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For Peter Bourjos’ sake, Cardinals history has to hang heavy over team brass when they watch him at the plate and in the outfield in upcoming weeks in Jupiter, Fla.
Bourjos can out-run most big-leaguers, and out-defend the majority of center fielders. He hits well enough to be a top-of-the-lineup guy.
Mike Matheny does not need a primer on the St. Louis timeline to know the impact of such skills. The impact on team annals of Brock, Flood, Coleman and McGee are well-known even to baseball numbskulls. Speed in the outfield and skills on the basepaths are Cardinal traditions, albeit dampened down somewhat in recent years.
The concept of Angels refugee Bourjos beating out the heady, but less-defensively skilled Jon Jay in center is plainly on the table. There’s a necessity for a flycatcher to cover both left- and right-center if Matheny insists on playing Matt Holliday in left and displaced first baseman Allen Craig in right.
All it takes is a good camp for Bourjos, motivated to prove himself, along with a bit of mental flexibility from Cards skipper Matheny.
The motivation part should be the least of the issues. Bourjos should have teamed with Mike Trout to form a track team in the LA outfield, but injuries and a big name-collecting front office derailed Bourjos’ projected path to Big League stability. Now he can be double-switched into games almost every day in the National League, but Bourjos wants more and is willing to work.
“I’ve never looked at it any different,” he said. “Every year you have to prove yourself again. I’m going to continue to look at that the rest of my career.”
Matheny is fence-sitting on playing time, for now.
“I talked to Matheny when I got traded, and he said it looked like a platoon situation,” Bourjos said. “He said it wouldn’t be say Jon would be the starter or I would the starter. He said to come to spring training in shape to win an opportunity to play.”
Jay isn’t going to yield time quietly. He drove in 67 runs last year. In four full seasons, he’s hit .293 with a .356 on-base percentage.
The most athletic outfield would have both Jay and Bourjos starting together, in the same manner as the ideal concept with Bourjos and Trout.
“If you look at all the teams that are successful, it all comes down to pitching and defense,” said Chris Bourjos, Peter’s father and a San Diego Padres scout who had 22 at-bats in 1980 as a San Francisco Giants outfielder.
The Cardinals need the injection of speed Bourjos would surely provide. Jay actually led an abnormally slow Redbirds team with 10 steals. Bourjos would at least double that total playing regularly. He stole 109 bases in his final 2 ½ minor-league seasons.
But the only place to move 97-RBI man Craig would be third, and he only had a few scattershot appearances at the position in 2010-11. Unless Matt Adams regresses at first and Craig moves there, Bourjos is stuck fighting it out for every shred of playing time in center and as a sometime-starter and defensive replacement in the corners.
Situation normal. Bourjos is used to personnel jam-ups in his Angels days.
Torii Hunter, one of the all-time great center fielders, moved to right in Anaheim when Bourjos established himself in the middle in 2011. Vernon Wells and his gilded contract played left. But when Trout burst on the scene in 2012, the Halos simply couldn’t cut Wells. Bourjos found himself a part-timer.
“The second day of the season in 2012, he became an extra outfielder,” said Chris Bourjos. “I never understood what happened.”
Peter Bourjos’ timing was bad in an injury-plagued 2013 when Wells finally left, with Detroit-bound Hunter replaced in right by Josh Hamilton. Bourjos was back in center with Trout in left. But his hurts prevented that alignment as the season wore on.
Through it all, Bourjos has no beef against mega-salary-collecting Angels owner Arte Moreno, whom he believes wants to win.
“Pete’s got a lot of character, he’s got a lot of professionalism,” said Chris Bourjos. “He handled it a lot better than a lot of people could, including me.”
If he has to fight for time again, the younger Bourjos figures he might as well do it on the Cardinals, who have been heaped on with acclaim in recent years for organizational efficiency and good judgment.
“I was watching the Cardinals in the playoffs,” Bourjos said. “(I thought) I’d like to play for them. But I thought it would never happen. It just didn’t seem like a fit.”
“There’s so many rumors last year about where I’d be traded, and the Cardinals were not on the list. I got the call from Jerry (Dipoto) about the trade. I was pretty excited. I was sitting there with a big smile on my face. There couldn’t be a better place to be traded to.”
“They play the game the right way. They play the game hard. It was an organization I always admired.”
Of all people, former Angels teammate Albert Pujols tried to smooth Bourjos’ transition. Still an off-season St. Louis resident, Pujols invited Bourjos to his annual charity event, where he introduced him to “some of the right people,” according to Chris Bourjos.
Now all Peter Bourjos has to do is run faster than any St. Louis teammate, make circus catches in center, rob a few hitters of homers at the fence, and play the table-setter’s game. The Cardinals, then and now, do have a habit of making room for talent that play up to historical standards.
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