The club has seven outfielders — Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Jose Martinez, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty and Magneuris Sierra — with big league experience and at least three years of team control remaining. Two others, Tyler O’Neill and Jose Adolis Garcia, have nudged their way into the conversation as potential Major League options by next year.
None of those outfielders have made more starts for the Cardinals since 2014 than Grichuk, who debuted five months after being acquired in a four-player swap with the Angels. Yet, his fit in the organization may now be the most tenuous, too.
After parts of four seasons in which he was shuttled down to the Minors several times and lost playing opportunities due to prolonged slumps, Grichuk headed home for the offseason aware that he may be playing elsewhere next season. Asked if he saw himself fitting into the Cardinals’ 2018 plans, Grichuk spoke candidly.
“No. Not necessarily,” he began. “But who knows. Anything is possible. It’s going to be a fun offseason. It’s going to be an interesting offseason to see what direction the club goes with a lot of guys. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
If there’s a reason to retain Grichuk, it’s the same one that drew the Cardinals to him four years ago. That pure power and bat speed he offers isn’t easily attainable. Since Grichuk’s Major League debut, his average exit velocity of 90.8 mph ranks second best among all Cardinals hitters with at least 400 at-bats during that four-year span. Only Matt Holliday (92.1 mph) has him beat.
But plate discipline has remained the primary hindrance. In the last four years, 26 different Cardinals have seen at least 750 pitches and only Brandon Moss has swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone than Grichuk (8.48 percent), according to Statcast™.
“We’d see spurts of greatness. I think he could be a special player,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I think it’s going to come down to knowing the strike zone and really knowing how these teams are consistently approaching him and being able to control that strike zone, above and below. There is a skill set there that is very unique. If he can put it all together, you’re going to see an extremely talented player really take off.”
As time passes, however, it seems less likely Grichuk will take off in St. Louis. With Fowler signed for four more years and Pham coming off a breakout season, the Cardinals appear to have only one outfield spot up for grabs. Grichuk’s inability to take advantage of the chances he has had in recent years could lead the Cardinals to move on and offer those at-bats to others.
The cost to retain him is about to jump, too, as Grichuk becomes arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter.
“It’s frustrating because I feel like the talent is there, and I feel like I go through these spurts where I feel really good and then might have a few bad games and then lose playing time due to the fact that there are so many outfielders,” said Grichuk, who slashed .238/.285/.473 in 122 games last season. “Then mentally, I change some approach or mechanically change things. That can help or hurt.
“It wasn’t a completely terrible season, but I definitely know that it’s not what I’m capable of.”
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.