking about Matt Adams with St. Louis Cardinals fans is like talking about that stock that used to be very high, yet now sits around the "you never know" level. He's not the polarizing lightning rod topic that is Mike Matheny, but he generates discussion every spring, and for good reason: Adams' role and value is ever-changing. 

When STL Sports Page's Rob Rains joined my 590 The Fan radio show Tuesday night, he talked about Adams being the odd man out on the 25 man roster possibly later this month. While I respect Rob's take, I think this is a little outlandish for a few reasons. First, let me take you back to the beginning of Adams' time with the team. 

Adams career started off with aspirations of being a starting first baseman, and covering the huge hole that Albert Pujols left after his departure with some epoxy. Instead, the first base position has been held together with duct tape and glue since 2012, and Adams' health and promise have created waves in expectation.

After a brief foray in 2012 which included a .316 batting average in the postseason, Adams played in 109 games in 2013 and his numbers created a conversation. The then 24-year-old smashed 17 home runs and put together an OPS of .839 in his first extended exposure to Major League pitching. He was slick defender at first base-posting a .997 fielding percentage with only two errors, and big range for a big man. 

2014 didn't represent a collapse for Adams, but what could be expected from him seemed to shift. He only hit 15 home runs in over 500 at bats, but he doubled his two bag production with 34 and added five triples. He raised his batting average, and his OPS was .779, which is very solid. In 142 games, Adams had 152 hits and his Wins Above Replacement was the highest of his career at 2.2. While he couldn't draw enough walks or hit enough home runs to be a legit power producing first baseman, Adams' season wasn't bad by any means. It was just different.

2015 was when the injuries occurred, and Adams' power production dipped severely. A quad injury hindered a fair portion of his, and he only hit five home runs in 60 games and his OPS dropped to .657. What was worse was Adams only drew 10 walks in 175 at bats, and for a player with power persuasion in his bat, that's simply not acceptable. 

The question started to grow on trees around Busch Stadium: what was Adams' true value and capability? By the time a player reaches his late 20s, a promise of production should be attained. 

2016 was a quiet comeback season for Adams, albeit one as a part time player. Other than missing some time in August due to an inflamed shoulder, Adams was a productive ballplayer for the team. He hit 15 home runs in only 327 at bats, which represented his best average since 2013, and his slugging percentage of .477 helped raise his OPS to .770 for the season. The walks were still low at 25, but he added 18 doubles. 

It wasn't enough for fans, because they wanted the glimmer of hope that existed back in 2013 to grow into something larger three years later. Here's the news that is fit to print anywhere: if you are expecting Adams to be a robust MVP crown chasing candidate any time soon, you are better off playing blackjack blind at the tables. He isn't that type of producer, or at least not with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Expectations can be a tricky thing for a baseball player in St. Louis. Look at Michael Wacha's 2013 launch in the second half of the season, and how his fall to grace has left expectations bouncing around all over the board with fans sipping too much kool-aid after a few spring starts. Both players arrived with a flourish of something juicy ahead, but have returned to backup status. Which brings me back to Rains' comments on my show. 

Adams being the odd man out on a 25 man roster doesn't make sense for a few reasons:

-He generates zero value playing in Memphis for prospecting teams such as Colorado, who just lost Ian Desmond. Memphis does nothing for Adams' future. 

-He can be a very useful backup first baseman to Matt Carpenter, and keep the pressure on Jhonny Peralta (who is far more expensive and on the way out as well) to maintain his play at third base. Peralta hasn't played much first base either, and Adams is the smoothest defender at first that the team employs. 

-Adams' bat plays a vital role on the bench. Adams became a fine pinch hitter for the team last year, and came up with some timely contributions. You can't sleep on 16 home runs and a .471 slugging percentage in limited time. Why send that to Memphis so Tommy Pham AND Jose Martinez can attempt to make something of their career in their 11th professional season?

-Have you see a healthy Matt Carpenter this spring? If it's not his back, it's his oblique, and you know how those injuries go. In some cases, the injuries could be connected, and that's a whole can of worms that hasn't been opened yet. If Carpenter isn't 100 % on April 1, you go with Adams. He's slotted to make $2.8 million this year, and that's $300,000 more than the team paid Ty Wiggington once upon a time to collect a few singles and round second base well. Adams is cheap injury insurance for Carpenter. 

I wrote last week that Martinez should get the fourth outfield spot, but I can see a scenario where Matheny and John Mozeliak go with experience and stick with Pham. What shouldn't happen is both of them making the roster and forcing Adams down to Memphis. It simply doesn't make sense for the team now or later. Who else can play a competent first base after Carpenter? If your answer doesn't end with Adams, you're wrong.

I don't care about Adams losing weight. It makes for a fine fleet of fluff pieces and healthy eating awareness, and could prolong his career if he keeps the weight off during the season when time becomes the essence. What I do care about is first base depth that can actually play the position and contribute, and Adams can do that. Save for the 2015 season, Adams has produced in some capacity. There's value in that. 

While he won't be an everyday star for the Cardinals who hits 30 home runs, Adams does hold a fair measure of value heading into the 2017 season. Cheap and production protection. 

Have a question or thought? Let's have a cup of coffee on social media on Twitter @buffa82. 

 

 

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