Cards feeling long-term effects of Taveras' death

Passing of promising outfielder led to several notable personnel moves

Cards feeling long-term effects of Taveras' death

ST. LOUIS -- Amid the shock and grief that the Cardinals experienced after Oscar Taveras' tragic death in October 2014 was the jarring realization that a car accident in the Dominican Republic would carry long-term and wide-ranging effects for an organization that always operates with its future in mind.

Taveras was 22 years old and the Cardinals' top prospect when his Chevrolet Camaro slid off a highway. He had finished his rookie season with an underwhelming slash line (.239/.278/.312), but the Cardinals never believed those early returns were reflective of future production. This was a player the organization was ready to build around.

And then, so suddenly, he was gone.

There remain tangible reminders of Taveras' absence. A plaque with his number hangs near the entrance of the Cardinals' Busch Stadium batting cage. Carlos Martinez wears that No. 18 now, and he scribbles a remembrance to his longtime friend in the mound dirt before each start.

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But there are subtler indications, too, just as general manager John Mozeliak foreshadowed there would be when he was forced to pivot in his offseason plans two years ago.

"I think back to that tragedy, and I do recall saying to [manager] Mike [Matheny] and others right after that, 'We're not going to miss Oscar on the field today or that year. It's going to be a couple years down the road where we feel that impact,'" Mozeliak said last week. "I do remember realizing that when we did get to 2016 or 2017, you imagined him becoming our No. 3 hitter. All projection from just a pure talent side was going to be extremely positive."

With Taveras, the Cardinals believed they had an impact corner outfielder. Without him, the club has spent the past two years filling that void. In fact, it's highly unlikely that Dexter Fowler would have signed with the Cardinals if Taveras were still here.

Cardinals remember Oscar Taveras

The dominos have been falling for 26 months, beginning with the move the Cardinals made to bring in Jason Heyward three weeks after Taveras was buried. The trade cost the Cardinals a pair of promising pitchers -- Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins -- but was done with the hope that Heyward would become what the Cardinals had planned for Taveras to be: a long-term fit in their outfield.

That, too, wasn't to be.

Without tragedy, Heyward would never have jilted St. Louis because he never would have been here to begin with. Nor would the organization have spent $6.6 million for 12 appearances by reliever Jordan Walden. Conversely, Miller and Jenkins would have remained in the organization.

That added rotation depth would have given the Cardinals strategic flexibility. Perhaps it gives them enough coverage to forgo a pursuit of Mike Leake. Or maybe the Cardinals could have used the surplus as leverage to address another need via the trade market. Either way, both right-handers would have been welcome assets.

And then there's the outfield composition. If Taveras had an opportunity to play up to his potential and reached it, he likely would have settled in as a corner outfielder. With Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk alongside Taveras, the Cardinals would have boasted some of the best young outfield talent in the game. Fowler wouldn't have been a fit.

Statcast: Grichuk's diving grab

But projections are now relegated to what-ifs, the sort of what-ifs that management can't dwell on. The Cardinals had planned for a future with Taveras. Now, they're deep down the trail they were forced to forge.

"Sometimes how you have to react when you're dealing with something that's not normal or usual," Mozeliak said. "It definitely changed the course of so many people. If you don't do the Heyward deal, you don't do the Miller deal. If you don't do the Miller deal, Atlanta doesn't do the Miller deal. A lot of things have occurred as a result.

"As someone who sits in this seat thinking about three- and four-year windows, we had to zig and we had to zag. But, it's something I feel that, in the end, we've still been able to manage."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.