As you probably know, the Cardinals announced at the end of the season that the team plans on shifting Matt Carpenter to first base. This move came clearly to the detriment of Matt Adams, who only plays first base, and hits from the same side of the plate as Carpenter. There’s speculation that the team could sign Edwin Encarnacion of course, and move Carpenter back to third. That would be a special exception though, something they don’t want to do for Adams. There have been reports that the Cardinals are “listening“ on offers for Adams.
There’s also the fact that last year Adams, despite being a very average hitter, spent 114 of his 327 plate appearances in the cleanup spot, a spot where the team should be putting one of their best hitters. He also received 115 plate appearances hitting fifth, which is actually usually more important than the third spot in the lineup. While I would prefer the Cardinals simply fire Mike Matheny, the next best solution would probably be to remove Matt Adams from the situation, so Matheny doesn’t misuse him anymore.
With the Cardinals’ current roster, someone is likely to have to go anyway. They currently project to have Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, and one of Jedd Gyorko or Jhonny Peralta start around the non-battery portion of the infield. They would then have Greg Garcia (out of options), Adams, and one of Gyorko or Peralta on the bench. Add on a backup catcher, and the Cardinals would either have to carry six relievers (teams typically carry seven or eight) or just one backup outfielder to start the year.
So ideally, the Cardinals would be able to find something of value for Adams. Surplus Value would indicate that he could at least get a lottery ticket-type prospect in return. He’s projected to make just $2.8M next year, has another year of optional control remaining, and has been worth 1.7 WAR/600 PA in his career thus far, plus some October heroics. That makes him a below average player, but below average players are still assets when their salary is that low.
However, that may be a tough sell, because there are numerous similar options left on the free agent market. While I find Surplus Value very useful, the ultimate arbiter of the market is supply and demand. I would bet that, with high supply and little demand, at least some of those players will likely sign for less than their projected value. There’s also few teams willing to part with anything of much value in order to get an average hitter who only plays first base and should probably only hit against right-handed pitchers.
First, let’s look at the projections of the first basemen left on the market, along with Adams:
There’s three left-handed first basemen on the market very similar to Adams, and three more who project similarly but hit right-handed. Of course, each team will have their own evaluations of the players shown here, but the teams have quite a few options to choose from, and unless some team is really high on Adams and low on every free agent shown here, it’s hard to see a reason for a team to give up much of anything for Adams rather than just give one of the others a cheap one year deal.
On the flip side, let’s look at the eight teams that, according to the projections, need first base help the most:
The Brewers have quite the black hole, but it would also be odd for them to trade any prospect at all for help in a season in which they basically have no shot at the playoffs. They’ll get quite an upgrade from signing any of the free agents listed above. After that, the Rangers are the only team that could see an incremental upgrade at first base from any of these options. They’re probably looking more at Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo than Adams. The Pirates will likely stick blocked top outfield prospect Josh Bell at first, and they’re in division anyway. The Nationals will probably just role with Ryan Zimmerman and hope for the best.
With an excess of players like Adams on the market, and few teams looking, Adams is going to be a tough sell. At the same time, when John Mozeliak announced that Carpenter would take over first base, it weakened his bargaining position. Adams probably supplies more value to the team as a bench bat than in a transaction. Still, the team likely wants to acquire an extra outfielder, so someone - likely Pham or Adams, may have to start the year in Memphis. If the Careds don't make a trade, It could be Adams that takes the hit.