I'm writing this post Monday afternoon, as I am officially on vacation this week and will, unless something goes terribly wrong, be out of town Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Normally I wouldn't be too concerned about writing a post a couple days ahead of time, in terms of it still being topical and relevant by the time the article goes live, but this particular time of year puts one into a bit of a conundrum. The week leading up to the trade deadline can bring so much change, so quickly, that anything written regarding the place of a club in the market, or what their needs/wants/opportunities may be runs the risk of being obsolete within hours.
Therefore, I feel it necessary to put this article in context of when I'm writing it, and put in the disclaimer that should things happen to make this column no longer applicable by Wednesday morning, feel free to yell at me about it all you like. You can do so in the comments section, via email (address is in my profile), or look me up playing the new Monster Hunter online. (My character's name is Fordham, just in case you ever decide to actually try and track me down via 3DS for some odd reason.) I accept complaints both general and specific relating to my writings on any of those platforms.
Now that I've offered you ways to criticise my work, let's see if I can't give you reasons for said criticism. Deal?
All through this season so far (and actually going back to the offseason, when I rather vociferously advocated for trading Trevor Rosenthal while the closer market looked to be completely insane), I've been a staunch advocate of the Cardinals being at least opportunistic sellers. Not because I don't think this team is any good -- they are, quite good in certain ways, less so in others -- nor, despite the convenient strawman concocted by many of the win-now buy-buy-buy people, because I think the Cubs are simply the greatest team ever constructed and are uncatchable by anyone, ever. The Cubs are a really good team this year; they are not so invincible as to throw in the towel and just hoping it will all be over by next year.
Rather, my preference for selling is entirely about the Cards' roster itself, and where I see it heading. This is a club with some really intriguing talent at many spots, a few holes but no gaping gulfs to fill a la 2014's right field situation, and a transitional core that feels to me like it needs to be upgraded. I feel if one asks the question: How is next year's team going to be better than this year?, the answer relies primarily on internal improvement from players we probably shouldn't be expecting to improve. Ergo, I want to see some focus on the future, rather than trying to prop open this window we've been in since the time Matt Holliday put on a Cardinal uniform.
There is, however, one type of buying I could very much be on board with, and that's the sort of buying where you're adding, not to the edges of the team, but to the center. If the Cardinals were to try and leverage some of the admirable depth they've built into both the major league roster and their minor league system to add a core piece to the franchise, I would be wholly in favour of that.
Which brings us to the topic of today's post, as well as the title of the article itself, in which I ask the community and the universe at large that hoary old chestnut: Hey, what about Wil Myers?
It hit me last week, as the Cardinals were in the midst of sweeping the San Diego Padres right out of town, that Wil Myers, who seems to have been part of the collective consciousness of baseball for a decade now, is actually having a pretty good year. I then headed over to Fangraphs and found that I was mistaken. Wil Myers is not having a pretty good year; Wil Myers is actually having an extraordinary year. In fact, Wil Myers is, in 2016, having pretty much exactly the kind of year we all would have expected Wil Myers to have in 2016 if we had tried to project him out back when he was a huge part of that Best Farm System Ever the Royals had in 2011, back before he was swapped for James Shields by a team desperate to accelerate its timetable, then swapped again for (basically), Steven Souza by a Rays club looking to...um, I don't know. Make themselves worse?
Here's the thing about Myers: he's not only really good (at least, for the moment), he's also still just 25 years old. Yeah, I know. I was shocked too. That's kind of the downside of being an elite prospect in an historically great farm system at such a ridiculously young age: you can have ups and downs and be traded multiple times and thought of as having washed out by a decent chunk of the watching population by the time you're, you know, 25 years old.
To date in 2016, Myers's line looks like this: .275/.347/.499, good for a 129 wRC+. He's walked 10% of the time, with a 21.5% strikeout rate. So not an on-base machine the way some of the Cardinal hitters are, but he fits into the range of what they seem to like. It's a .224 ISO, playing his home games in a stadium that is very much still a pitcher's park, if not quite to the extreme levels we once saw. (Single-year park factor for Petco this season: 96. Multi-year: 95. For context, Busch III is at 99 this season, 100 multi-year.) He's hit 20 home runs, collected 41 extra-base hits in total, and stolen 17 bases while being caught just three times. In short, he's done a little bit of everything, in a way that adds up to an extraordinarily valuable player. To wit, in 418 plate appearances this season, Wil Myers has been worth 3.4 wins above replacement.
Defensively, Myers looks very good to me, though admittedly I haven't watched him a ton. Still, he has good feet, and much better range than an average first baseman. Forced to put a grade on the glove, I'd slap a 55 down and not feel bad at all about it.
So we have a 25 year old first baseman, much more athletic than many of the other players who ply their trade at that position. He's having the best year of his career, fairly comfortably, and is under club control for three more seasons beyond this one, though he'll be heading into arbitration and thus getting more expensive relatively quickly after this year. The question one has to ask is: why would the Padres want to move such an asset?
The answer, of course, is that the San Diego Padres are not a good baseball team, blew up their future to build this not-good baseball team they currently have prior to the 2015 season, and may not be a good team again soon enough to take advantage of the best years of Wil Myers's career. They have a couple of attractive trade chips, in guys like Melvin Upton (boy, can you believe he's actually back to being a good baseball player again?), and Fernando Rodney, but they have only one blue-chip magic bullet that could bring back a franchise-altering return. That one blue chip is Wil Myers.
That's the Padres' side of things; from the Cardinals' side, an acquisition of a player like Wil Myers would essentially be Jason Heyward 2.0, in that they would be attempting to both shore up the weakest position on the roster immediately and also bring in a potential long-term core piece at the same time. Obviously, the hope this time would be to get the long-term core piece locked into a contract successfully for that long-term stay.
Now, it should be acknowledged that Wil Myers is not, by any means, a perfect player. When he's healthy and going good, Myers can pretty much do it all on the field as one of the more dynamic, complete players in the game. The trouble is, that healthy and going good things hasn't always been the case for Myers in his career. After coming up and making a very strong debut for the Rays in 2013, he's struggled each of the past two seasons to stay on the field. In 2014 he followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign by playing in just 87 games and posting a 77 wRC+. The most notable of his maladies was a wrist injury that cost him two months of time and essentially tanked his power completely. Last season, Myers was good when he played (116 wRC+), but still managed just over 250 plate appearances. The culprit was the wrist again, as he had to have surgery to remove a bone spur in June. Wrist injuries can destroy a hitter's value, and that's basically what they did to Myers's for two seasons.
Now, though, he appears fully healthy and is performing up to his talent. (Even including a really rough stretch against the Cardinals.) His value is as high as it's been since he was a prospect, and now would probably be both the obvious time for the Padres to try and cash in on him, and also for any team interested in acquiring him to make the move.
The Cards' first base situation this year has been less than ideal. Matt Adams has been essentially what Matt Adams has always been; he's had a hot streak or two that tantalises a segment of the fanbase into believing in him, but the aggregate is more of the same old song. Bad plate discipline, okay but not great contact skills, and solid power that doesn't rise to the kind of elite level you would need to see from him to actually make him a plus major league hitter. He has a 108 wRC+, which certainly isn't bad, but for a first baseman who contributes nothing on the bases, that's no better than merely acceptable. Brandon Moss has had a very good year with the bat, socking dingers left and right, but is probably most valuable playing first and both outfield corners, rather than being confined to one position. The Matt Holliday Experiment at first never really got off the ground.
Looking into the future, there are no imminent improvements coming at first through the farm system. The only real potential upgrade at the position would be if the Cards decided to move Matt Carpenter over there -- which I would be fully in favour of -- but that leaves them needing to find solutions elsewhere. In other words, first base hasn't been great this year, and it isn't looking like an upgrade is on the way soon.
What I'm trying to say is that Wil Myers, potential five-tool first baseman, would definitely, I believe, be worth acquiring for the Redbirds. That's always the first question that must be asked, and in this case I think we can easily answer in the affirmative. Wil Myers would be a huge get for the Cards.
Which moves us on to the next, more difficult question: what would it cost to bring the player in? And would that price be worth paying?
The Cardinals' farm system has thinned slightly in the past couple years, as they've graduated tons of talent to the majors, and other players have simply fallen by the wayside. That remarkable and much-heralded depth of prospects the system has been known for the last half-decade is still there to a certain extent, but definitely not to anywhere near the same degree. What the Redbirds do possess most notably at the moment is a trio of high-end pitching prospects, all three of whom could easily represent the centerpiece of a very meaningful deal. Alex Reyes, of course, is the prize, and one of the very best prospects in all of baseball. But right behind him are Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty, both of whom have established themselves as elite value talents in their own rights.
Any deal for a Myers-level player is going to start there. Every team will ask for Alex Reyes, and 99% of the deals asking for him will be ridiculous. If you wanted to consider Reyes completely untouchable and off the table entirely, I could understand the sentiment. I'm not sure I would agree with that sentiment, being somewhat skeptical regarding Reyes, but I could see it.
So let's put Reyes in the wholly-untouchable-outside-of-Trout-Harper-Machado-Correa bin. We'll drop down to the Weaver-Flaherty tier, which still represents a pair of top-100 talents. You can take your pick of which one to start with; if pressed, I might go with keeping Weaver over Flaherty at this point because of proximity, but I still probably like Flaherty a little better long-term. But either way.
Starting with one premium pitching prospect, we need at least one premium positional prospect. In this case, we could probably just go to the top of the Cards' position-player list and pluck Edmundo Sosa. Sosa is the 20 year old shortstop prospect recently promoted to the Florida State League. He's shown some holes in his game this year, particularly in the realm of plate discipline, but he's still 20, still a shortstop, and already in the FSL. He came into the season a top-100 prospect, and he'll be on that list again this offseason. He can co-headline the package.
So that's one top-100 pitcher and one top-100 hitter. We're probably....halfway there.
We'll go to the next most valuable prospect commodity the Cardinals have that a club with a three- to five-year rebuilding window would probably want: Harrison Bader. The former Florida Gator came out of the gate like a house on fire this season, showing even more power than he did last year. He cooled off after a while, but was still promoted to Triple A shortly after his 22nd birthday, and less than a year after entering pro ball. I have concerns about Bader struggling to adjust to big league pitching in the same way Randal Grichuk has, but again, this is a 22 year old holding his own (110 wRC+), right after being promoted to Triple A. Giving up Harrison Bader honestly hurts me. But then, if you're putting together a trade package and it doesn't hurt, you're not giving up enough.
Finally, I think we need to add a little more value to put this package over the top. I would propose utilising another cost-controlled asset, both a buy-low and change of scenery candidate for the Padres, who could help stabilise their infield for the next few years if they can get him going. The extension of Kolten Wong this past offseason seemed like a fine gamble for the Cardinals to take, but Wong has since regressed as a hitter and the Redbirds are suddenly swimming in second-base options. As reasonable as Wong's contract is, he should still be considered a fairly valuable commodity, so long as he isn't in the process of going full Allen Craig. (And Wong's defensive value would suggest that's unlikely, even without a major bounceback with the bat.) At just $25.5 million over the next five years, Kolten Wong really only needs to produce about three to three and a half wins to be 'worth' it. Again, unless a team thinks he is simple irreparably broken (and I don't believe that to be the case), that bar is so low he could make it most of the way there based on positional adjustment alone. Wong is one of the best buy-low candidates in the game right now, probably.
Personally, that feels like a fairly reasonable deal for a player like Myers to me. You're giving up three top-100 prospects and a young, extremely cost-controlled middle infielder. There's some risk in Wong perhaps not bouncing back (so...many...jokes...), but perhaps getting him back to the West Coast and with fresh eyes on his game will be the elixir for what's ailing him. And if he does come back to even just a league-average level, then he becomes an enormous bargain on that contract.
If an acquisition of this sort were made, I would feel some back-channel discussions would need to take place first, trying to feel out the player's willingness to sign a long-term extension. As great a move as the Jason Heyward deal was, you still hate to give up tons of assets and then watch the player walk away as soon as possible. So that's a bit of a condition for me.
But beyond that concern, this would essentially be the ideal form of buying for me. The Cardinals could pick up a core-level player and a lineup anchor for years to come, helping to shape what the next handful of years of Redbird baseball are going to look like. Myers would slot in somewhere in the middle of the lineup, probably fourth or fifth depending on exactly who's playing that day.
The only real downside to this -- well, aside from the huge haul of talent you gave up to get the player, that is -- would be the fact this would occupy first base for the foreseeable future, preventing the club from moving Carpenter over there in the near future. He would have to remain at third base, most likely, which is less than ideal defensively, but worth the effect on the lineup, I believe.
What that would leave you with on the infield would be a three-way time share in the middle infield between Aledmys Diaz, Greg Garcia, and Jedd Gyorko, with Gyorko also available to spell Carp at third. Once Brandon Moss comes back he's taking plate appearances spelling Holliday in left, Piscotty in right, and Myers at first occasionally. Moss gets the qualifying offer after the season, either netting a draft pick when he takes his 30+ homer power to the highest bidder, or else you get a tremendously valuable bench bat back for a salary that bites a little, but is ultimately doable for a club with this payroll. (All of this is predicated on the Cardinals not pulling another of my dream maneuvers and trading Jaime Garcia to the Rangers for Jurickson Profar and moving Diaz over to second base full time, obviously.) Matt Adams in this situation is traded in a separate move from the Myers deal, for the best future asset you can acquire.
I fully expect the Cardinals to be buyers at this trade deadline. No matter how much I think this roster needs some reshaping to reach its potential, I don't see any way they sell pieces off when they're so close to contention. But if they're going to be buyers, I would much prefer to see them be buyers of a long-term core piece that will help both immediately and for the next several years, rather than nickel and dime away future assets for a number four starter or yet another middle reliever with more name recognition than ability at this point in his career.
This move would, immediately, torpedo much of the value the Cardinals have currently built in their system. They would still have Reyes, whichever of Flaherty and Weaver wasn't traded, Delvin Perez, and some of the other emerging talents like Carson Kelly, Bryce Denton, Sandy Alcantara, and Junior Fernandez. Make no mistake, though: this would be a huge price to pay, and would hurt the system immensely. It would also make that 'donut hole' effect worse, in which the Cardinals have another wave of prospects on the horizon, but the immediate future of the pipeline has a gap in it caused by a couple of pretty mediocre drafts under Dan Kantrovitz and a ton of graduations.
Nonetheless, this kind of move would, to my mind, be a positive overall. Adding a player of Myers's caliber, while not without risk, to that core of Carlos Martinez, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty (and maybe Diaz, too), would put the near- to medium-term future of this organisation in a very different, and much better, place.
Now let's all sit back and wait for this year's Cishek-Barraclough blockbuster to drop.