After a weak bench in 2013, the Cardinals' off-season moves have given them as solid a bench as almost any team in the majors.
The Cardinals' bench looks likely to feature Mark Ellis, Jon Jay, and
Tony Cruz. The other outfield spot will probably be taken by either
Shane Robinson or Oscar Taveras. The other infield spot is a tossup
among Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, and Greg Garcia.
That's a pretty outstanding bench to start with.
Oscar Taveras will probably make an appearance at some point during the season. His projections are off the charts, Kemosabe.
Oliver's somewhat suspect projection thinks he'll hit for a .347 wOBA
and be worth 3.8 WAR, if given 600 PA's. Steamer is more conservative,
claiming he'll hit for a .332 wOBA and be worth an extrapolated 2.1 WAR
over 600 PA's (I'll use 600 PAs because most of these projections for
playing time are speculative). ZiPS splits the difference, aiming at
similar offensive production (.334 wOBA) and a 2.7 WAR over 600 PAs.
Last year, ten teams didn't get 2.1 WAR (Taveras' most modest
projection) out of their right fielders. Only 12 teams got better than
3.8 WAR from their right fielders. Taveras would be a threat to start in
right field in a lot of organizations, not merely a bench player. Of
course, Taveras might turn out to be a threat to take over in right
field later in the season, or at least to force some shared playing time
across right field, center field, and first base.
* * * * *
Mark Ellis started at second base for a playoff team as recently as
2013. He projects to be worth 1.6 WAR by Oliver across 600 PAs, about
1.5 WAR by Steamer, and roughly 2.2 WAR across 600 PAs if I remember the
ZiPS projection right. He doesn't often play a full season, last
getting 600 PAs in 2007. Still, 11 teams got less than a win and a half
from second base last year. He could easily be a starting second baseman
for the Rockies, Braves, Nats, Cubs, Marlins, White Sox, or Blue Jays;
some teams (like the Mariners) had poor second base production in 2013,
but have since shored up their second base position. While Ellis looks
like a barely average to slightly-below-average second baseman, second
base is a weak position across the league.
* * * * *
Jon Jay also started in center field for a playoff team in 2013, but
looks likely to share time at best this season. Projections are all
quite bullish on him. He has a 2.5 WAR projection from Oliver, a 2.9 WAR
projection from Steamer, and a 1.9 projection from ZiPS. He looks like a
solidly average centerfielder. Anywhere from 8-10 teams would be seriously thinking about starting Jon Jay in center field.
* * * * *
Probably in a surprise to some, Tony Cruz does fairly well by
projection systems. Oliver thinks he's a 2.0 WAR catcher. ZiPS,
extrapolated, would make him a 1.5 WAR catcher across a full season.
Steamer's projection looks like it anticipates him being a 1.8 WAR
catcher over 600 PAs. There's a good bit more uncertainty in his
projection, since he has so little major league playing time, so he
gains a fair amount by regression to the norm. But even ZiPS's worst
projection basically expects him to hit in line with his career numbers;
Cruz has a .263 wOBA for his career, and ZiPS anticipates a .264 wOBA
in 2014. If Cruz played up to ZiPS 1.5 WAR full-time projection, fully ELEVEN teams would have been better off with Tony Cruz as their full-time starting catcher last year. Let that sink in for a minute.
* * * * *
The remaining bench players have a hodge-podge of projections. Oliver
is way too forgiving of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma (with 1.9 and
1.5 WAR projections, respectively), but the other systems project them
both to be worth less than 1 WAR across a full season. Both Steamer and
Oliver think Greg Garcia will hit well as a major leaguer (94 and 96
wRC+ projections for Garcia), while ZiPS places him much lower (a .289
wOBA, which looks like an 84-85 wOBA to me). Garcia's downside basically
looks like Descalso's ordinary projection. Shane Robinson projects with
some upside. He has a 2.1 WAR projection from Steamer and a 3.0 (!)
projection from Oliver, while ZiPS seems a bit more plausible (1.0 WAR
across a full season).
* * * * *
Our bench is in excellent shape. We will have anywhere from 2-4
players on our bench who could be starting for lesser teams. And the
other candidates for the bench look like proper bench players. Pete
Kozma and Daniel Descalso look much more appealing when you are no
longer expecting them to start at shortstop routinely. As role players,
Kozma, Descalso, Garcia, and Robinson look like good fits.