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If Shut Out at 3rd Base, the Cardinals Should Explore a 1st Base Platoon Option

On Wednesday’s Bernie Show, we had a voice mail from a listener who offered a sensible opinion.

Go with a platoon at first base.

Yep, this is worth exploring.

Instead of obsessing over the third-base market and overpaying in risky trades for Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, or gambling significant free-agent money on an inconsistent Mike Moustakas, the Cardinals have another option in their attempt to pump up the lineup.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has said the team wants to get more at -bats for Jose Martinez in 2018. And that makes a lot of sense because of his excellent plate performance. And based on what we’ve seen from him, it leaves us wanting to see a lot more.

The body of work is limited, so beware of tricky sample sizes …

But in his 325 MLB plate appearances, all with the Cardinals, Martinez has been a towering and productive presence. We are talking about a .316 batting average … and a .386 onbase percentage … a big .517 slugging percentage … a .903 OPS. He’s hit for more power than expected, launching a home run every 20.5 at-bats.

Offensively Martinez has thrived at a rate of 38 percent above the league average in park-adjusted runs created (also known as wRC+).

His numbers against left handed pitchers are ridiculous. Insane. Preposterous. It’s just a mini sample of 81 plate appearances, so keep that in mind, but Martinez has rocked lefties for a .423 average, .494 OBP, .803 slug, and an OPS of 1.297. He has 7 homers in only 71 at-bats against LH pitching.

That isn’t sustainable … but as I mentioned earlier, it leaves us wanting to see more of Martinez.

Of course, Martinez bats right.

The target, then, would be a left-handed hitter to pair with Martinez at first base. With Matt Carpenter resettling at third base. Carpenter’s best position defensively is first base, but he isn’t a stiff at third base. Carpenter basically had one bad year there, ranking 32nd among third basemen majors with a negative 10 Defensive Runs Saved in 2015. But Carpenter also turned in slightly above average defense at third base in three other seasons including a +2 DRS in 2016. Without that minus 10 outlier, Carpenter is a +3 third baseman in the majors. Not great … but not as lousy as many assume because of the one poor season with the glove.

Let’s get to the fun part.

The free-agent market is popping with LH platoon bats who play first base. I have no idea what these guys are looking for. But based on everything I’ve read so far this offseason, only one, Logan Morrison, seems to be setting a high price for a contract. Here’s a brief review of the left-swinging platoon candidates available for purchase:

— Logan Morrison: Had a career year in 2017, erupting for 38 homers and a .522 slugging for the Rays. He punished right-handed pitching for a 32 homers and a .548 slug. For his career Morrison has a .455 slug against RH but seems to have made swing adjustments to boost his power. His defense has been below average over the past four seasons. He had 3.3 WAR last season, the most among the other hitters we have on this list. He’ll also be the most expensive.

— Lucas Duda: He bashed 30 homers and slugged .496 in 491 plate appearance for the Mets and Rays. He damaged RH pitching for 25 homers and a .525 slug. Has done well against RHP during his career with a .356 OBP and .486 slug. Cannot hit lefties, period. He’s been a plus defender at 1B during his career.

–Adam Lind: I have to say, I’ve been watching Lind pummel RH pitching for years now, and he’s never failed to impress. What a specialist. And among established platoon bats, Lind has been consistently harmful to righthanders since coming to the bigs in 2006. And just look at what he did for the Nationals this past season: 14 homers in only 267 at-bats, a .303 average, a .362 OBP, and a .513 slug. He walloped the RH pitchers for all 14 of his homers, and a .534 slugging percentage. In his career, Lind has battered RH pitching for a .348 OBP and .504 slug. Lind is also one of the best pinch-hitters in the game with a career slash line of .324 / .391 / .568 … last season, in 48 pinch-hit ABs for the Nationals, Lind went off for a .356 average, .396 OBP and crazy .644 slug. He topped it off with four pinch homers. Lind is 34. He doesn’t run well. He’s adequate at best defensively. But this dude could literally be asleep — and blind-folded — in the batter’s box and he’d still slash a RH pitcher for a double in the gap.

* Yonder Alonso: He cranked 28 homers and struck for a .501 slugging percentage in 521 plate appearances for the A’s and Mariners. Alonso was especially nasty to RH pitchers, launching 23 homers with a .383 OBP and .517 slug. He hasn’t had awe-inspiring numbers vs. right handers during his career (.349 OBP,  .422 slug). But Alonso can hit. He’s awful at first base, though … a minus 12 in Defensive Runs Saved over the last two seasons.

UPDATE: Wednesday night, Alonso signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Indians. 

* Matt Adams: Hey,  BIG CITY is up for adoption! I have to include the former Cardinal on this list, simply because his platoon splits warrant inclusion. And unless Mike Matheny wants to put Adams in left field again, the big fella would be fine in a platoon role at first base. Last season Adams did just about all of his power hitting after the trade to the Braves. He had a 20-homer campaign, slugging .522 overall. But Adams really hammered RH pitchers — 17 homers, and a .554 slug — and that’s when we know he’s at his best. After the Cardinals messed up Adams’ stroke by trying to transform him into a hit-to-all-fields dinker and dunker  — sadly, such a stupid idea — the Braves hitting coaches got him fixed by encouraging Adams to do what comes naturally: get back to being a pull hitter. And he found that effective power stroke again. For his career, Adams has a .333 OBP and .495 slug against right handers. He’s been terrific at first base, with +14 Defensive Runs Saved over the last four seasons.

UPDATE: Hours after I filed this post, Adams agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Nationals. 

— Adrian Gonzalez: He’s old (36) and is coming off a season torn apart by problems with his lower back. Gonzalez was traded from the Dodgers to the Braves in a salary-dump move, with the understanding that the Braves would release him after the deal went through. (Don’t ask me to explain this, thank you.) Limited to only 252 plate appearances last season, Gonzalez hit 3 homers and slugged a weak .355. Until being compromised by the creaky back, Gonzalez was a force against RH pitching, with a career .298 average, .374 OBP and .524 slug against them through 2016. A good fielder as well. But the combination of age and his recent misery with back pain obviously make Gonzalez a risky proposition. What does he have left? Could this be a Lance Berkman scenario for some team?

There’s also free-agent John Jaso … but other than his acumen draw walks there isn’t anything to recommend there … so I’ll just stop writing now.

If the Cardinals decide to go in this direction, they have several appealing LH platoon bats to look at. Most could be had on a short-term deal for reasonable money. But they won’t be on the market all winter. They’ll be scooped up soon enough … Alonso and Adams are off the list already.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: If the Cubs Sign Yu Darvish, the Cardinals’ Rotation Will Look Even Thinner

  • JP McCreedy

    First

  • James Berry

    Somehow you found a way to insert your love for Carpenter in this article.

    I’m not a fan of platoons on a team that is striving to contend. Just as i’m not a fan of those same teams having a Rule 5 player on the roster. Utility players are always needed. Straight up platoons aren’t.

  • Terry Ryno

    Something like this could work but it shouldn’t be plan B or C

  • Big T

    Longoria has been traded to SF.

    So if we don’t get a bat at third (think Donaldson) we need a full time thumper at first (Hosmer.) Given the choices in this article I will wait on the developing Voit. Either way we need to add a quality starting pitcher and closer Davis.

    Nicasio would have been a good addition at 2 yrs 11 million.

    • James Berry

      Hosmer is not a “thumper”.

      • Big T

        Poor choice of words on my part. He is a solid bat which happens to be left handed. He is a huge upgrade on defense and is a clutch performer from what I have seen in him. I’d want him on my team anyday

        • James Berry

          GGs mean very little to me. Stats are where it’s at and the stats do not favor Hosmer as a good defender.

          To me, replacing Carpenter at 1st with Hosmer is a lateral move that will cost big money.

    • ken

      we HAVE a bat at third.

  • Rich Rauch

    Would Big City have any interest in returning? Seriously, I wonder.

    • James Berry

      He’s on the verge of signing with the Nats.

      • Rich Rauch

        I was more wondering if he’d even entertain the idea of coming back while the trio of Matheny, Mabry and Mo remains in power.

        • James Berry

          I think Matheny would have been the biggest, if any, deterrent. With Mo, it can be brushed off as “just business”. Players often have outside hitting coaches, so that skates by. But Matheny was the one that refused to give him a full shot, or put him in LF.

    • JohnS

      Doubt if he would want to come back here and collect more splinters in his backside. On the other hand, the team would definitely not entertain the thought of bringing him back, we have too many marginal first basemen as is….

  • Scott Warren

    Just don’t see Carpenter as an everyday option at 3B and the Cardinals keep with the we got to get better on defense narrative. I want to see more of Martinez as well and there was ample opportunity to do it last season but “the manager” thought it was better to send Carpenter out there with one arm. Shouldn’t surprise anyone, this is the same guy who sent Grichuk out to play CF IN THE PLAYOFFS when he couldn’t throw the baseball. Short of running an All-Star team out there, as long as Matheny is in the dugout, this team is going nowhere.

    • BradW

      Yeah, he can’t seem to get out of the team’s way.

    • JohnS

      I can just see it now, it will be Gyrko at second base several games, Gyrko at first and third several games, Carp at first and third for several games, JMart at first maybe a third of the games, pieces moving all over the infield with a lineup that changes everyday….in other words, more poor infield defense and a continually changing batting order….a Matheny paradise and a fans’ nightmare, similar to much of what we’ve seen the last two years especially, though the goofy changing lineup has been an MM trademark for a bit longer now….Oh, and Kelly despite all intentions to start him more, will actually start about five games, unless Yadi gets injured…which he likely will because he will be over-used by MM but will grouse about it if he is not….

      • Ron Rodermund

        Your right John. An infield with Carp is weak. Keep Gyrko at 3rd, the kid at short, if wong could 100% the routine grounder he might win a gold glove, but sometimes he takes rocks out there with him. Martinez at 1st. He’s the big bat everybody wants but don’t realize what we got. Can’t wait!

      • SW

        Could not agree more. The musical chairs in the infield may look great on paper, but it’s actually a disaster in real life.

        In general, we need 8 starters at their dedicated positions, plus a 4th outfielder, and a utility infielder, period.

    • geoff

      How many times will it take for you to understand that the starting lineup…the regulars… are determined by Mo in meetings pre game, he has said so countless times, yet some how all of you Matheny haters just never let up. You all are like CNN with a plane crash, or the fantasy Russian collusion… so far the only campaign linked directly to Russia is the Clinton Campaign with the “dossier” they had prepared by some Russians. You give Matheny way too much credit/blame for the direction of the Cardinals team.

  • Trade for Longoria, he’ll be as valuable to us as Scott Rolen was.

    • JohnS

      Wonder what the Giants want for him?

      • As usual the Giants beat us to the punch again.

  • BradW

    It’s probably way too complex of an arrangement for MM to handle, but what about something like this. Let Martinez take 1B, Carp play 3B, and make Gyorko the roving infielder. I would have said put Gyorko at 2B, but maybe Wong has broken through with his play (except for staying healthy). Adding another part time infielder to the mix would only make things more complicated, which is not good for MM.

    • Gene

      I’ll second your first sentence. If the solution to a problem is a platoon, the team requires a manager who will actually … platoon. I have no confidence that our manager can or would do it properly.

    • JohnS

      The only way to solve the Matheny problem is to fire him or only have five infielders on the whole team, with Garcia being the fifth infielder. That way you won’t have the constant three ring circus of MM moving Carp/Gyrko/Garcia around every game like a crazy mad scientist. Of course they can’t/won’t/shouldn’t do the latter but that is an example of the extreme things you have to think of doing to “outfox” your genius manager and leader of men. Or they could just do the former, but that would make WAY too much sense.

  • Chris Moeller

    Not sexy but has merit.

  • silencedogoodreturns

    So you’re saying Martinez will hit better than Gyorko and Carp fields AND hits better?
    No. If you’re going to platoon, you’ve already got those 3. Don’t need a fourth

  • dan

    With the addition of Ozuna (which I like), it’s looking to me like the Cards could be settling back in and going forward with what they have. While I feel we need another big bat AND a quality starter, I fear we may be lucky to get either. That in mind, we HAVE to get a starter. The rotation as it stands now is CMart and pray for rain. Sorry Waino fans, he’s a great guy but come on. Wacha is a 4-5 starter and I’m high on Weaver but he’s young too. Who knows where Reyes will be, but man, I sure hope the goal is to get him back in the rotation rather than the pen. We need horses to compete.

    • JohnS

      Don’t worry, they will wait until spring training and then sign whatever starter is left over….at a very cheap price…his ability will be of little concern to ownership. Or else they will just say Gant is the sixth starter if needed, kind of like they did with Marco Gonzalez the last couple of years when he couldn’t even get off the disabled list in fact….

      • dan

        Exactly, John. Seems to be the annual gameplan.

    • Baseball fans in St. Louis aren’t as smart as they think they are, with their idiotic misplaced anger towards Stanton’s rejection. They instead should be thanking him, for pointing out just how low a level this org has sunk. When you seek out a player to sign, that winning is important if not non negotiable element, is precisely the quality you’re looking for.

      Of course Ozuna is an excellent addition, but he too will be able to bolt after only 2 seasons, if they fail to turn this thing around. While if they don’t, & Ozuna is still willing to stay, tells you he doesn’t give a darn anyway—which IMO is even worse.

      The Cardinals need an additional starter, along with a quality bullpen closer, if they’re intent on competing as a top tier club in the NL. I genuinely question whether they are capable or willing to pull those acquisitions off.

      Their normal blue print strategy, is just be good enough to not interfere with profits & robust attendance. Being better than that requires a far larger payroll investment. Being better than that requires a talented team nucleus and a gifted hungry team president, a huge advantage the Cubs enjoy over us.

      Even on the rare recent occasions where DeWitt was willing to loosen the purse strings, Modumbiak would often botch & squander those millions.

      Their clock for improving this team is shorter than they suspect. And if a guy like Ozuna is similar to Stanton, he don’t want to hang around with an also ran. And if they allow that to happen, they’ve wasted all the young talent they traded away for Ozuna. No Mozo, Muttheny, & DeWitt, just being a pretty bridesmaid is no longer good enough.

  • JohnS

    Well I guess reality is setting in and it is now time for Cards’ fans to accept that it will be mostly Retread City the rest of this off-season. D. Goold pulled this same act on us last off-season with the acquisition of Fowler, acting all excited that they might go get another bat! Well, they didn’t and it appears all that is left is to perhaps acquire some other bullpen arm, likely not a top closer and another washed-up starter and Moe, your off-season will be another messterpiece. Oh Cardinals, why do you disappoint me so anymore???

  • William Thom

    Again, I am not against true upgrades. However, Gyorko has been a decent hitter the last two years, and a high rated 3B last year. Would you really rather see, against lefty pitchers, Martinez and Carpenter instead of Gyorko and Martinez?

    • ken

      right.

  • Gray Nash

    Just bring back Adams and just let him play first for a season geez. The Cardinals will be lucky to make the playoffs with these starters anyway.

  • badgerboy23

    Platooning means that it’s not just lefty/righty starting depending on the starting pitcher, but PROPERLY using information that the club has regarding who hits a starter well even if the matchup is not lefty/righty, etc.. MM has proved that is not a strength of his, and he does not appear to pay much attention to anyone but himself. Good idea, tough to use effectively with MM at helm.

  • Joe Belkin

    I usually agree with Bernie but not in this case. Carpenter needs to be on the right side of the infield, period. Scouts have been saying Carp doesn’t have the arm for 3B. Gyorko, while not a gold glove, is superior to Carp at 3B. Let’s face it-Cardinals aren’t getting Donaldson or Machado (I’d love to eat these words but I doubt it.) Leave Carp at 1B, Gyorko at 3B and use Jose as PH and backup. We have a major need that superces all thisand it’s in the bullpen. If this isn’t fixed 2018 will be a long summer.

  • ken

    no need to go shopping for anyone else to achieve this. simply play martinez against lefthanders and carpenter against righthanders. jedd gyorko stays at third. period.

  • James R. Norvell

    Step away from the bottle, Bernie.

  • Matt Roberson

    I don’t like this idea at all. First base is a place for a regular, powerful bat, not a platoon. Swing and a miss, Bernie!

  • M W

    Huh? This column came out of nowhere. Why would you move Carp to 3B? You would worsen the defense at two positions as Carp is terrible at 3B and Martinez is terrible at 1st. Leave Carp at first where he’s at least average and Gyroko is a plus fielder at 3B.

    • David Johns

      Yep. Just platoon Martinez with Carpenter at 1B to keep Carp hopefully healthy for a full season.
      Carpenter’s Platoon Splits against RHP (2017: .253/.395/.487, Career: .286/.391/.478)
      If they can swing a reasonable deal for Machado or Donaldson to make a real upgrade on the left side of the infield, great! Gyorko is an excellent utility IF who can platoon with Wong at 2B and fill-in as needed at SS and 3B then.

  • Ron Rodermund

    I still think Gyrko is the guy for third. Defense and pitching wins world series. Our infield is not there yet. I’d love to see Martinez at first, he’s our big bat that nobody has figured on. I would trade Carp for a pitcher then there is no more infield situations. and I’m not saying I don’t like Carp – I do.

  • Mark Benton

    It’s too difficult to have a dedicated platoon on the field when Matheny needs to carry 13 pitchers “just in case”. Can you really have an effective roster when have 4 players to play first base? I’m including Gyrko in that group.

  • keith walker

    Gryko is your third basemen where he was very good defensively and better than carpenter. Solid hitter who carried the team first part of last year. have carp martinez as platoon on first with JM picking up more ab’s in corner outfield.

  • geoff

    Matt Carpenter is NOT a third baseman. I don’t care how anyone tries to spin the metrics, the dude has one step range and no throwing arm. The same reasons he can’t play third base apply to why he can’t play second base. He was barely adequate at first last year but he was improving. If he is willing and capable Oquendo can probably help him over there. I think the reason Mo dispatched Adams last year was to quell the very conversation you are starting right now. He did not want the constant talk about Adams playing because Carpenter was playing at a less than expected level. Knowing Matt Carpenter was hurt all year makes one wonder even more why Mo would get rid of Matt Adams. The more I look the more it looks like Mo was in a bit over his head last year. His construction of the 40 man roster was the most glaring example of him being overwhelmed by the job. When I saw the rule 10 day DL rule, I started writing on these threads about how a GM just got the gift of roster flexibility. With a properly constructed 40 man he could have essentially added three or more pitchers to his big league roster by using the 10 day DL( hopefully Mo is up to speed with the new rule because he is going into the season with a rotation that has only two pitchers who have gone over 150 innings and one of those may be washed up). Last year Mo carried no less than five second basemen, two of whom were barely September call-up quality players. So many people, particularly Bernie, keep lampooning Matheny for his in game moves and his handling of the bullpen while never mentioning just how badly Mo handled the big league roster, particularly the bullpen which was terrible coming out of Jupiter, the daily starting lineup, and how the flexibility offered by the new rule completely eluded Mo’s notice. Mo is off to a better start this winter but I fear he is going to sit back and think what he has done this off-season is enough. I sure hope he makes a deal for a starter , a left-handed starter, or gives Lyons a shot at the rotation. It is good to have a lefty in the rotation.

  • Rick Campbell

    Good idea Bernie I thought Cards should have done last season with Adams.

  • Sage97

    The sainted Oquendo has been with the Cardinals for a long time, most of those years he was with the team day to day.. He is by all accounts a fine teacher, well liked and understood by players, but to those who think he will dry up errors and prevent every possible mistake, look at the Cardinal error totals in the years he was here. I added up all the season’s errors in the years 1999-2015 and came up with an average of 102 errors per year with Oquendo in the ballpark.The range in those 16 years or so was a low of 77 errors and a high of 132. The 2016 total was 107 and last years was 94. These numbers cover a large range of personnel through the years and is just one stat, but a stat fans want to get worked up about. So I guess his numbers are not conclusively superior.

  • LoboLoco

    Lind.

    Out.

  • Curtis Owen

    No. Weakens defense at 3b where Carp was bad (his stats at 3b were awful compared to league average and now he can’t throw or move well vs then) and especially at 1b where JMart is untried and all we DON’T need is poor defense at 1b.

  • Bob Everett

    Evidently the Cardinals are also taking a hard look at Hosmer now, too. The corporate line is that he will be a defensive upgrade for the entire infield … I guess they think he will be able to field the errant throws from the infield. Good luck with that! I’ve also never been a big Hosmer fan. His got a big rep, but his production isn’t all that hot. I think they should go after Lind to platoon with Martinez at first, stick Carpenter at third, in a platoon with Gyorko, and go big for a friggin relief pitcher. There is nothing wrong with platoons. Stengel rode them to five consecutive worlds championships.

  • Bob Everett

    I may be a voice in the wilderness, but I think our major shortcoming right now is the lack of a decent closer in the bullpen. Trading Carp and a pitching prospect for a closer appeals to me. That would leave us with an infield of Matinez, Wong, DeJong, and Gyorko. If we pick up a first baseman free agent, he should be a left-handed hitter that we could platoon with Martinez. The outfield of Ozuna, Pham and Grichuk isn’t too awfully bad. I like this better than having to deal with Boras to get Hosmer. I would also take a close look at Bader in the outfield during spring training. Grichuk is a professional strikeout.