Heading into the 2019 season, the Cardinals have multiple options to utilize in RF. Quite frankly, they have too many options. There are only so many at bats available, which leads to the possibility of further moves before Opening Day. Sorry Cardinals fans, they won’t be adding Harper.
So who will play in RF? Any discussion about the position should start with a player who understandably wants to forget last season, Dexter Fowler. It’s hard to find much of a glimmer of hope if you solely look at his numbers last season, but after Mike Shildt took over as Manager Fowler seemed to be a much happier player. His power started to come back, even before Matheny was fired, but the damage to his counting stats already had been done .174/.270/.285. Fowler finished the season with a .180/.278/.298 slash line. Some corners of Cardinals Nation will say that the only reason Fowler is still on the team is because of the $49.5 mil still owed to him on his remaining three seasons, which is partially true. Teams don’t invest that kind of money in players they don’t believe in. The Cardinals believe that Fowler is closer to the player he was in 2017, something that the front office has said multiple times during the offseason. That being said, as Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak stated on KMOX’s Cardinals Countdown to Opening Day show the Cardinals have other options in RF. Fowler has the confidence of the front office, current coaching staff, and a lot of the players. The pressure is on Fowler to perform. Potentially batting between Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt in the 2-hole should help alleviate that pressure.
After Fowler, the depth in the OF becomes an issue but not in a bad way. Tyler O’Neill, Yairo Munoz, Jose Martinez, Drew Robinson, and Adolis Garcia all will be fighting for at bats during Spring Training. Munoz and Robinson have the flexibility to play other positions as well, which makes the Cardinals bench stronger than previous seasons. That leads to three players essentially battling for one spot as a backup OF (O’Neill/ Martinez/Garcia). Based on the trade chatter and overall OF depth, I think this is the offseason that Jose Martinez is traded. Where? That’s where things become more complicated. Once Bryce Harper signs, then the rest of the dominoes will fall for the market on Martinez. I believe Martinez will end up being traded to San Francisco in a deal involving a player like reliever Will Smith. The Cardinals are waiting to see what happens with the market, because if this deal doesn’t work out they could shift to adding another free agent RP. That leaves the Cardinals with O’Neill and Garcia. O’Neill has tremendous power and is capable of playing all three outfield positions, but don’t sleep on Garcia. Yes, I know Garcia’s baserunning mishap cost the Cardinals a game last season, but Garcia is much more than that. Garcia can do a little bit of everything, and his power is still developing. Last season at AAA Memphis, Garcia had 51 extra base hits with 22 of those being homeruns. I think O’Neill will take the final OF spot, while Garcia works on his consistency at the plate. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he’s called up at some point to replace an injured player.
Who do you believe will get the most at-bats in RF this season for the Cardinals? Who gets the final OF roster spot on Opening Day? Let me know in the comments section.