While the Cardinals may be out of playoff contention for the rest of this season, many playoff teams have at least one guy that seems surprisingly familiar to St. Louis. As this time of year usually warrants, the playoffs are a time for reflection within the Cardinal organization. Some vintage names that used to reside on their roster have moved on to bigger and better things. Formerly unknown to the baseball masses, this postseason has been a coming out party for more than a few ex-Cardinal players. Here at the Game Haus, we look in depth at four such players.
OF Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays
Through his nine postseason games thus far, Arozarena has hit four home runs, including three in the ALDS against New York. For comparison, St. Louis hit just three home runs in three whole games in their Wild Card round loss to the Padres, despite having 70 more at-bats than their former farmhand. Arozarena has become a star in the baseball world, seemingly overnight, and now is one of the most recognizable hitters on the Rays’ roster. His postseason batting line is well over .400 with two more hits on Monday. At least this postseason, Arozarena seems like the real deal.
— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2020
As many fans might remember, Arozarena was the second piece of the Jose Martinez trade this past offseason. For better or worse, the Cardinals were committed at the time to creating a path for Dylan Carlson in the major leagues. That meant trading away any excess outfielders that would eat up a bulk of playing time. For Martinez and Arozarena, the Rays returned a top pitching prospect in Matthew Liberatore, who has yet to see time at the major league level.
Arozarena’s story seems to follow a recurring narrative of former Cardinal departures. Were the outfielder to have stayed in St. Louis, it is unclear whether he would have received the coaching and playing time necessary to develop into this type of player. St. Louis, for all their departed outfielders, still have a platoon seven-deep. Besides Carlson’s coming out party toward the season’s end, none have impressed during their tenure thus far.
Give Arozarena some credit, though. He showed up on the biggest stage at the best possible time, and he’s showing Rays’ fans what value he really has.
1B/DH Luke Voit, New York Yankees
If recency bias says Arozarena’s departure hurt the Cardinals the most, then an equally compelling argument could be made on behalf of Voit. The Missouri State alum led the American League in home runs this season (22) as well as finishing top-10 in slugging percentage, RBIs, and total bases. His career batting line for the postseason isn’t that impressive, .214/.340/.405, but both his hits during the ALCS were for extra bases. Assuredly, Voit is New York’s first baseman of the future, barring any setback or injuries.
Voit had significantly more experience playing in St. Louis than mostly anyone else on this list. But that time could not have foretold what kind of offensive force he would become. He hit only five home runs in 70 games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons for St. Louis. His struggles make the accepted trade to the Yankees even more laughable in retrospect, where the main return was thought to be lefty Chasen Shreve. (Shreve has since been released.)
The one positive that came out of Voit’s move to the Bronx was the acquisition of Giovanny Gallegos. Without Gallegos as the other piece of that deal, it would have been one of the most-lopsided in Cardinal history. The right-hander from Mexico has become critical to the Cardinal bullpen and has been a stable presence during a couple of high-turnover seasons.
Certainly Voit would not have become the slugger he is now with what reduced playing time he was seeing. His presence would have eliminated an opening to pursue Paul Goldschmidt that offseason. In other words, who knows what the current shape of the Cardinal roster would be! Still, fans still wonder about Voit’s potential in had he stayed in St. Louis. Needless to say, the jury’s still out.
SP Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
As fans saw during the Fish’s playoff series, Alcantara has cemented himself as the ace of Miami’s staff. In the DS versus the Cubs, Alcantara went six and two-thirds innings and allowed just one run, picking up the win and setting the tone for the series. He didn’t fare quite as well against the Braves, surrendering five runs in six-plus innings, though he entered the seventh with a 4-3 lead. However, Alcantara has given the Marlins stability during the regular season since his arrival. He recorded all 32 starts a year ago and deserved better than his 6-14 record indicated. For a team averaging 100+ losses before this season, stability is a gift. His pure stuff isn’t too bad either.
Sandy Alcantara throwing 94 MPH with this much movement should not be legal pic.twitter.com/tetC6Z18vc
— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 6, 2020
What’s interesting about Alcantara’s story is that he was probably involved in the fairest trade of the players being considered here. St. Louis shipped off Alcantara, now starting pitcher for the Diamondbacks Zac Gallen, Magneuris Sierra and a minor league pitcher for outfielder Marcell Ozuna. All four players have appeared for Miami since that deal in 2017, which is a plus. And Ozuna was an important part of the Cardinal offensive attack before signing with the Braves this season. Everyone pretty well got what they wanted. That’s a fair trade.
Alcantara pairs with another young phenom in South Beach, Sixto Sanchez. Between the two, Miami owns a powerful top of the rotation. In a year where a couple of good pitchers can make or break the season, Miami snuck in as the sixth seed in the National League, and Alcantara was a large part of that success. The Marlins also needed a young ace to fill the shadow left by Jose Fernandez. Alcantara has been up to that task.
OF/DH Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres
For St. Louis fans, some small part of them will always root for Pham, regardless of what team he’s playing for. This year, it was as a member of the Padres. In San Diego, Pham experienced just his second series win of his career. He went six-for-13 in the Wild Card round against St. Louis and added three more hits during the Division series against LA. Pham’s story never ceases to inspire, either, returning this season after missing two months with a fractured hamate bone.
Pham is a testament to what hard work can do for a player who has the drive to succeed. He entered the Cardinals’ minor league system in 2006 and spent parts of four seasons in double-A. He finally made his debut in 2014 but still recorded three stints in triple-A after making it to the show. Numerous times, Pham felt like his opportunities were being blocked by the Cardinal front office. He wasn’t afraid to voice these opinions, either. He did, in fact, proved his detractors wrong in 2017 with his first 20-20 home run-stolen base season.
Though he initially was traded to the Rays in 2018, Pham appeared in San Diego this season, signing the most lucrative contract of his career. Whether it was his recurring eye issues or his relationship with the organization, Pham did struggle toward the end of his time in St. Louis. His trade ultimately was another piece in navigating a logjam of St. Louis outfielders. For fans, his departure was still hard to cope with.
What has been encouraging is Pham’s commitment in finding a place where he can effectively contribute. In the lineup or as a mentor for younger players, the 32-year-old is always a force to be reckoned with. Pham’s issues were larger than his role on the Cardinals, which is why seeing him in the postseason is hardly ever a disappointment for Cardinal fans. Instead, it’s a joy. An amazing player is finally getting what he deserves.
So for all that you gave St. Louis… thanks, Pham. Get well soon.
Featured Image Courtesy of South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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