It's no secret, Infield depth has been a problem for the Birds on the Bat the last few years. In recent years, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, and Mark Ellis have all had underwhelming production as part time players on the infield.
This offseason, the Cardinals reportedly had some early interest in Ben Zobrist, who could have been a starter somewhere on the infield allowing a displaced starter with less positional flexibility to be a utility man-by-proxy. Zobrist ultimately rejected the role the Cardinals proposed, and moved on to teams that had a more distinct role for him. Of course yesterday, Zobrist decided that team would be the Cubs. Back to the issue at hand though...
While the Cardinals may or may not have been very serious in their pursuit of Zobrist, it highlights a problem the Cardinals have had at acquiring depth on the infield: It's hard to convince a player of much value to sign as a backup. Players love to play, and one of the few things a player is going to take into consideration besides money is going to be playing time and a guaranteed role. Asdrubal Cabrera is the closest fit to Jedd Gyorko on the free agent market this year, let's compare their projected lines from Steamer, which are stunningly similar:
|Cabrera||585||7.4 %||18.7 %||.154||.290||96||-2.9||-4.7||1.2|
|Gyorko||500||7.1 %||22.1 %||.164||.281||98||-1.8||-3.1||1.1|
Gyorko strikes out a little more, provides a little more power, and projects for a little lower of a BABIP. The rub in the end means Gyorko is a very slightly better hitter, and according to the projections a little better on defense too. With 85 less PA Jedd is just a tenth of a win (which is fairly meaningless) less valuable than Cabrera. On a per 600 PA basis, Gyorko is just a tenth of win (again meaningless) more valuable. So for all intents and purposes, on a total value basis, they're the same. And in terms of how they produce that value, they're strikingly similar.
The market for Cabrera hasn't exactly heated up yet. The Yankees have shown interest, and the White Sox have at least a mild interest. If any team has exchanged figures with the infielder it hasn't been reported. But here is what Cabrera is expected to get from some outlets:
Dave Cameron of fangraphs: $20M/2 years
Fangraphs crowd source (median): $27M/3 years
MLB Trade Rumors: $18M/2 years
As a refresher, at this moment in time there are conficting reports of whether the Padres will be paying down $7.5M, $7M, or $6.5M of Gyorko's salary. At $7M, the Cardinals will owe $26M to Gyorko over the next 4 years. It also bears pointing out that Cabrera will be entering his age 30 season whereas Gyorko will be entering his age 27 season. Thus a two or three year deal for Cabrera will cover his age 30-31 or his age 30-32 seasons whereas the Cardinals now control Gyorko's age 27-30 seasons. Cabrera is expected to get worse as the deal goes on, and Gyorko will only just enter his decline by the end the deal.
Under those parameters, it's easy to see that what the Cardinals pay Jedd should be less than the market price in free agency. Even on the lowest estimate for Cabrera, the Cardinals will be paying Gyorko just $8M more for two addition seasons, and at much more productive ages.
Most important as to why acquiring Gyorko was a good move, is that Cabrera almost certainly won't take a deal with a team as a backup. The Cardinals likely would have to well outbid the next best offer. If he had a $18M/2 year deal already in hand, the Cardinals might need to pony up at least $25M and a third year, and the Cardinals would still be getting a declining player, instead of a guy still in his 20's who has shown possible upside in the past. Getting Gyorko's age 27-30 seasons for $26M/4 is a surplus compared to the market, even if Cabrera gets the low end of what people are expecting him to get.
There is some wonder whether Jay was simply traded for another similarly bad contract. The common assumption is that the money going back to the Cardinals essentially evened out the deal. The more I look at it, the more it looks like Jay ended up getting the Cardinals an asset they simply couldn't have pursued on the free market, and one that helps the Cardinals out going forward more than Jay would have. Given the lack of a need for Jay in a crowded outfield situation, this seems like great creative problem solving by John Mozeliak and company.