Tom did a nice job breaking down the decisions the Cardinals face with Carlos Beltran yesterday. I, for one, think that's an easy call and would extend the qualifying offer. The risk is contained to a single year and the Cardinals have the financial flexibility to deal with a catastrophic failure of a knee in 2014. The upside is there as well with Beltran still being an excellent hitter -- expected age related decline included.
But Beltran is just one piece -- probably not a full time piece -- of a three man outfield. While names like Jacoby Ellsbury are already being tossed around, it's worth considering the larger picture of the outfield and the prospects ready to come up from Memphis to supplement the majors. (Note: WAR projections are a combination of some rudimentary Marcel calculations and my gut. They should be taken with many large grains of salt.)
In the Big Leagues
Matt Holliday - 2014 Projection: ~4 WAR - LF
Matt Holliday is the easy name to pencil in the lineup. On a 7 year contract from 2010-2016, the Cardinals have passed the midway point. For those first 4 seasons, the Cardinals have gotten a little over 20 fWAR. For a $128M contract, Holliday would have to achieve 4 WAR per year to get the Cardinals a $4M/WAR buy rate. That would probably be a pretty crazy bargain on the whole given that the market price for WAR certainly appears to be higher than that.
I was musing the other day on twitter that Holliday might be the least desirable Cardinals contract right now (short of Ty Wiggington). That may be true but at it's worst, the Holliday contract looks like a market rate deal.
One other oddity about Holliday before we move on is the continued massive splits he has. His home wOBA was .420 and his away wOBA was .348 for 2013. His first half wOBA was .348 and his second half wOBA was .431. Clearly the Cardinals should only play Matt Holliday at home in the second half of the season. Imagine what his numbers would look like!
Allen Craig - 2014 Projection: ~2.5 WAR - RF
Craig is a pretty awful defender. He's put up back to back seasons of -10 runs in the field. That is really abysmal. But the Cardinals need his bat, which is really tremendous. Allen Craig was a tick behind Matt Adams as the 4th best hitter by wOBA in the Cardinals lineup. The question is whether the Cardinals can effectively incorporate Craig, Adams and Beltran in the lineup and whether that's worth paying Beltran $14.1M dollars to do so.
If not, the safe assumption is that Craig winds up in right field. If his late 2013 injuries prove to be nagging, that could be problematic for the Cardinals. As bad as Craig is in the outfield, I assure you Matt Adams would be worse.
Jon Jay - 2014 Projection: ~2.5 WAR - CF
Jon Jay suffered two setbacks in 2014: his defense went to hell and his luck was pretty bad. Jay normally has elevated BABIP levels but this year was much closer to league average. Ironically, his batted ball profile saw an increase in line drives compared to previous seasons. You'd actually have expected Jay to have a better BABIP this year than last year. That has not been the case and Jay's stats have suffered for it. The defense is more difficult to hand wave with statistics and all the more troubling because of that. Whether it is a true deterioration, a blip year statistically, a blip year performance wise or something else entirely, it's hard to say.
Shane Robinson - 2014 Projection: ~1 WAR - CF
I'm unconvinced that the improved offensive performance of 2013 is something that should be expected of the miniature outfielder moving forward. Robinson has a slight reverse platoon split for his career which isn't statistically meaningful at this point but does make one wonder whether he has an obvious fit as a platoon partner. The defense is real and he's a good centerfielder -- especially relative to the 2013 version of Jay -- but not much beyond that. Given that he's a below average hitter, he isn't the kind of bat you want off your bench ideally.
Down on the Farm
Oscar Taveras - 2014 Projection: ~2 WAR - CF
Taveras is the real deal but he missed two thirds of his season due to a poor diagnosis of his ankle injury that eventually landed him on a surgeon's table. There are two issues surrounding Taveras: 1) Can he play centerfield? 2) Will his sometimes erratic behavior be a problem at the major league level?
Oscar Taveras is going to hit the ball. He's going to hit the ball hard and often. The better question is what position he does that at. He made big strides between 2011 and 2012 to improve his defense and it showed at Springfield. His arm strength and accuracy has improved but Taveras is still on the larger side of players and not necessarily the type to display great range in centerfield. He'd probably be serviceable there for a few seasons but he seems destined for a corner outfield slot.
The second question is one of those stupid media tropes that doesn't matter until your team is trading a player because of his attitude. I've seen Taveras throw a tantrum in the outfield playing at Quad Cities in 2011. He's not always the best teammate from a "clubhouse presence" standpoint. Much as his defense has improved, the rumor mill suggests his attitude is something that's being worked on as well. Taveras is young and that's easy to forget. This issue strikes me as less concerning in a Mike Matheny clubhouse than a Tony La Russa (and Albert Pujols) clubhouse.
Mike O'Neill - 2014 Projection: ? WAR - LF
What to do with Mike O'Neill. He's like an outfield version of Matt Carpenter with worse defense and no power. Basically Mike O'Neill just gets on base ... all the time. His lowest OBP at any stop in the minors is .387 way back in 2010. His two "full" season stops in Palm Beach and Springfield had OBPs of .442 and .431.
O'Neill is not a good defender -- even in left field -- and he doesn't have any of the primary "tools" you'd look for in a player but he's been an offensive power house throughout the minors. This is never a player that's going to wind up on top prospect lists and there's good reason to be skeptical. If O'Neill gets a chance though -- as a bat bench -- he could surprise a lot of people.
James Ramsey - 2014 Projection: Not Ready - CF
Ramsey is probably a year away from being ready for the major leagues. He was drafted 4 slots after Michael Wacha, whom you may have heard of. Ramsey was considered to be a guy with great makeup which is often code for subpar skills. After aggressive promotions to Palm Beach and Springfield, Ramsey put up solid numbers showing an ability to get on base and far more power than initial reports suggested he had.
Centerfield is a long term viable position for Ramsey who has good instincts, solid range and an average or better arm. If the bat holds up, he looks like a 3 WAR player at the position but more so for 2015 than 2014. He could be pressed into action in the second half of 2014.
Stephen Piscotty - 2014 Projection: Not Ready - LF
Stephen Piscotty is Allen Craig. He's shown good but not tremendous power throughout the minors. He walks enough to get by without being a huge on base guy. He drives more of his value from his batting average than other players. He used to play third base but was deemed as questionable at that position and the club moved him. He's remarkably consistent through the minors.
If Allen Craig surprised people upon his arrival in St. Louis, Stephen Piscotty will do the same. Piscotty spent the second half of 2013 in Springfield so he's arguably a half season behind Ramsey and seems likely to start in Springfield again to ensure regular playing time.
I still think that Carlos Beltran is worth a one year deal at $14M. Too much depth is a much easier problem to deal with than too little. If anything, the Cardinals are about a half season away from a true influx of outfield prospects. Taveras could use some time to get back up to speed after his injury. James Ramsey hasn't seen Memphis yet and Mike O'Neill isn't the kind of prospect you let Beltran walk because of. Obviously, Taveras is the big name here but after him, there's a healthy set of prospects on their way.
If anything this speaks to how unnecessary a large, overvalued contract for Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo would be for the Cardinals. Both are great players but there's no impetus to wildly overspend with cheap, good prospects available in the near term.