On the Bubble
Todd Cunningham, Jose Martinez, Tommy Pham
Despite the fact that he was somewhat of a disappointment in 2016, the general expectation is that Tommy Pham will be the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder this season. Pham, who will be 29 next month and is skilled at all three positions, provides a righthanded power bat off the bench (a role that he hasn’t been especially skilled at in the past), but more importantly, he’s been very good when pressed into a starting role, posting an .862 OPS in 296 career plate appearances as a starter.
After Pham ended his 2016 campaign on a 3-for-30 tailspin with no extra base hits, one would think that the Cardinals would have brought in some competition for him this spring, especially since he still has one minor-league option remaining. It appears as if Pham is at least the heavy favorite for a prominent bench spot, though, if not guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster.
Jose Martinez is the most prominent challenger to Pham as a righthanded-hitting outfielder off the bench. While Martinez would be at a serious disadvantage under normal circumstances due to the fact that he’s a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who is most comfortable at the outfield corners, the Cardinals can play Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, or even Kolten Wong in center field if Dexter Fowler needs a day off. While he certainly doesn’t have as much defensive skill there as Pham does, Martinez is experienced enough in center to play there in a pinch; he’s played 344 minor-league innings in center field and started one game there last year for the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Since the Cardinals haven’t signed a lefthanded-hitting outfielder like John Mozeliak expressed a desire to do back in January, watch out for switch-hitting Todd Cunningham as a darkhorse bench candidate. While he has a miserable .207/.256/.264 slash line in the majors, Cunningham has played in 67 big-league games and is actually one of the Cardinals’ most experienced outfield depth options, however concerning that may be. And in all seriousness, don’t overlook the big-league number factor as a hint to how the Cardinals feel about Cunningham; he’ll be wearing jersey number 48 in spring training, making him one of only three non-roster invitees (along with Eric Fryer and Jordan Schafer) with a jersey number under 50.