Do the Cardinals need another outfielder? Those six words are much more complex than one might think.
Certainly, there is always room for improvement. But aside from that cliche argument, where is the actual need? According to this great piece written by Ben Markham earlier this week, the Cardinals have a substantial need in right field. It should come as no surprise that the position Stephen Piscotty controlled at the beginning of the year is a glaring weakness heading into the offseason.
Giancarlo Stanton is a name that has been tossed around since before the trade deadline. Although it is certainly realistic that he is traded, whether or not his final destination is St. Louis is another question entirely.
There is a gathering of people who argue the Cardinals don’t actually need another outfielder. Especially considering the current roster makeup—Pham, Fowler, Martinez, Piscotty, Grichuk, Bader, and Sierra all contributed at the big league level this year. There is talent there, but the concern is that the front office has built a system with a high floor and a low ceiling. Sure, the Cardinals can win 83 or 85 games a year. But that is not what it takes to consistently make the playoffs.
Following that logic, the team might want to consider packaging some of their prospects for a bigger name—maximize their ceiling. One option is Christian Yelich.
Although the current Marlin played center field for 100% of his 2017 innings, he has played left field in the past. He would not necessarily plug the hole in right field, but an outfield made up of Pham, Fowler, and Yelich would be nothing to sneeze at. And realistically, Yelich can play any outfield position.
Yelich is not a free agent until 2023, so acquiring him would involve a trade. Just before the 2015 season, the Marlins signed him to a 7-year, $50 million deal with a club option for 2022. That is a considerable contract and does not even include what the Cardinals might have to give up in a trade.
Despite the price tag, Yelich provides value. He has established himself as an all-star caliber player, posting 4.5 WAR seasons each of the past two years. To give another measurement of his success, Yelich has not had a wRC+ value under 115 in any season of his career.
So Yelich is a good target, but are the Marlins a match?
Pegasus wrote in his Miami Marlins trade partner profile:
If you merged these two organizations, and then spun off two teams with the goal of creating one top-tier contender and one well-positioned rebuilding team, I think you’d succeed on both counts. These teams match up great. Miami needs to shed payroll, has stars that don’t really fit its payroll situation or likely window of contention, and has a thin and bad farm. St. Louis has ample payroll space, is a present contender if it adds stars, and has a strong and deep farm.
In general, the organizations match up well for a trade. But what would it take to get Yelich? Pegasus suggested Yelich and Chen for Flaherty, Bader, Hudson, Gomber, and Junior Fernandez. While this might initially seem like a lot to give up, it could actually work out for the Cardinals.
Flaherty would be a loss, but you can't acquire a star player without giving up at least a good prospect. Bader is certainly valued and rightly so, but how much playing time is coming his way? He is conclusively behind Pham and Fowler, and for all intents and purposes behind Martinez as well. That leaves him competing with Piscotty, who signed a contract extension last year, and Grichuk for the fourth outfield spot.
Hudson, Gomber, and Fernandez are all good prospects, but at some point you have to acquire enough talent at the major league level to compete for a championship.
The cost for Yelich is high, but not absurdly so. Pegasus closed his article by saying that the Cardinals and Marlins are such a good fit that it would be disappointing if they don’t make a deal. With an almost perfect match, both with franchises and team needs, a Yelich deal is probable and realistic—he is assuredly a good trade target and fit for the Cardinals.