Free Oscar! Or maybe not…

With the current struggles surrounding the Cardinals’ offense there seems to be a great deal of campaigning going on for the organization to bring up top prospect Oscar Taveras because he’s absolutely killing it in Triple-A. Not as much now, but his slash line is still a very respectable .298/.351/.508 with 5 HR and 25 RBI over 31 games. He’s mixing in playing all three outfield positions to boot.

It’s been a subject of discussion for both bloggers and writers alike. Even this week Bernie Miklasz posted his “New rant on Oscar Taveras.” Bernie goes on to point out several things that make Taveras an attractive call up. I think he defeats himself in point one though.

In his first point I think he describes the exact reasoning why Taveras shouldn’t be called up. When Bernie wrote that article, Oscar’s peripheral stats weren’t all that impressive compared to his Triple-A peers. Sure his baseball card stats look great (he plays in the PCL so they better be), but lets remember that they are minor league baseball card stats. There’s no guarantee he gets close to them upon promotion and I would argue that his sub-par peripheral stats indicate to me that he is unlikely to duplicate that performance in the major leagues.

The Cardinals’ lineup is also one in a great deal of upheaval. Joey Butler gets the call up today as Randal Grichuk heads back to Memphis. Greg Garcia has basically been buried since going 0-for-2 in Wrigley. Peter Bourjos was M.I.A. for the second half of April. Same with Kolten Wong, until his demotion. Playing time splits seemingly make no sense.

Mike Matheny is having trouble making up his mind on how to craft lineups. Is he going with the hot hand or trying to get someone going? As long as he can’t make up his mind, it’s better that Taveras not be in St. Louis so that he’s not subject to the whims of Matheny’s current managing style. I firmly believe that it played a role in the organization electing to demote Wong as well. It was creating bad habits in Wong’s plate approach.

You also need a role for him. So where is he going to play? So many like to think that this is the easiest part of the decision. You just take your other guys out of the lineup in favor of him. It’s not that easy though. He’s an outfielder, so lets start looking there.

Matt Holliday plays left field. His $17 million contract and the fact that he is one of the best and most consistent hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup (and one of the few regularly hitting so far this year). He’s also the cornerstone of the lineup, hitting third. For a guy who will regularly play 155+ games a season when healthy, you aren’t going to make him happy with a position share of even one game a week. So no playing time here.

In center field you already have Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos competing for playing time. Neither one has really established themselves out there, but it’s easy to argue that Bourjos was about to until he was benched in favor of Jay. He has played a pivotal role in the offense in his last two starts, triggering rallies and putting runs on the board. As far as Jay goes, even when he is hitting his bat only plays in center field. While Taveras has proven himself healthy enough to play center field, I don’t think anyone entertains the idea of playing him there long term. So maybe a spot start here and there, maybe once a week, but not regular time.

At this very moment, the most obvious answer is right field where Allen Craig is struggling. Craig’s 54 OPS+ just barely tops Pete Kozma‘s 53 OPS+ last season. But Craig is a former .300 hitter who has led the league in batting average with runners in scoring positions. He will get things figured out at the plate and once he does will you still insist he splits time with Taveras? I don’t see how you can.

There is the potential of the Designated Hitter, and honestly I think that provides the perfect opportunity for the call up. In June, after the expected Super-Two deadline, there are 7 games in American League parks where the team will use the DH. It makes a really great target for a potential call up of Taveras. You bring him up a few days early to get him acclimated to the big leagues. Then you have a week’s worth of at bats waiting for him without a hassle. He can start for a whole week and then you can figure out where you stand when you come back home.

There’s also the pressure that the fans will place on him of being the team’s savior this season. Is that the right pressure to be putting on the shoulders of a 21-year-old kid? Should the weight of Cardinal Nation weigh on him? After all, he’ll only get one chance to make a first impression.

Ask Matt Holliday, who is still seen as unclutch, despite when he earned that reputation he actually wasn’t even getting RBI opportunities and when he did he was driving them in at a rate greater than he ever had in his career. How about Kolten Wong who is still seen by many as the player who got picked off first base to end a World Series game. If Taveras comes up and hits .150 over his first two weeks what are we going to do then? How will fan opinion change? Is he overrated? Oh my gosh! Trade him now before he becomes the next Brett Wallace!

In the larger picture, the Cardinals still have 127 games left to play and are just four games out of the division lead, trailing Milwaukee. And we have 13 games remaining against the Brewers. The Cardinals played .737 baseball against the Brewers last season. The Brewers will also have their slumps this season, don’t worry. Heck, over the last week the Cardinals have gone 3-3 and picked up two games in the standings!

There seems to be the expectation that fixing this team is as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Call up Oscar Taveras
2) Play Oscar Taveras
3) Win

If only it were that easy. Unfortunately the roster is filled with real people, not just video game characters. The front office has to consider real dollars, not just imaginary ones.

In the end, making him grind it out in the minors will only serve to improve him when he does finally get to the major leagues. One of the knocks on Colby Rasmus is that he was given too much, too soon. Let’s not make the same one with Oscar Taveras.

The lineup needs to settle down and Matheny needs to manage with less desperation. Once you figure that out, you can create a role for Taveras and begin to cycle him into the lineup. Until then, I think you are doing far more harm than good by bringing him up right now, even if you didn’t care about the Super-Two aspect.