photo: Dylan Carlson via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Could two seemingly unrelated items in fact be related? In the case of these two St. Louis Cardinals-specific news items, I can see a potential link.
- August 3: Shortstop and cleanup hitter Paul DeJong was one of seven Cardinals players to test positive for COVID-19.
- August 13: The Cardinals are paving the way for their top prospect, outfielder Dylan Carlson, to join the team when it is allowed to resume, reports Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.
In between, these events occurred:
- August 7: First baseman-outfielder Austin Dean was among two new Cardinals players testing positive.
- August 9: Outfielder Lane Thomas also tested positive.
The sum impact of these last two items is that the Cardinals are now down two outfielders, both of whom are reserves. However, the organization has just one 40-man roster outfielder remaining in their alternate camp, Justin Williams. So, from where would the other backfill come?
One possibility is Rangel Ravelo. The first baseman-outfielder was among the first wave of positives, along with DeJong, Yadier Molina and others. The mandatory seven days out has passed, creating enough time in a best-case scenario that Ravelo could be ready to go this coming weekend in Chicago.
But if not, Carlson looms. Or maybe, even if so.
Last Sunday, in yet another potentially related transaction, the Cardinals quietly cleared a spot on their 40-man roster with the move of pitcher Miles Mikolas from the 10-day injured list to the 45/60-day IL. Though the spot could be used on a pitcher instead for example, rampant speculation is that it is earmarked for Carlson.
Yet, we all have to wonder what happened to the resolve of the Cardinals to not promote Carlson until there is a starting job for his to assume. Again, neither of the two IL-bound outfielders – Dean and Thomas – is a starter.
Still, did the landscape change enough to give them an out?
How Carlson could start
This is where DeJong comes in (assuming he is not ready to return in the minimum time, as I hinted that Ravelo could be).
Manager Mike Shildt had previously declared that Tommy Edman would slide over from third base to short to cover for DeJong. The next move could be to restore Matt Carpenter to third, which would free up the designated hitter spot – hence room is created for Carlson, either directly or indirectly.
An outfield-DH rotation among the current starting three outfielders plus Carlson could be one possibility.
What if DeJong returns, though?
Clearly, getting the cleanup hitter (and Molina) back into the lineup is extremely important. And in the best case scenario for the team, it happens right away.
If so, it would seem that to make room for Carlson, one of the starting outfielders would need to move to the bench. With the Cardinals having played just five games this season, it would require the team’s leadership to back off their months of assurances that the starters would be given their chances to play.
On the other hand, center fielder and number nine hitter Harrison Bader is approaching 1,000 career plate appearances as a major leaguer and his offense has yet to come around consistently. If he would be the one to sit, either Carlson or Dexter Fowler could play Bader’s position.
Of course, neither could fill Bader’s shoes defensively, but even at full strength, the Cardinals offense was having trouble scoring runs. Add two weeks of inactivity to the potential subtraction of DeJong and Molina or both, and one can see why Carlson would have immediate appeal.
It also should not be overlooked that Carlson (and any others added from Springfield) would be the only players on the St. Louis roster to have seen live pitching on a regular basis for the last two weeks. That is going to matter with a seemingly-rusty Cardinals team heading into a meat grinder of a schedule starting in Chicago this weekend.
One can argue that it would be unfair to expect the widespread sputtering of the Cardinals offense to be cured by the arrival of a single 21-year-old. But give the team credit for taking their best shot at winning – right now.
The bigger picture
In bringing up Carlson with at most 55 games remaining, the Cardinals would be sending a clear signal they are taking seriously the intent to compete the rest of the way in 2020.
The easy way out for the long haul would have been to keep Carlson in the minors until a short time into the 2021 season. That would likely have given the club another pre-free agency year of his services, in 2027.
Instead, with Carlson’s promotion, the Cardinals will be telling the world they still mean business in what has become a wildly-interrupted season.
Check out our COVID-19 Timeline here at The Cardinal Nation, with summaries and links to key virus-related news affecting the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball back to March.
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