How Does St. Louis Cardinals’ Trade for Jason Heyward Affect Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty?


The St. Louis Cardinals announced what can safely be described as a blockbuster move on Monday morning, as they acquired outfielder Jason Heyward from the Atlanta Braves (along with reliever Jordan Walden) for emerging star pitcher Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins. It’s definitely a risky move, as Miller isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, while Heyward will make $7.8 million this year and is scheduled to hit the free agent market after the 2015 season.

While Miller has looked like a special talent during his first two full big-league seasons, the Cardinals’ starting rotation shouldn’t be too adversely affected, as they already had a surplus of starters. It should be interesting, though, to see how the move affects the Cardinals’ plans in the outfield.

The expectation is that Heyward will take over as the full-time starter in right field. That throws things off a bit, because right after the season ended the belief was that there could be a timeshare in right, allowing several guys to get sufficient at-bats. Now, Heyward should be in the lineup daily, and Matt Holliday and Jon Jay will retain their starting spots in left and center field, which probably doesn’t leave a lot of extra at-bats for anyone else until an injury occurs. Though Peter Bourjos is arbitration eligible and theoretically could be non-tendered, he figures to return and fill one of the extra outfielder spots, particularly due to the fact that his poor performance in 2014 could have been largely caused by a hip impingement that held him back during the second half of the season.

Assuming the Cardinals operate with a standard bench composition of a catcher, two infielders, and two outfielders, that leaves one more spot on the roster for someone among Randal Grichuk, Shane Robinson, Tommy Pham, and Stephen Piscotty.

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Grichuk would probably be the favorite for the spot, considering that he was the starter in right down the stretch in 2014 and can provide a power presence off the bench, as displayed by him having hit home runs in both the NLDS and NLCS this past October. With that said, Grichuk is 23 years old and spent his first season in Triple-A in 2014, so the Cards may prefer to have him playing regularly in Memphis rather than scavenging for at-bats as the fifth outfielder.

While he would seem to be a likely candidate to be non-tendered as an arbitration-eligible player, Shane Robinson will seemingly remain in the conversation as long as general manager John Mozeliak accommodates his presence on a Mike Matheny-managed roster. The 30-year-old Robinson, who has repeatedly been acknowledged by the manager for his grit and positive clubhouse presence. However, Robinson is a .231 career hitter who doesn’t provide the power skills of Grichuk or the speed of Bourjos, plus he’s now out of minor-league options, so it’s probably a long shot that he factors into the Cardinals’ plans next year.

Pham is the darkhorse among the group, as he has only six games of big-league experience, but since he’ll be 27 next year and already has two seasons of Triple-A experience, he would provide a more flexible and financially efficient alternative to Robinson as a “traditional” fifth outfielder type. It’s somewhat of a surprise that he wasn’t outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of the season, but since he’s stuck to this point he’ll have a shot at the big-league roster next year.

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  • Finally, Piscotty is an option, and his status becomes the biggest question mark following the Heyward trade. Despite the fact that Oscar Taveras was seen as the Cardinals’ best prospect and was expected to be a long-term starter, it’s also been expected for over a year that Piscotty, a third baseman-turned-right fielder, would break into the big-league lineup sooner than later. Now, though, with the Cards having an established right fielder, it would seem that Piscotty will have to wait at least a year longer to see meaningful playing time unless injuries change things.

    We’ve seen recently with guys like Taveras and Matt Adams that the Cardinals like to be very cautious with easing esteemed prospects into the lineup. But since Piscotty has a full year of Triple-A experience under his belt and proved that he could handle the level in 2014, hitting .288/.355/.406 with nine homers, 69 RBI, and 11 steals, it wouldn’t seem that he has much left to prove in the minors.

    It’s certainly possible that the Cards could carry the 23-year-old Piscotty on their 25-man roster and create a plan to get him sufficient playing time, as they did for Adams in 2013. In theory, they could shift Heyward into right field and let Piscotty handle right if they wanted to get him semi-regular at-bats. That platoon wouldn’t really be logical, though, as Jay and Heyward are both lefthanded hitters who have hit better against righties over the course of their respective careers. Though it’s probably not a viable option considering that the Cardinals gave up a player as good as Miller to get one year out of Heyward, perhaps the most efficient course of action would be to sit Heyward versus lefties, whom he’s hit .221 against during the course of his career, and give the righty-hitting Piscotty a chance to play.

    Another possible solution which also has been unspoken about to this point would be to have Piscotty start learning first base. Though he’s never played the position during the course of his professional career, one would think that his previous experience as a third baseman and his impressive 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame would give him an edge at first. That way, the Cardinals would have both an outlet to get him in the lineup and a safety blanket for Adams, who hit .190/.231/.298 against lefthanded pitchers in 2014. If Piscotty could contribute both at first and in the outfield, he’d be a prime asset to the Cardinals’ bench, especially since their backup first baseman as things stand now is probably a starter at another position: either Matt Carpenter or Yadier Molina.

    So now that they have their starting right fielder set in stone for 2015, it’s time for the Cardinals to start planning the makeup of the rest of the team. While Piscotty surely would prefer to be starting in the majors next year, maybe the team can find a way to use him efficiently and still let him contribute to the big-league club in the upcoming season.