The 2016 Cardinals have been all about depth. So much so that even without Jhonny Peralta taking any plate appearances so far, Tommy Pham has been stuck in Memphis since returning from injury. With Peralta set to return, the team is planning on playing Peralta at third and Aledmys Diaz at short with Matt Carpenter shifting to the right side of the infield to displace the recently demoted Kolten Wong.
The depth certainly isn't a problem. Especially with Jeremy Hazelbaker still taking up a roster spot despite Pham being the better option. With Matheny apparently not willing to start Hazelbaker much anymore after a horrific May, switching him out for Pham would put an end to this Piscotty-in-center nonsense. But at that point Matheny would no longer be able to get both Adams and Moss into the lineup as often, which appears to be what he's trying to do.
However, while the depth is nice, it doesn't quite fit together right. He has some versatility as a corner-outfielder and a first basemen, but he's one of four potential first basemen, and one of the three that hit left-handed. In the outfield, Moss can play for Piscotty and Holliday, but can only replace Grichuk (the only outfielder who is struggling) by putting Piscotty out of position in center. Holliday and Piscotty are also two of the team's three best hitters, so while they need rest over the course of a 162 game season, realistically speaking, they're not going to get all that much rest the final two months of the season. This would be a much better role for Pham, who can play center, spelling the only starting outfielder who is struggling. Even if the Cardinals took prospects for Moss, it could still make other moves to improve the team in his absence. General Manager John Mozeliak does have a strong record of trading prospects that don't end up major league contributors.
I don't mean to imply that Moss is useless, in fact I quite like what Moss does at the plate. He is, however, the only Cardinal not controllable after next year and he might be able to bring back something else controllable for longer. While he's a nice roster piece, he's not exactly the type the Cardinals could offer the Qualifying Offer to this off-season (in it's current form; it may change in the upcoming CBA) and expect him to turn it down. Trading him at the deadline would likely be the last chance to get something for him before he departs. The Cardinals didn't have to make a move like that with Carlos Beltran, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward as they all netted the team draft picks the following year.
While I have written before on the possibility of the Cards selling at the deadline, with the depth the Cardinals would still have afterwards, the team could deal Moss and still stay in contention. Without him, the team could recall Kolten Wong or go with Tommy Pham, Jedd Gyorko, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Greg Garcia for the non-catching portion of the bench. They would need to get something worth it though, either in the form of a big league piece that helps the team elsewhere, or a prospect package good enough to overlook giving up a big league piece in the middle of the season.
Last week, Fangraphs writer Dave Cameron wrote on the coming shortage of outfielders at the trade deadline. According to Cameron, the Giants, Indians, Cubs, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, White Sox, and Red Sox could all be looking for outfield help. There's also first basemen Mitch Moreland of the Rangers, and Justin Bour of the Marlins, who Moss can also replace on contending teams who may be looking for an upgrade. Let's look at the players Moss could potentially replace:
The Rest of Season (ROS) projections come from Fangraphs' Zips and Steamer based depth chart projections, and measures each players' projected WAR per 600 plate appearances. Avisail Garcia is the White Sox DH, but his replacement level performance would be replaced by moving Melky Cabrera's poor glove from the outfield to DH. Dave mentions the Cubs possibly upgrading over Soler, but I don't know if I buy that. They have such a large lead in the division, and so much reason to expect that their lead will only grow. He wasn't playing terribly, so they might as well just give Soler everyday at-bats against major league pitching to see what happens. Soler was injured today, but at the time of this writing I haven't seen an estimate on when he'll return. Overall, this represents a pretty large group of the contending teams that could be looking for outfield or first base help.
Let's look at the potential trade chips Cameron mentions in his article that could be available this deadline, plus Moss. I'll also include each player's 2016 salary and their contract situation following the 2016 season:
At first glance there's a lot of options, but as Dave mentions there's a lot of reasons for teams to not be interested in various players. Josh Reddick looked to be the best outfielder available, but probably won't return until late June. He'll then have about five weeks to prove he's healthy and worth trading for. Maybe he struggles and teams think he's still injured. Braun's contract is fine, but it's size will limit the amount of teams interested. Teams usually make decisions of that size in the off-season, and while there are exceptions (like Cole Hamels and Troy Tulowitzki last year) teams don't usually take on a lot of future obligations mid-season.
Carlos Gonzalez would seem to make sense as a trade chip, however, he's made sense as a trade chip for the last three years so its not exactly a given that the Rockies are interested in moving him. Desmond Jennings projects at about the same rate of value as Moss, but Moss gets more of his value from hitting, and hitting dingers at that. Jay Bruce is having a bounce-back year in term of power but his walks are down and teams might not believe the power is back just from a few months. Bruce is controllable through an option next year which has a $1M buy-out. Matt Kemp is basically unmovable, even if the Padres eat a ton of money and take little in return. The Padres' trade for Kemp looked bad when it happened, and now it looks worse. You can say the same thing about the Braves' contract with Nick Markakis. In his article Dave mentions Brett Gardner as a possible trade chip if the Yankees fall out of contention, but with three years left on his deal I don't buy that the Yankees would be motivated to do anything.
Maybe the Brewers find a team to take Braun's contract and give back some value in return, and maybe Reddick comes back and hits a lot in the final month of the season. Maybe the Rockies finally realize that if they're not going to win now they should try to win in the future. Maybe Soler is only out momentarily and the Cubs decide there's no point in spending future resources making the 2016 team better. But all four things aren't going to happen, and even if they did, there would still be at least a couple teams looking for an upgrade that Moss could provide. The Cardinals could then be in a position of leverage, as the team that could just decide to keep Moss for the final two months of the season as long as contention is still a possibility.
Perhaps, a team doesn't offer something worthwhile, and the Cards keep Moss as the luxurious part-time player/pinch-hit masher he's been for them so far. The depth the team has in the outfield and at first certainly isn't a problem, and I like that Matheny has a bench full of potential pinch-hitters, making it easier for him to pull pitchers earlier in the game, something he's struggled to do at times. Or, before the deadline, the Cardinals could lose a position player to a long-term injury. In that somewhat realistic case, the Cardinals then wouldn't be in a position to trade Moss, whose positional versatility would be helpful.
More often then not, Moss will end the season a Cardinal. But, another team could get desperate, and could make an interesting proposition for the Cardinals. As long as Holliday or Piscotty doesn't get hurt, Brandon Moss wouldn't be expected in an everyday role. If the Cards' position players as a whole are healthy, that could be a risk worth taking, if the package is right. Otherwise, I'd expect the Cardinals to continue with their depth-heavy approach that I think has worked great so far this year.