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The 2017 Cardinals Already Were a Team in Transition, and Now They’re Doing It Again

The Cardinals closed the first half of the 2017 season by winning 10 of their last 15 games, feeling a little better about themselves as they downshifted into the All-Star break.

The late first-half surge was keyed by position players that began the season at Triple A Memphis: outfielder Tommy Pham, infielder Paul DeJong, and first baseman Luke Voit.

As I mentioned earlier this week the trio of promoted Redbirds accounted for 47 percent of the team’s homers, just under 34 percent of the RBIs, 45 percent of the extra-base hits, 35 percent of the runs scored and 40.5 percent of the total bases during the Cards’ uplifting 10-5 stretch.

A team that opened the 2017 season in a state of transition is doing it again.

Making a transition during a transition.

OK, let’s talk about this.

In 2015, the Cardinals pushed for 100 victories and won a third consecutive NL Central title by fending off the Pirates and Cubs.

Of the 25 players that were on the Cards’ 2015 opening-day roster, only 10 remain today: starting pitchers Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha; catcher Yadier Molina; relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist; infielders Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong; and outfielder Randal Grichuk. (Wong and Siegrist were on the DL going into the All-Star break.)

Players gone from the 2015 STL opening roster are outfielders Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay; infielders Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams, Mark Reynolds and Pete Kozma; backup catcher Tony Cruz; starting pitcher John Lackey; and relievers Seth Maness, Randy Choate, Matt Belisle, Carlos Villanueva and Jordan Walden.

And I think it’s appropriate to mention Brandon Moss, the first baseman and corner outfielder who was acquired by the Cardinals in late July of 2015. Moss played a lot down the stretch in ’15, and had a significant role (plus 28 homers) in 2016.

In the offseason planning for 2017, Cardinals president of baseball ops John Mozeliak moved on from Holliday and Moss and held on to other regulars that were a part of the core in ’16.

The roster churn continues.

The transition’s transition.

Among the 25 players that formed the Cardinals’ 2017 opening-day roster, 19 are still here. That list includes Wong and Siegrist. Wong already has been activated and is ready to go for the start of the second half. Siegrist probably will be activated soon, but we’ll see.

Where did the other six go?

Three of the opening 25 were later designated for assignment: Peralta, and relievers Jonathan Broxton and Miguel Socolovich. After an unfortunate experiment in left field, Matt Adams was traded to Atlanta to fill the Braves’ need for a replacement to fill in for the injured Freddie Freeman. Finally, starting shortstop Aledmys Diaz and reserve outfielder Jose Martinez were demoted to Triple A Memphis. Martinez didn’t deserve to get sent down, but the roster puzzle isn’t real simple these days.

Here’s a more specific breakdown:

— During the first week of the 17 season, the Cardinals’ starting infield featured Carpenter at first base, Wong at second, Diaz at shortstop, and Peralta at third. Jedd Gyorko was in the mix as a super utility man, starting early-season games at 2B and 3B. But as the Cardinals finished the first half of the season, only Carpenter was still an everyday lineup fixture from the opening week … and he had switched positions, going from 1B to 2B.

— After sharing time early, Gyorko soon won the starting job at third base where he’s started 62 of the last 73 games there.

— DeJong was called up twice this season and with the second promotion he moved in as the starting shortstop, bumping the failing Diaz.

— Voit was planted at first base, with Carpenter relocating to 2B.

— Voit, in effect, replaced Matt Adams.

— Pham is the regular starter in left field, and was outstanding defensively in center field during Dexter Fowler’s time on the DL. Pham has been the team’s best all-around player since his May 5 return to the big leagues.

— Molina aside … if you looked at the other seven position-player starters, only three of the seven were  still in place from opening week. Carpenter, and Fowler in center, and Stephen Piscotty in right field. And Carpenter has changed positions. So in the final days of the first half, only Fowler and Piscotty were still playing the same spots they occupied on opening day.

— Gyorko started nine of the Cardinals’ first 15 games of the season — only  one more than Peralta during that time. In the month of April, Gyorko was eighth among Cards’ position players in games started and games played. But since May 1 only Carptenter has started more games and logged more innings than Gyorko.

— Three of the first-week position player starters are no longer starters: Peralta is long gone, Diaz is struggling in Memphis, and Grichuk is vying for outfield playing time after returning from a minor-league demotion.

— Clearing Broxton and Socolovich from the bullpen created an career-restart opportunity for John Brebbia and led to a more specific role for Tyler Lyons.

The shuffling … and reshuffling … has been substantial.

During the Cardinals’ 3-9 start,  40.5  percent of the non-pitcher plate appearances were taken players that have been released, traded, demoted or benched.

And during the 10-5 stretch before the break, 30.5 percent of the Cardinals’ non-pitcher plate appearances were taken by guys that began the season in the minors.

Pham, DeJong and Voit have been worth a combined 3.8 WAR so far.

That’s a strong early showing.

And more changes could be coming as the transition within a transition continues.

More on that in a while. I’m motivated to write a connected piece. A Part Two, if you will.

Are the Cardinals buyers or sellers?

I’ll post my thoughts on that soon.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – The Cardinals’ Most Disappointing Players In the Season’s First Half