In 2011 when the St. Louis Cardinals surprisingly declined to give Albert Pujols a long term contract, one of the main arguments circulating through Cardinal Nation advocating the decision was the presence of a big, young first baseman named Matt Adams who was raking in AA Springfield. Now, in the second year of the Post-Albert Era, the Cardinals are thriving and Adams has very little to do with it.
Adams is just 24 years old and still projects to be a very good major league player in the not-so-distant future. He was called up to the show for a short time last year before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. He has been with the big league club most of this season, save for a brief rehab stint after a minor oblique injury. His ability to hit is evident; however he is finding it difficult to get at-bats amongst this excellent Cardinals lineup. Without the benefit of regular at-bats, his development may be stalled.
At this point Adams gets an occasional start at first, but his role is mostly as a pinch hitter off the bench. Manager Mike Matheny does a solid job of mixing up the lineup to get every player chances to start, but as Allen Craig continues to perform so well at the plate he gets the lion’s share of starts at first base. This past offseason Craig signed a five year extension that will keep him in a Cardinal uniform for the foreseeable future, which raises the question of what the club plans to do with the potent Adams.
Some have suggested that the Cardinals are holding on to Adams in anticipation of the National League adopting the Designated Hitter position used by the American League, a position in which Adams would thrive. However, in Tuesday’s broadcast of the game against the Cubs on Fox Sports Midwest, announcer Rick Horton said that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently stated that he did not think the NL would add the DH spot in his lifetime. Horton said that Mozeliak suggested that the possibility was entirely perpetuated by the media, and that league officials had not even discussed it. Without this added starting spot, Adams’ prospects of breaking into the regular lineup seem bleak.
The Cardinals have been so successful this year that a midseason trade does not make sense. Short of trying to overwhelm the Colorado Rockies for their star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki by offering them a package that included Adams and any number of young pitchers, the reward of a potential trade right now is not worth the risk. The team can certainly hold onto Adams for the remainder of this year hoping that he gets enough at-bats through his spot starts and pinch hitting opportunities to continue his growth. Relegating Adams back to the minors would be insulting at this point as he has proven that he is well beyond that level offensively. In 2010 and 2011 in A and AA ball respectively, Adams hit over .300 with more than 20 home runs and 85 RBIs each year, and he was on pace to reach those numbers again last year in AAA before his injury.
Adams will likely be a very valuable asset for the Cards coming off the bench late in the year as a pinch hitter with power. With a chance to do special things this year, the Cardinals would be wise to keep Adams through the 2013 campaign. However when the season is over the Cardinals will really need to assess their plans for him both long term and short term. With promising prospects in the minors ready to break through, such as Oscar Taveras, in addition to the already solid major league lineup, the Cards appear to have too many pieces going forward. Although Adams is in good standing with the club, he may end up being the odd man out.