Programming note: Future Redbirds is running it's top 20 prospects this week. #20-16 will appear on Monday.
The 2012 offseason pitching market is a wild one. The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Zack Greinke $147M over 6 years. Kevin Correia picked up a multi-year deal from the Twins. Even Jason Marquis, who has two below replacement seasons in the last three years signed a $3M major league contract with the San Diego Padres.
Now, the rumors are heavy that the Blue Jays are going to trade all the prospects for R.A. Dickey, the 38-year old re-invented knuckleballer. R.A. Dickey has a heck of a story, which the Mets are surreptitiously taking a hatchet to, but he might reel in the best catching prospect in the game of baseball. There's so little data on knuckleballers -- because there are so few knuckleballers -- that it's hard to know what to expect from Dickey as he approaches 40.
He was an undeniably good pitcher last year. But for all the novelty of his repertoire, the quivering pens waiting to tell his story on the front page of the paper and the hype of being a 20 game winner, Dickey had the same value last year as Adam Wainwright using fWAR.
(bWAR hated Adam Wainwright last year due to a lot of unearned runs. This is one of the reasons I find bWAR for pitchers to be less useful than fWAR. Adam Wainwright's FIP was lower than RA Dickey's but, per bWAR, he was worth 5 fewer wins. I detest that discrepancy.)
Given the paucity of pitching on the market, is it unreasonable for the Cardinals to consider moving Adam Wainwright? Let's review the current state of the rotation:
Things get far more questionable for the Cardinals once you move past guys like Kelly, Rosenthal & Miller who have either proven themselves in the majors to some extent or shown elite stuff in the minors. Tyler Lyons has put up impressive numbers in the minors that you've never heard about but both he and John Gast represent the soft tossing lefty contingent that may have a 15 year career in the MLB or a 15 day career.
Compounding the difficulty of the situation is that Adam Wainwright looks like the bedrock of the Cardinals rotation. Chris Carpenter is old and coming off an injury. Jaime Garcia is coming off an injury. Jake Westbrook is reaching his expiration date. Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher the Cardinals have. Can they even trade that?
Wainwright can probably be penciled in for a 4 WAR projection next year -- a few more innings but lower rate stats. If you replace that with any of the top three backup options, a reasonable assumption is you are giving up 2 WAR in 2013 on paper. Shelby Miller may surprise and emerge as an ace. Trevor Rosenthal may bring a 100mph fastball as a starter. Or things could go according to statistical norm and one of those players gives you about a league average, 2 WAR, performance. Who do you target in a trade that gets you more than 2 WAR?
1). Elvis Andrus
Cardinal fans have pined for him a great deal this offseason already. He's coming off back-to-back 4 win seasons at age 24. The Cardinals current motley crew of shortstoppers in the majors projects for less than 2 WAR sans another crazy 82 plate appearances from Pete Kozma. If the Cardinals were considering offering Adam Wainwright an extension, they simply do the same thing with Andrus. The Rangers were in on Zack Greinke before Ned Coletti decided to make it rain. This trade costs more than Adam Wainwright, however, and requires at least one serious prospect (think Carlos Martinez) to seal the deal.
The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright under contract for one season. It's important to remember that as well as the fact that the difference between his contract value and his on the field value is likely to be much closer after his next extension than it is now (i.e. he'll have less surplus value in future years of any contract). The Cardinals could move to shore up some underperforming portions of their major league team that also lack attractive internal minor league alternatives.
Peter Bourjos is the elite centerfield defender who replaces replacement level work from guys like Shane Robinson or Adron Chambers and gives the Cardinals a true 4th outfielder. He's got (at least) three more years of team control. Nick Maronde is a left handed pitcher who was drafted in 2011 before rocketing through the system to the majors last year. He's got more zip on his fastball than your average lefty (92) and, while he was a reliever in college, the Angels had him starting in the minors. There's intriguing stuff in this arm that could make him an elite reliever or a future starter.
This kind of a trade is probably unpalatable to the St. Louis fan base and, I suspect, would be ill-received even by those here but the number seem about right to come out net neutral in 2013 team WAR for the Cardinals while helping entrench for the future.
3). Royals Farm System
Pretty sure you can take the whole damn thing in an Adam Wainwright trade if you ask Dayton Moore politely.
The Atlanta Braves are a team that I want to add to this list but lack a permutation that seems like it might be acceptable to both sides. The Braves upper minors don't have the kinds of prospects that the Cardinals should be looking to acquire and there isn't a good fit at the major league level to trade from areas of surplus. The Cardinals have never been a team that looks to trade current major league players of quality for prospect bundles but if you want to go that route you have to look to the Royals and the Blue Jays. The new CBA reduces the returns on departing free agents so there may be additional incentives for a trade without the supplemental picks in the draft that used to exist.
If the Cardinals could acquire Elvis Andrus for Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez (plus miscellaneous parts), that's something I'd be inclined to do while betting on the rookie arms.
Aside: When we talk about something like Adam Wainwright's 2013 projection, it's usually in terms of a mean projection. That is to say, Adam Wainwright's 2013 FIP should be 3.50 (wag) is the weighted average of all the projections for him next year. He could overperform that or underperform that. The range of outcomes for a player -- their ceiling and floor -- is important as well as considering their most likely level of performance. Teams with a good chance to reach the playoffs on paper may want to add less uncertainty to their projections in the form of players who could have a wide variety of performance. The Indians are a good example of the opposite where a guy like Trevor Bauer, who could be very good or very bad, makes a lot of sense to take a risk on. Projections are not single numbers alone but come with uncertainty or error bars or whatever statistical term you want to use. [/end aside]
That's my challenge to you this morning: rosterbate. Come up with a trade scenario for Adam Wainwright. It should be more realistic than my third option above and try to give it some consideration from both team's perspectives. Can you find a trade you'd make with Adam Wainwright involved? Or is he to fundamentally important to the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 playoff chances?