Oscar Taveras: What Could Have Been

By: Jonathan Goad

October 26th is a rough day for Cardinals fans. It’s especially hard when the Cards aren’t playing in the postseason. But the main reason that day is so difficult is because of what happened on that day in 2014.

Cardinals outfielder and top prospect, Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Taveras and his girlfriend had been the victims of his own mistake, getting behind the wheel after a night of drinking. No matter the circumstances, this was a tragic event as it rippled through Cardinal Nation and the entire MLB.

Taveras was widely thought of as the next impact player rising through the Cardinals’ system. He had been compared to Vladimir Guerrero with his ability to hit pitches out of the strike zone, and hit them well. Taveras had a silky-smooth swing that helped him win several awards during his Minor League career.

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Photo credit to Sports Illustrated

In 436 Minor League games, Taveras hit .320 with 53 HRs and 324 RBI. He slugged .516 in those six seasons that he spent in the minors. It looked as if his ceiling was 100 stories high. While his offense outshined his defense, he was anything but a liability in the outfield. He had a strong arm and took good routes to the ball. Personally, while he was with the St. Louis Cardinals AA affiliate in Springfield, MO, I remember watching him throw a runner out at home from the right-center field wall on a single hop. That’s when I knew that he was something special. Sure, Cardinals fans knew about his bat, but few were aware of how good he was defensively. He was set to be the next Cardinals superstar.

Oscar Taveras was called up on May 30th and made his MLB debut on May 31, 2014. This was one of the most anticipated debuts in quite some time as ranked him as the second-best prospect in all of baseball earlier that season. Taveras did not disappoint.  In his second MLB at-bat, Taveras hit a homerun and made it rain, literally. The rain came down immediately after his 418 foot blast. It’s safe to say that Cardinal Nation was ecstatic about their young stud.

That swing was a thing of beauty. However, we’ll never know what could have been for Oscar Taveras as that fateful night in October ended not only a promising career but a promising life. Taveras homered in his final at-bat, which was in Game 2 of the NLDS, an unfortunate, but fitting end to the young slugger’s brief career. His first and last career hits were home runs. 

Even though it was over four years ago, the Cardinals are still feeling the effects of that tragedy. St. Louis is still searching for that impact bat that Taveras could have provided. They’ve tried several things. Shortly after Taveras’ death, the Cardinals traded for Jason Heyward of the Braves. While Heyward had a nice season in Cardinal red, he ended up leaving St. Louis for the rival Cubs in free agency.

After the 2016 season, the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler in hopes that he could provide a spark that the team needed. His two seasons in St. Louis have been flooded with injuries and subpar play.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cards traded for Marcell Ozuna. Finally, St. Louis had their guy. While Ozuna hit .280 with 23 HRs and 88 RBI, something wasn’t quite there. He was a shell of himself from the prior year in which he hit .312 with 37 HRs and 124 RBI.

It’s safe to say that had Taveras not passed away, the Cardinals would not have traded for Heyward and might not have signed Fowler. With Taveras anchoring the lineup, there wasn’t as big of a need to add another outfielder. With the freed up money from not signing Fowler, the Cardinals could have gone all-in on a top of the rotation pitcher like Max Scherzer or David Price.

The Ozuna deal would have likely still been made because the Cardinals did need another outfielder and impact bat prior to the 2018 season. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty were traded away. That left Tommy Pham. Could you imagine that outfield? Ozuna in left, Pham in center, and Taveras in right. Even with the trade of Pham this past season, the outfield would still look like one of the best in the league for years to come. This past season, Harrison Bader emerged as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Ozuna, Bader, Taveras. That’s an outfield I’d put up against any.

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Taveras would have likely added around five wins per season, with the potential for more. Instead of three straight years without playoff baseball in St. Louis, the Cardinals likely would have at least been a Wild Card team. We’ve all seen what the Cardinals can do once they get into the playoffs (2006 & 2011 WS Champions as a WC team).

More importantly was the relationships lost by the passing of Taveras. It’s nice to think about how good the Cardinals could have been with him in the lineup, but we tend to forget about the person Taveras was. He had an infectious smile. He seemed to always be having fun on the field. He and Carlos Martinez, who changed his number to 18 to honor his late friend, would have been a blast to watch. We’ve seen what a goofball Martinez is. Can you imagine if he had Taveras with him?

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Photo credit to St. Louis Post Dispatch

I don’t remember where I was when I first heard of his passing, but I remember how I felt. I didn’t know Oscar Taveras nor did I ever even meet him. However, when I saw he had passed, it felt like I had lost a friend. Such talent and potential, gone in the blink of an eye. I imagine a lot of Cardinal Nation felt that same way. It’s always a tragedy when someone loses their life too soon, but losing someone like Taveras was devastating. He really seemed to enjoy not only baseball, but life in general. His passing put a cloud over Cardinal Nation that still hovers. Oscar Taveras will be missed for years to come no matter how the Cardinals play.

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