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United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable: Opening Day 2014 outfield?

[The United Cardinal Bloggers have begun their offseason roundtable discussion in which member bloggers take turns posing a question each day to the others. Today’s question comes from Chris Reed at Bird Brained.]

We’ve already had some great roundtable questions, and a couple of them led me to start thinking about the Cardinals’ outfield. Yes, things are pretty set for 2013–but a lot figures to happen next season that influences what the squad looks like beyond that. So I’m asking you to give me the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2014 Opening Day outfield–starters and backups, if you think the bench guys are already on the roster–and any corresponding moves you think the team will make prior to 2014 to make it happen.

All right, we’ll give away the game to start:

The first two-thirds of this puzzle seem rather easy to figure. Matt Holliday will be under contract as the team’s highest-paid player (at least, as of this writing) and one of its most productive, even if he’ll be declining. Jon Jay has already proven himself on both sides of the ball in centerfield, with the fourth-best OBP among center fielders since he broke into the league in 2010 (ahead even of Matt Kemp), and the Cardinals would be a bit daft to consider replacing him.

Right field is the toughest to project. As tempting as it is to slot phenom Oscar Taveras into right field — and to be sure, it’s a defensible point of view — we’re going to bet on Matt Carpenter.  Our rationale is as follows.

Militating against Taveras as opening-day starter is simply the unknown. True, he finished his first Double-A season with a stellar .380 OBP and .572 SLG. But AA is a long way from the major leagues (see Daryl Jones), and while he every reason to make people think he’ll fulfill his potential, a lot can happen (or fail to happen) in a year. Even in the best case, in which Taveras lights it up in Memphis next year, the Cardinals are typically loathe to give rookies starting jobs. How rare is it that a Cardinal rookie outfielder starts opening day in the outfield? Over the past 40 years, only five of the 120 opening-day outfielders were rookies (in bold):

2012 Holliday Jay Beltran
2011 Holliday Rasmus Berkman
2010 Holliday Rasmus Ludwick
2009 Duncan Ankiel Ludwick
2008 Duncan Ankiel Schumaker
2007 Taguchi Edmonds Wilson
2006 Taguchi Edmonds Encarnacion
2005 Sanders Edmonds Walker
2004 Lankford Edmonds Sanders
2003 Pujols Edmonds Marrero
2002 Pujols Edmonds Drew
2001 Pujols Edmonds Drew
2000 Lankford Edmonds Davis
1999 Dunston Drew Davis
1998 Gant Lankford Jordan
1997 Gant Jordan McGee
1996 Gant Lankford McGee
1995 Gilkey Lankford Jordan
1994 Gilkey Lankford Whiten
1993 Gilkey Lankford Whiten
1992 Guerrero Lankford Thompson
1991 Gilkey Hudler Jose
1990 Coleman McGee Brunansky
1989 Coleman McGee Brunansky
1988 Coleman McGee Lindeman
1987 Coleman Landrum Lindeman
1986 Coleman McGee Van Slyke
1985 Smith Van Slyke Braun
1984 Smith McGee Hendrick
1983 Smith Green Hendrick
1982 Iorg Smith Hendrick
1981 Lezcano Scott Hendrick
1980 Bonds Scott Hendrick
1979 Brock Hendrick Scott
1978 Brock Scott Morales
1977 Brock McBride Cruz
1976 Brock McBride Smith
1975 Brock McBride Smith
1974 Brock McBride Smith
1973 Brock Cruz Carbo

Some of the club’s best outfield prospects — even those who received Rookie of the Year consideration, like Colby Rasmus, Ray Lankford and Vince Coleman — had to wait until after opening day to showcase their talents. Coleman, despite coming off a Triple-A campaign in which he stole 101 bases, didn’t start the opener until the season after he won the RoY. Who started in 1985? 37-year-old Steve Braun, who retired after the season. With the Cardinals — whether it’s Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa or, we suspect, Mike Matheny, you pay your dues.

Which leads us to Carpenter. The corner infielder-outfielder surely earned a lot of trust this season by hitting .365/.463 while playing 114 games across five positions. He may repeat his role without a clearly defined position in 2013, but, assuming that his second-base experiment doesn’t work (likely no better than a 50-50 proposition), he’ll be not only a safe but desirable option in right. Contractually, he won’t even have hit his first arbitration year, so unless the team decides to move him, he’s going to be on the squad in 2014. If we had to guess today, we’d say that he’s the best bet to start the season in right field. Whether he’s the one who ends the season there is another matter.

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