The Tragedy of Depth: Why Jon Jay and David Freese are Viable Trade Bait

What I do not argue for here is that we necessarily should part ways with Jon Jay and David Freese. Both are valuable and well liked players. What I do argue is that, considering the Cardinals’ depth, we shouldn’t reject the idea out of hand.

The 2013 Cardinals have extraordinary depth by any standards. Our pitching staff has two relievers with starting potential in Kelly and Rosenthal, and Lance Lynn can move to bullpen if required. Further, there are a bevy of additional prospects quickly ascending the Minor league ladder. In the field, the roster is a rubix cube of possible batting order and fielding combinations; first, second, and third base and both corner outfield spots are conceivably rotatable between Beltran, Holiday, Craig, Freese, Carpenter, Descalso, Adams, Jay, and Robinson. That’s nine players, all playing well, for five spots.

This is not a bad problem to have. But with great depth comes great speculation—among fans who enjoy pretending they are general managers.

First of all, I’d like to go on record to say I don’t think we should be to quick to trade away such depth right away. Depth itself is an asset, and there will be injuries at some point this year. When that time comes, will be glad to have assets to plug the gaps. Ultimately, however, it is undeniable that such depth also gives the Cardinals the flexibility to improve areas of weakness. In many (but not all) circles of conversation that I have observed, trading (ideally) or parting ways with Jon Jay or David Freese is met with negative outcry. However, the way I see it, these two players are two of the most viable trading chips we will have (more probably after this season is over, but not necessarily). Here are some considerations that make these two players tradable.

Lets take Jon Jay first. I love him as a player, he’s great defensively and hard working. I’m not one of those that is clamoring for him to be traded because I think that he’s a weakness. However, its pretty obvious that the Cardinals are working Oscar Taveras in center against just such an eventuality. It’s not so much a problem with Jay as it is the potential to better fit the bats we have into one batting order. With Beltran gone in 2014, placing Oscar Taveras in center would allow Craig to play in right and Matt Adams to play at first base. A batting order anchored by Taveras, Holiday, Craig, Adams, Molina, and Freese (or Carpenter – see below) would be extremely strong—certainly stronger than one that would bench one of these players for Jon Jay.

Given such lineup possibilities, it may be increasingly hard to argue that Jay wouldn’t be more valuable to the Cardinals as a piece in a improving trade. For those who worry about a possible defensive sacrifice in center field, no I don’t think Taveras will be a better fielder than Jay. However, with the ground ball philosophy of the Cardinal’s pitching staff, we’re probably not as justified to bend over backwards for defense in the outfield as we would be in the middle infield. Further, if Taveras grows out of center field defensively in a few years (not unlikely at all), the Cardinals have three prospects in James Ramsey, Charlie Tilson, and C.J. McElroy who all present intriguing possibilities by that time. While I think he’s close, I’m not sure Jay has reached his full ceiling yet, and with the years of control that Jay still has (free agency in 2017) he would be an appealing trade piece to many teams in need of outfield help.

David Freese may be a touchier subject. Again, this is a player that I love—who couldn’t after 2011. Whenever Freese’s name comes up in trade talk the common objection typically says something along the lines of: "would the Cardinals be willing to buck the public backlash for trading or walking away from the homegrown world series hero?

Lets all be honest with ourselves. The Cardinals walked away from Albert Pujols. In that light, can trading or moving on from David Freese really be seen as out of the question? This team is governed by practicality, not sentimentality—and it should stay that way.

Like center field, third base is a position in which the Cardinals have a lot of major and minor league depth. In the near term, third base is the more natural position of Matt Carpenter, who so far is showing himself to be one of the most patient and consistent hitters in the lineup. Matt Carpenter is not just a bench player; his bat is every day worthy. Currently he is placed at second base, where he will probably stay for the rest of the year, but by 2014 its hard to envision Kolten Wong not being ready to take a crack at the Majors. Moving Freese would allow Wong to take over second and Carpenter to slide back to third—and either could bat leadoff (and probably produce better than Jay). Further in the future, the Cardinals have both Patrick Wisdom and Carson Kelly looking promising in the minor leagues.

David Freese turns 30 this year, and yet he still will not be a free agent until 2016. By the time he is eligible for free agency, he will be turning 33, and the prospects mentioned above will be ready to play. At the same time, Freese is currently a player with several more quality years of control who is in his prime as a player—his value will probably not get much higher, and will only decrease in the coming years. If we are going to trade him, we would be best served to do so in this coming year or the next at most (conveniently the same window that we need to acquire a shortstop in).

An additional consideration to make, for both players, is this: within the Cardinals roster, Jay and Freese are not the most flexible players. Jay, with his offensive game, can really only be played in centerfield considering the other players the Cardinals need to fit into the batting order. Other than third, the only other position that Freese could conceivably play is first, and with Adams and Craig both options there, why would you want Freese there?

I think a big reason why the Cardinals extended Craig and not Freese this offseason was Craig’s ability to play more positions. The same logic extends to Matt Carpenter. Oscar Taveras can play all three outfield spots. Take a look at what positions these players can play:

Allen Craig: 1B, RF, LF

Matt Carpenter: 1B, 2B, 3B, RF, LF

Oscar Taveras: LF, CF, RF

Giving preference to retaining these players over Jay and Freese increases our depth by versatility – if one player is injured, there are multiple players that can shift to fill in the empty spot.

Freese and Jay are two players in positions that the Cardinals probably set at for years to come. It’s hard to imagine that both wouldn’t have significant appeal for trade partners. The players that would replace them would be cheaper for a considerable period of time, and probably better too. They should at least be in the conversation to be a part of any major trades that the Cardinals will (probably) make in the future. And if the Cardinals mean it when they say they want to commit serious assets to stabilize the shortstop position with an impact player, any offense that we would lose (and I think we would actually gain) would be replaced by that impact. There are just too many pros to not consider including one or both of these players in whatever packages the Cardinals will build in near future trade scenarios.

Under this theory, here’s the 2014 lineup.

C – Yadier Molina

1B – Matt Adams

2B – Kolten Wong

SS – Pete Kozma/(Acquisition)

3B – Matt Carpenter (future Wisdom, Kelly)

RF – Allen Craig

CF – Oscar Taveras

LF – Matt Holiday

For fun, here’s a 2016 lineup, given a DH and almost exclusively considering only players in the farm system:

C – Yadier Molina

1B – Allen Craig/Patrick Wisdom

2B – Kolten Wong

SS – (Future whiz-bang impact shortstop)

3B – Carson Kelly

RF – Oscar Taveras

CF – C.J. McElroy/James Ramsey (depth)

LF – Matt Holiday/Allen Craig/Stephen Piscotty

Final kind of unrelated note: Matt Adams would not fall under the versatility category. So far he has been one of the most popular trade bait candidates among Cardinal fans. I, for one, am not in this camp. Given Adam’s obvious potential and the possibility of the DH coming to the NL, I think we should hang onto Adams at all costs. Young cost controlled potential 40 home run hitters do not grow on trees. Similarly, Wong is not a multi-position player, but if he lives up to his potential, he plays second base for us for the next 5-10 years—that’s stability that we’ve needed at that position for a while.

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