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What do the Cardinals do about first base now?

During Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the St. Louis Cardinals seem to have lost first baseman Matt Adams to a quadriceps injury that may cost Adams the remainder of the 2015 season. A torn quadriceps was the diagnosis Wednesday morning as the Cardinals placed Adams on the 15 day DL and recalled catcher Ed Easley up from Memphis.

Immediately taking his place as the team’s regular first baseman will be Mark Reynolds. It was this role, insurance for Matt Adams, that Reynolds was signed to fill. Though he’s going to be used a little differently than expected.

Off to a slow start this season, Adams was looking like he was going to take yet another step back from the promise he displayed in 2013 when he hit .315 with 8 home runs in September while filling in for Allen Craig. While Adams had picked it up in recent days, it still wasn’t enough to make his splits over the last week wort going crazy over.

The loss of Adams will hurt a little bit, but for me more because Reynolds will no longer be a regular fixture off the bench. Instead he will be in the starting lineup where he will be used whenever his spot comes up instead of in certain situations.

So far in 2015, Reynolds has outperformed Adams offensively. Adams has a slash line of .243/.281/.375 with 4 home runs in 43 games. Reynolds has exceeded that with his line of .250/.314/.406 with 3 home runs in 39 games. Even when you break down that performance to platoon situations against LHP and RHP, Reynolds still comes out on top in both categories.

You’re also probably improving the lineup and the offense by more than just putting Reynolds into it. Mike Matheny had been insistent on batting Adams in the cleanup spot as he did last year with Craig. Reynolds won’t be hitting fourth (he batted 7th tonight), so you’re improving the lineup flow by removing Adams’ struggling bat from the middle of our best hitting players.

With the return of Jon Jay on the horizon (expected this weekend), many have suggested that it will create a playing time squeeze in the outfield and force one of our outfielders to move to first base. The debate has raged on about which outfielder would be best to move to first base, but that’s the second question to ask. The first question, and most important, is whether you have four outfielders who are clearly better than Mark Reynolds. Early returns say no.

By OPS+, one of my favorite metrics for comparing hitters, Jay and Jason Heyward have not been better than Reynolds. At best, Peter Bourjos is a virtual tie. That leaves just Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk as having outperformed him this season. And given the numbers, tells us that if we’re taking someone out of the lineup, it probably should be Heyward if we’re trying to force any particular outfielder into the lineup.

Many have targeted Matt Holliday as the perfect guy to transition to first base. About the only reason I can figure for that is because he’s older, slow, and has a stocky build. First base is where those guys go to finish their careers right?

Yes, Holliday was drafted as a third baseman, but he hasn’t played a single game on the infield in almost 16 years. Holliday has even expressed that he’s not that interested in a move, saying, “there’s a reason they moved me to the outfield.”

Other than Holliday, only one outfielder on our roster has ever played the infield. Lucky for us, it was at first base, right? Jon Jay appeared at first base in a game in 2009 for Memphis and then again in 2010.

I think that until we have four outfielders who can clearly give us more production than Reynolds is, there isn’t a cause for discussion about this idea and it really shouldn’t be looked at as an option.

If you are insistent about moving an outfielder to first base, I think it would make sense to move your most athletic guy. The thought being that his athleticism should help him make up for the lack of experience playing the position as well as make plays that the rest of the outfielders wouldn’t be able to on the infield. Seeing as the plays that happen at first base are generally more important than routine fly balls to left field, I’d look at putting the team in the best position there first. To me, that means Randal Grichuk.

But I don’t see the Cardinals shaking up the bag and forcing an outfielder into the lineup at first base. Particularly when none of them have ever put the ability to play multiple positions on their resume. Plus, there are a number of other players on the roster who are capable of filling those shoes if necessary.

Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta are all guys who can take on that role. You could even dig into the minors for Xavier Scruggs (or with a little experience in the minors first, Stephen Piscotty).

I’d be really surprised if the Cardinals pursued a hitter outside the organization to take Adams’ place as long as Reynolds is healthy. It really isn’t because of the money, the Cardinals have it to spend if they want to. Rather it’s about the prospects you have to spend to bring someone in (note, same kind of prospects who have played a vital role in keeping this team competitive when we lose our high dollar players to injury) and the years you have to commit to them once they’re here.

Take the situation of a Ryan Howard. Howard has had an incredible last month. Since April 24th, Howard is hitting .291/.333/.624 with 10 home runs. Is that going to be Howard’s best month of the season? Given what he’s done the last few seasons, it’s probably a safe bet.

But Howard is signed through next season with a hefty buyout to get out of his option for 2017. What do you do with Adams and Howard on the roster next year and potentially the next two? It’s easy to dismiss that question now, but that is definitely something that a General Manager has to consider and answer to the owner for.

The irony of all if this discussion is that if Mark Reynolds was in another team’s uniform, he’d probably be near the top of most lists as a potential acquisition. The grass is always greener, I guess.

I expect the Cardinals to be on the lookout for someone to solidify the bench this summer. Someone who can play the role Reynolds played off the bench. With the expectation being that the Cardinals will need to add a starting pitcher this summer, that’s something you can probably get added to a deal without giving up much additional.

While we’re suggesting trades, why not Allen Craig?

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Jon Doble has been writing about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter at @JonDobleRBD, find him as R27 at RedbirdTalk.com and you can hear him co-host The UCB Podcast every fourth Wednesday night of the month. Redbird Dugout is a member of the United Cardinal Bloggers.

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