Many times in their injury-pocked 2015 season, the Cardinals had mostly cap guns when they sought firepower off the bench. This year and beyond, they have committed, in a sense, nearly $40 million to fix that.
Brandon Moss, who has averaged some 24 homers a year for the last four years but had only four here when he battled some hip surgery aftereffects, may well be a lefthanded-hitting bench player if he is not the first baseman. He will be paid $8.25 million in any event this year.
Righthanded-hitting infielder Jedd Gyorko, acquired from San Diego for outfielder Jon Jay, has averaged 16 homers a year for his first three seasons in the big leagues and he, even more likely than Moss, could be coming off the bench. Gyorko is signed at fairly large money for the next four years.
Gyorko plays three positions, not counting some brief flings at first base, and his lifetime big-league batting average is just .236, which is 102 points shy of what he has hit against the Cardinals.
But, to the notion that he has more power than most infielders who primarily are second basemen, Gyorko, addressing the media at the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up on Monday, said, “I guess you can let the numbers do the talking. I think that (power) part of the game is what I need to make a difference. You’ve got to have something that changes the game and that’s the element I can bring.”
Moss said something similar the other day although Gyorko said, “He’s probably got more power than I have.”
Whether or not that is true, if the Cardinals have Gyorko and either Moss or Matt Adams on the bench, they have a chance to turn around a game late with one swing. For now, price is no object, as Gyorko is due some $30 million by the Cardinals for the next four seasons when they inherited a contract the Padres gave him. He will make $4 million, then $6 million, then $9 million, then $13 million, with the Padres having kicked in a small portion.
Despite his modest overall average, Gyorko has hit .342 with five homers and 16 runs batted in for 18 games against the Cardinals, who generally have one of the best staffs in the league.
“Every time he walked in there, he put up a good at-bat,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing here,” said Gyorko, 27. “It’s one of the places I would always circle. The fans always bring the best out of you, every single day.
“Great atmosphere. As baseball players, we like to be around baseball people and I don’t think you’re going to find anywhere in the country that has more baseball people than St. Louis. I’m looking forward to it.”
So far, it’s been advertised that Gyorko will fill in for second baseman Kolten Wong, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and third baseman Matt Carpenter, all of whom played 150 or more games last year.
Gyorko, a second-round draft pick in 2010, had been more or less a regular second baseman for San Diego, but he acknowledged his potential versatility “is definitely going to be more important in my career than it has up to this point. It sounds like I’m going to be moving around a little bit, which is fine.
“We’re still going to talk a little more about what the opportunities are going to be but I’m pretty comfortable with anywhere on the infield. I feel I could go out there and play any of the positions at any time.”
Matheny said that, in addition to his power potential — Gyorko had 23 homers in 2013 and 16 last year though he spent some time in the minors — that Gyorko was a strong defender.
“But that potentially potent bat — whether he’s going to come off the bench or he’s going to give a guy a rest — is going to take some of the pressure off our players, where they’re realizing, ‘I’m going to take this day (off), but that guy’s pretty good,’” said Matheny.
Gyorko has played here often enough to know that Busch is not a home run haven.
But, “it’s better than Petco (in San Diego), that’s for sure,” said Gyorko, who has batted .228 at Petco Park.
“You try not to think about it. You just try to hit the ball hard. But there are certain times when you get to the ball pretty good and when it’s caught, it can be pretty demoralizing.”
Gyorko got a jolt last season when, struggling, he was sent to Class AAA El Paso for three weeks in June. After bashing four homers in 16 games, Gyorko returned to hit .264 with San Diego over the final three months with 14 of his 16 homers.
“I wouldn’t call it a wakeup call,” said Gyorko. “It was more figuring out what the problems were and correcting them, figuring out where my swing was. I could go on for days but it was just minor mechanics. I’ve simplified things a lot.
“It wasn’t an easy year. I didn’t see (a trade) coming. I was surprised, for sure.”
But a good surprise.
“Any time you join a team that won 100 games, that’s OK,” said Gyorko.