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Revisiting the Brandon Moss qualifying offer question

The notion of extending a qualifying offer to Brandon Moss went from unconsidered to inevitable to a risk worth evaluating.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On June 23, I wrote a post suggesting that Brandon Moss, acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals at the 2015 trade deadline seemingly just as an insurance policy for the injured Matt Adams, had played himself into strong consideration for a qualifying offer. And for a while, it felt like I had unearthed something.

I felt like Woodward or Bernstein. In the days between conceiving and publishing the post, I worried that somebody else would point it out and my "discovery", that the Cardinals could reasonably use a not-at-all-obscure rule to secure an additional first-round draft pick if the team elected to not re-sign Moss.

At the time, Brandon Moss had a season wRC+ of 141. In 206 plate appearances, he had 16 home runs and a .920 OPS, and with Matt Holliday having a bit of a down season, the approach to the two veteran left fielders seemed obvious in the coming off-season: decline Matt Holliday's 2017 option and instead, pay a similar cost (next year's qualifying offer is estimated at around $16.7 million) to the younger and (at the time) more potent Moss.

And for the next week and a half, Moss continued to roll. From June 23 through July 4, his final game before a stint on the Disabled List, he managed a wRC+ of 129, a minor decline but nothing that would suggest what happened by September.

Since discussing Brandon Moss's decline is a bit of a downer, but I can't not do it, I'm going to compromise by first sharing a video of Brandon Moss hitting a walk-off home run against the Washington Nationals last season.

So that was fun, right? Anyway, we have to talk about 2016 Brandon Moss. Not just the soaring heights but also the frustrating lows. Because when evaluating Moss, a player worth a somewhat pedestrian 1.4 fWAR and a downright mediocre 0.8 bWAR in 464 plate appearances, the Cardinals (and potentially 29 other MLB teams) will be evaluating a player capable of tremendous production, but one who has also been prone to bouts of extreme ineffectiveness.

Here is a comparison of Brandon Moss's 2016 months (since he had just 18 plate appearances in July, and even in a small sample size-filled exercise such as this, it seemed too small, I incorporated it into June) by wRC+ along with a player, for comparison's sake, who amassed that wRC+ in 2016, for perspective.

Month wRC+ 2016 wRC+ Comparable
April 120 Dustin Pedroia
May 88 Salvador Perez
June/July 190 None (Mike Trout's was 171)
August 123 Mark Trumbo
September/October -1 Jaime Garcia

At times, Brandon Moss hit like he was the best player in baseball. More often, he hit well, though not well enough to be considered a superstar when also considering his passable-at-best defense and lack of base-running production. At other times, Brandon Moss hit like Jaime Garcia, who is not even a good hitter for a pitcher.

After returning from injury in early August, Moss had 214 plate appearances and managed a wRC+ of 65, equaling the season mark of Prince Fielder, a player whose decline was so swift that you may or may not have noticed that he retired (from the team with home field advantage throughout the playoffs) in August.

As I alluded in June, there are different degrees of qualifying offer candidates. Especially following his terrible final stretch of 2016, Brandon Moss is not part of the no-brainer category under which the incumbent team would be positively thrilled to have such a quality player at $16.7 million for a season. He is not Yoenis Cespedes, nor is he Jose Bautista, nor is he even Ian Desmond or Wilson Ramos.

But in a desperate free agent market, Moss would certainly have his suitors. While, at 33, he is well beyond the age at which a decade-long contract is possible, he is not so ancient that a multi-year contract is out of the question, either. Considering, however, that Brandon Moss has a 2.6 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR career peak, it would take a historically persuasive agent, even with thin high-end talent, to convince a team to offer Moss qualifying-offer level money per year for multiple years.

Of course, given that Moss has dealt with injuries over the last two seasons and has, excepting his abbreviated 2012 flirtation with superstardom, not produced at an elite level for more than spurts throughout his career, he may opt for security in the form of a medium-term deal with an average annual value firmly under $16.7 million.

But as far as the Cardinals are concerned, this is a question for later. Because for now, they need to ask themselves what role they would have for Brandon Moss if he were to accept the qualifying offer. If the team knew for an absolute fact that Moss would decline the offer, it would be a no-brainer to offer it because, well, it's better to have an additional first-round pick than to not have one (citation needed).

Knowing what we now know about Matt Holliday, that his 2017 team option will not be exercised (and given the tenor of last weekend at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals appear very convinced that Holliday will not be back in any capacity), it would seem that the odds of Brandon Moss returning would increase. But circumstances throughout the season suggest that even with Holliday gone, Moss may not have a role.

John Mozeliak has, since the season ended, emphasized the importance of upgrading at center field, and unless the team is giving up on Randal Grichuk (or Stephen Piscotty), it seems that the corner outfield positions are fairly settled, with Grichuk logically moving to left field. And while Brandon Moss has played first base and could play there again, Matt Carpenter will be 31 on Opening Day of 2017, and he was predominantly used at first base in the last two months of 2016. Even if Matt Adams is shopped in the off-season, Carpenter may be permanently entrenched at first base to such a degree (particularly if some combination of Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, and Jhonny Peralta dominate playing time at second and third base) that Brandon Moss would essentially be a bit player.

The Brandon Moss era in St. Louis may end with a game of chicken--the Cardinals risking making Brandon Moss, a player for whom they may not have much of a role beyond spot starts and pinch-hitting appearances, their second-highest paid player for 2017, all for the sake of a first-round draft pick. But while it may seem like a meek opinion to simply defer to the expertise of the front office on reading Brandon Moss and reading the market which exists for him, they would seemingly have more knowledge of it than I do.

In the end, if the Cardinals are confident in their ability to secure a first-round pick, this would be a nice final reward for what has been a solid trade for the Cardinals. But if they are unsure on what Brandon Moss will do, it may not be worth the risk of investing in a role player for a team which needs more if it hopes to compete with the Chicago Cubs in the near future.