ST. LOUIS -- Before baseball shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt had too many outfielders and not enough lineup spots. But the surplus of bats might come in handy with the designated hitter -- a feature we’ll see in National League games for the first time when the 2020 season opens next month.
The Cardinals don’t have one player who will serve as the DH every day. More likely, Shildt will float players through that spot depending on the roster, the matchup that day, who would better fit in the field and many more factors.
There might be some NL teams that look to upgrade at DH, but the Cardinals likely will look internally. On Tuesday, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak mentioned a few options who could fill those at-bats. Let’s take a look at some of those options:
The Cardinals could simply put Matt Carpenter at DH and Tommy Edman at third base. In his rookie season last year, Edman played the majority of his games at third base and did well when Carpenter dealt with injuries and an overall struggle at the plate. There would be no defensive drop-off to having Edman man third, and Carpenter is a proven hitter who could shine in a DH role.
Putting Edman at third frees up space in the outfield, allowing the group of young outfielders vying for a starting spot more time there. It also allows Brad Miller to take over the versatile bench option, filling in for anyone who needs a day off. Or, if Carpenter doesn’t work out at DH, Miller can take over. He’s a seasoned American League veteran with the Mariners, Rays and Indians, and he hit 12 home runs in 66 games with the Phillies at the end of last season.
Shildt could rotate through this group in the field and at DH, allowing them the extra Major League at-bats they wouldn’t see in a normal year. When you think DH, you think of a power hitter, and O’Neill comes to mind. But Thomas also showed pop in his bat last year and in Spring Training, when he hit three home runs in 14 games.
With the expanded rosters, the Cardinals could take a shot with Dylan Carlson, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's top prospect. The switch-hitting outfielder was very much in the spring competition when baseball halted, and he enjoyed a second straight strong Spring Training. In 12 games, he was 10-for-32 (.313) with a .469 on-base percentage and a .905 OPS. The Cardinals were likely to have the 21-year-old open the season in Triple-A to get the playing time. With an extra spot in the lineup and more spots on the roster, why not have that playing time in the Majors?
Rest some regulars
This one is simple, too: Rotate power-hitting regulars through the DH spot.
Paul Goldschmidt could get some cracks at it, as well as Dexter Fowler and Paul DeJong. It would allow these players to get some days off their feet while keeping their bats in the lineup. Edman’s versatility was always going to be big this season, but the DH will make it even more important. He has played every position in the field except first base and catcher and is a reliable backup for any regular moved to the DH that day.
The Cardinals have an excellent defensive team, and that starts with regulars like Goldschmidt and DeJong. But it doesn’t end with them. While a day off in the field might take away some defensive advantage, the backups aren’t liabilities by any means.