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Let’s Go Crazy

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Let’s Get Nuts.

Super Bowl XLI: Pepsi Halftime Show Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Author’s Note: Apologies for the M.I.A. on Sunday, everybody. Work unexpectedly jumped up and bit me in the ass, torpedoing this post for the timeframe it was planned. Seeing as how it’s now Monday, the deadline day for setting 40 man rosters and all, I expect news of some sort today, which could both take this fun, only-slightly-serious look at hypotheticals from irreverent to irrelevant and also tun it into a classic RB-posts-a-thing-only-to-have-news-drop-two-hours-later moment. Which, hey, if the news turns out to be what it could be, then I won’t complain a bit. -A

Howdy, folks, Nice to see you again. Pleasant out this time of year, ain’t it? ‘Course it is. We got ourselves a cold rain (which is a November Rain as well...), and a hot stove, ain’t nothin’ better.

Anyhow, folksy charm aside, the offseason has been...interesting so far. This is, by far, the most we’ve heard the Cardinals discussed in any offseason of the Mozeliak era, which is both odd and unnerving, in that it makes me wonder if the chances of any or all of these moves happening are vanishingly small, by dint of the fact this simply isn’t the way the Redbirds usually conduct their business. Most years, we hear speculation about what the Cardinals could do or should do, then zero reports linking them to anyone, until suddenly some Wednesday in November about 11:30 am they announce they’ve come to terms with Jhonny Peralta, or traded for Jason Heyward, or whatever it is they did. The Cardinals’ business does not get discussed until it’s done, and then they just announce it.

This offseason, though, at least so far it’s been nothing but reports of what the Cards are doing. All the free agents they’re talking to, all the teams they’ve contacted about trades, all the players they are looking at from all the teams they’ve contacted about trades. Maybe it’s all an elaborate smokescreen to cover the impending Manny Machado trade, but I kind of doubt it. If one were exceptionally cynical, you could argue it’s a deliberate ploy to create the illusion of tons of movement and action, which will all come to nothing as the Cardinals continue to coast into bottom-division status while attempting to still rook the rubes into turning out at the gates. I’m not sure what the organisation has done to warrant that kind of cynical suspicion, but it seems like a large segment of the fanbase is apparently second only to George Noory fans (or maybe Alex Jones fans), in their willingness to swallow wild conspiracy theories these days.

Personally, I don’t know what to make of the strangely indiscreet offseason the Redbirds are having so far, so I’m just going to go with Occam’s Razor on this one and assume it means they’re just being way more active and far less circumspect this year early on, with less of a surgical strike mentality, in their attempt to reshape the roster. (And also dealing with a club rarely known for internal discretion, and also also dealing with the worst-kept secret in sports, the fact that Giancarlo Stanton really, really needs to be moved if the Marlins are going to escape their current money-hemorrhaging cycle.)

There’s an interesting subplot going on in the Cards’ offseason, as well, that being the 40 man roster crunch they’re facing. Now, you may or may not think the looming threat of the Rule V draft is either looming or a real threat, based on how realistic you want to be about the chances of a Rule V guy ever really turning into anything, but it is a fact that the Cardinals are currently sitting at 35 players on the roster, have three more or less slam dunk adds they need to make, and then half a dozen more players they could potentially lose if left off the 40. The fact is, the Cardinals are going to be motivated to try and make deals relatively early this offseason (which they do usually do anyway, admittedly), in order to clear up some of the roster clutter ahead of making big decisions on what they prioritise protecting with their roster decisions. Seeing as how the deadline to set the 40 man with regards to Rule V is tomorrow, it feels like movement may be coming very soon. The Cardinals need to try and clear some things up so they don’t end up moving assets they don’t need to protect later, and losing through lack of foresight what they could have kept.

Anyhow, given that we could be approaching a deadline of sorts, I thought today would be a good day to just post something nutty. Now, by nutty I don’t mean trading Randal Grichuk for Mike Trout straight up since one was a higher draft pick nutty. I’m not positing the existence of magic or anything here. Rather, I just meant let’s talk about some stupid moves that would make the offseason essentially as experimental as possible. In other words, if I were to put on my mad scientist Halloween costume from two years ago and then conduct the Cards’ offseason, what would it look like?

So let’s have some frivolity ahead of what could potentially be a pretty serious week, shall we?

My goals in this roster remake are, um, well, I’m not entirely sure what my goals are. I mean, like, I want good players, and I want players that I enjoy watching, but I’m not sure I have a super well-defined philosophy in this go-round. I have a four-phase plan, and I want to make an interesting, weird roster. That’s about as good as I can do for you.

Phase One: Liquidation

Okay, so my first move isn’t at all crazy. It is, in fact, a version of what I do pretty much every time I’m mentally cooking up some roster shakeup in my head while I’m at work or supposed to be paying attention when a loved one is talking to me, that sort of thing. I want liquidity. We’re not making small changes here, so I’m going to need a whole lot of movable parts.

So first order of business is to turn present assets into flexibility. To that end, I’m immediately going to trade Stephen Piscotty to either the A’s or Giants, whoever offers me the most attractive prospect package. I assume that will be Oakland, since they have an actual, functioning farm system and the Giants sort of don’t right now, but I’m open to the Giants being a more motivated buyer. I will say that if the Giants are truly committed to competing this year, I could see an interesting scenario of expanding a Piscotty deal out to include both Stephen, giving them a reliable outfielder with some untapped upside once he’s past this terrible year, and adding in Jedd Gyorko to give San Fran a dependable, quality starter on a cheap contract that will help them out with their brutal payroll situation. In that scenario I’d want Christian Arroyo in return, along with Reyes Moronta, a young relief arm with big upside and another lower level prospect or something. I don’t know if the Giants would go for it, but they’re probably facing a short window, and I’m not sure Arroyo is really quite ready to contribute yet. They’d get cost certainty and consistent production, the Cards would get upside at a position they don’t yet have a ton of prospects for.

Anyhow, don’t get sidetracked, Aaron. Piscotty for prospects, probably from the A’s. We had a visitor from Athletics Nation in the comments not too long ago, inquiring about Piscotty, and he seemed very happy with my proposed package of Logan Shore and Nolan Blackwood, a pair of right-handed pitchers, so I’m thinking something in that neighbourhood. Solid prospects, but not truly elite. I’m just looking for value.

Next, I’m trading Randal Grichuk for either relief help or prospects. I like Mychal Givens from the O’s, so I’ll do that. As frustrating as RANDAL can be, he does do a lot of things to contribute, and is more valuable than I know I often give him credit for being.

I’m putting Michael Wacha on the market, too. Yes, yes, I know, you’re worried about where the pitching is coming from. I did say this plan has four phases, right? Okay then. Just hang on a bit. The pitching is coming. Jesus, you’re impatient, imaginary voice inside my head. So Wacha goes for the best prospect return I can get. At this point, I should be bumping up against the really elite farm systems in the game, the White Sox and Braves.

Finally, I may be selling Jedd Gyorko and his awesome contract for prospects as well, depending upon what happens in a moment. Just know I don’t do it lightly, or because I think Gyorko is bad. He’s a solid hitter and looks like a very good defender at third. I just happen to think he’s more a 2-2.5 win player than a 3-3.5 win guy going forward, and as reasonable as he is I should be able to get great value back for him.

I’d like to trade Brett Cecil, but doubt he’s movable. No trade clause and a shaky 2017 (though not a terrible season, really), just probably means I have to pay him to be decent.

Phase Two: Consolidation

Now here’s where we take that top three farm system in baseball I just built by taking what was already really good and piling on the accumulated talent of selling off two, maybe three very solid assets, and put it to work consolidating talent into a couple of big blocks.

I don’t know about anyone else here, but I really like Giancarlo Stanton. He’s fun. Dingers are fun. He’s also seemingly a really nice guy, and has made some adjustments the last couple years that point to a player capable of improving, which I believe could help him age well. So I’m going to take the big plunge and make Stanton my first giant offseason move. I’m sending the Marlins a prospect package of Dakota Hudson, one of Magneuris Sierra, Harrison Bader, or Adolis Garcia, Aledmys Diaz, and one more good prospect, probably someone I got from either the Piscotty or Gyorko deal. There’s some volume there, some quality, and I’m not going to ask for a ton of money back in return. For me, $49 million, spread out at $7 million per year after the opt-out, would have to be an attractive offer for Miami. I doubt they’re going to find much better a package out there.

Next, I’m going hunting for some of that pitching you wanted earlier, voice. I’m calling up the Rays, and I’m asking them what they want for Chris Archer and Alex Colome. Spending big resources on relievers tends to be against my religious beliefs, but in this case I think Colome is a solid value play while he’s still cheap, and I can sacrifice some talent to get a guy with something of a late-inning pedigree. Now, the haul going out for those two is going to be enormous, I understand, so bear with me. First off, I’m asking the Rays if they would be interested in Jedd Gyorko, either as a super-utility player of the sort he’s been much of his career, or possibly as a starting third baseman, allowing them to move Evan Longoria across the diamond to first and try to potentially extend his career. I don’t know if they would be interested, and if they aren’t then my offer of Gyorko to the Rays becomes, “Hey, every other team in baseball, who wants to give me prospects for this above-average cheap asset?” I think I will find some takers, and my offer to the Rays then includes the prospect value of Gyorko.

I’m sure I’ll have to give up Reyes in an Archer deal; go look up Chris Archer’s contract, and tell me it’s not the most absurd thing you’ve seen recently. So Reyes goes, which is a bitter pill, but I’m basically swapping him for what we hope he turns into. So the bitter pill, I will swallow.

I’m also sending Carson Kelly along to Tampa. Yes, I know, Yadi’s getting old and that’s very scary, but I’m making a decision that I’m going to find a backup somewhere else, switch my future focus to Andrew Knizner, and give the Rays something they value very highly in an excellent pitch framer. So that’s Kelly, Reyes, and either Gyorko or the prospects I got in return for him.

Which, honestly, is probably light. Ugh. So I’ll add in an outfield prospect, because adding outfield prospects to me is like giving out bamboo wall scrolls to a Chinese restaurant. I’m going to pretend the Marlins took...Adolis Garcia in the Stanton trade, just because they really want the PR boost of Cuban players, and I happen to think Garcia is a rising prospect. I’ve still got Bader, and I’ve still got Sierra. Tampa can have either, and if they really balk I might be tempted to part with Tyler O’Neill. I would pout about it after, though. Maybe they take Sierra, envisioning an outfield with him in left and Kiermaier in center, and just literally never allowing a hit from right-center to the left field line.

So Reyes, Kelly, Gyorko/prospects, and Magneuris Sierra. That’s a hell of a lot of value, but it still might not be quite enough. I could probably be talked into one more low-level arm, or I could be talked into swapping Gyorko out for Kolten Wong maybe, but I don’t know that I would go that much further, even for Archer and Colome. But I really think that should do it, particularly if I moved Gyorko for prospects first. The Rays might value the flexibility and even cheaper cost more than the dependable nature of Jedd and his very affordable deal. The Rays would get a legit future Big Three of Reyes, Honeywell, and Blake Snell, along with a catcher to help maximise their impact, and the Cards get an elite starting pitcher on a very reasonable contract to stick at the front of their rotation along with Carlos Martinez for the next several years, along with a plus reliever to work toward the back of the ‘pen.

Okay, so far I’ve dealt away Piscotty, Grichuk, Gyorko, Wacha, Reyes, Kelly, Sierra, Adolis Garcia, Aledmys Diaz, and another prospect I got from somewhere else. In return, I’ve received a bunch of prospects, some of whom I’ve already spent, Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, and...oh, shit. That’s all I’ve gotten back so far, isn’t it? Wow. Well, I did call this phase ‘consolidation’, right? Yep, I did. Okay, just wanted to make sure I was upfront.

Phase Three: International Investment

I’m calling this International Investment, but the first thing I’m going to do is actually mostly a domestic matter. I’m calling up Yu Darvish and signing him to a five year contract worth $140 million. I think he’s more likely to get six and $26 annually, but I’ll go more, $28-30 million AAV if I can keep it to five years.

Next, I’m going to sign one of my favourite free agent targets for the bullpen this offseason in Yoshihisa Hirano, the right-handed closer for the Orix Buffaloes with the wicked forkball. He’s a free agent, wants to come to America, and I could use some bullpen help. I like him a lot.

Now, here’s the part where I prove myself to be a cynical bastard, because I’m using a personal relationship on the part of Darvish, and the presence of two of his countrymen already on my roster, to lure Shohei Otani to my club. Now, this is incredibly unrealistic, because due to the bizarre way baseball has decided to conduct international signings Otani falls under the amateur rules, rather than the over-25 rules that would allow teams to just sign him for whatever, and the Cardinals face a spending limit this year. However, the fact is that Otani doesn’t really need the money, will basically get no more that $5.5 million from any team under the current rules, and while I’m not allowed to promise him a giant contract as soon as next year, I can certainly wink a lot, nudge a lot, and say no more quite a bit. So, you know.

Besides the comfort level of playing with two of his fellow countrymen, I’m also going to offer Otani a chance to both pitch and hit. For the most part, AL clubs have been seen as having an advantage in signing Otani, because they have the DH and thus a chance for Shohei to hit more often. Well, I don’t have the DH, but I have already told Matt Carpenter that I want him to play all over the diamond a bit more, and that potentially leaves me with some innings to offer at first base. Here’s how I picture it working: on the days Otani pitches, Carpenter plays first, or Jose Martinez if it’s a lefty I’m trying to protect Carp from. (Or if he just needs a day off.) The day after Otani throws, he does not play. Just rests, does the usual pitcher recovery stuff. Carp/Martinez play first again. The next three days, though, leading into Otani’s next start, he’s my first baseman, and Carpenter plays third or second base, depending on where I need him a given day. I get an outstanding pitcher and potentially pretty good hitter in one roster spot, and Otani has a chance at being a legitimate two-way player, which we’re told is something that’s very attractive to him.

Now, admittedly, I’m a little concerned about fatigue with this plan, even protecting Otani from making too many throws by keeping him at first. Still, I’m willing to at least give it a try for now and revisit the concerns later. He doesn’t have to play every day he’s eligible to play first base anyway; I do have plenty of depth at the position between Carp and Martinez.

So now, with my trade acquisitions and free agent signings, my rotation looks like this:

  • Chris Archer
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Yu Darvish
  • Shohei Otani
  • Luke Weaver

Now, I’m operating under the bias that I’m probably not getting much from Adam Wainwright next season, but if he’s healthy enough to start, I’d actually be willing to go with a six-man rotation, including him to help keep innings down for everyone. Short leash for him, certainly, probably with John Gant or Tyler Lyons ready to jump in early in Waino’s starts, but if I could give an extra day of rest to each of my very valuable starters even every other time through the rotation, it could be a big help heading into the stretch. After 2018 Wainwright departs, helping me free up some salary to hopefully pay Otani that unstated but understood huge contract I owe him.

Phase Four: Filling in the Gaps

What I have now is a roster that’s incredibly top-heavy, especially in the starting rotation, where basically all I have is stars. I need to find ways to fill in the gaps in the roster.

My outfield is basically set, with Fowler-Pham-Stanton playing left to right, and Jose Martinez shooting for 4-500 plate appearances between the corners and first base here and there. I don’t need a whole lot else, but it would be nice to have a left-handed stick to add to the collection. Carlos Gonzalez on a very small deal could be attractive, but I’d probably prefer Jarrod Dyson for his center field defense and ability to swipe a base late in games adding strategic value. Dyson may get a bigger deal with more playing time than I’m willing to give, though. If I don’t get either, I could see letting spring training decide who my fifth outfielder is, if I have one at all, but Dyson would be my first choice to add to my burgeoning superteam.

Now, I’ll bet a bunch of you are sitting there, thinking to yourself, “Okay, Aaron, this is all very interesting, but you’ve spent an ungodly amount of money and dealt away Jedd Gyorko and now have nothing with which to pay a third baseman.” Well, you’re right, but that’s where my willingness to experiment by doing something dumb comes into play, and I’m going to trade for Jurickson Profar to be my third baseman. I’ve probably got Carpenter playing there a couple days a week, but Profar should still get the primary share of playing time at the position. Maybe he sucks, and I have to scale his playing time back. But god damn it, I want to see what he would look like healthy and with a full time position, just because. And with my offense being what it is most other places, I think I can take a risk at third.

I need a backup catcher now, and I sort of don’t care who it is. Knizner is my development prize, but I don’t really want him in the big leagues before September at the earliest. I’ll sign a one-year guy, or trade for some team’s backup. How about Raffy Lopez? He hits lefty and appears to have a pulse. Done.

The bullpen, with Oh, Duke, and Rosenthal departing, has Tyler Lyons, Matt Bowman, Brett Cecil, and John Brebbia as more or less set incumbents. Sam Tuivailala, Josh Lucas, and Ryan Sherriff all saw time as well, and I believe Tuivailala is out of options in 2018. So I’ll start with the group of Lyons, Bowman, Cecil, and Tui. To that I’m adding Colome from Tampa, Givens from Baltimore, and Hirano on the international market. I’ll bump Mark Montgomery onto the 40 man and add him to the rotation, and then sign a couple low-cost lottery ticket guys, like Ian Krol and Jacob Turner.

  • Alex Colome
  • Mychal Givens
  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Tyler Lyons
  • Brett Cecil

is my core group of guys. Additionally, I have

  • John Brebbia
  • Ryan Sherriff
  • Matt Bowman
  • Josh Lucas
  • Mark Montgomery
  • John Gant
  • Jacob Turner
  • Ian Krol

all available to rotate in and out, to the minors or the 10 day DL, as needed. Honestly, that’s probably enough, if not even a couple too many, without even mentioning Tuivailala, whose situation is clouded by the fact he’s out of options. Maybe I’ll include Matt Bowman in the Rays trade or something. And Tui? Well, I’ll bring him to spring training as well, but if a team has a pitcher go down late in camp and is looking for relief help, he might go for prospects as well. We need flexibility.

So that’s my radicalest of radical roster remakes, and I think the risk is really in the bullpen. Third base, obviously, but I think I have the pieces to fill there if Profar proves to be a bust. (Which, hey, certainly wouldn’t be shocking.) As far as the ‘pen being risky, well....that’s just kind of how bullpens work. They’re almost always risky, no matter how much you spend on them.

Now, admittedly, I added a lot of money to the payroll, but I’m taking Derrick Goold at his word the Cardinals would be willing to spend up to a dollar below the luxury tax if they had to. We’re starting off with a ~$126 million in commitments right now, and I’m adding something like $65 million to the payroll. However, I’m also clearing out roughly $6.5 million of Gyorko’s money (he’s making 9, the Padres are paying 2.5), Wacha’s second-year arb salary (maybe ~$5 million?), Grichuk’s first-year arb number (couple million), and Stephen Piscotty’s $1.3 million salary. I think I could save close to $15 million, which makes the $65 million I’m adding a little more palatable. More importantly, Wainwright’s $19.5 rolls off after 2018, which will be a big help, and I’m hoping to be able to move Kolten Wong prior to 2019, saving another $6.5 million. Not that I’m looking to just dump Wong, but hopefully I’ll have some more options on the infield by then, considering where the strength in the system is at the lower levels.

Honestly, looking at the roster I’ve constructed, it’s incredibly expensive, probably too expensive to stay under the tax in the near future, but hey, I’m just trying to have a bit of fun here. It’s Thanksgiving week, after all, and this could be a big couple days coming up for realistic moves instead of super fun dumb ones.

So my 25 man roster breaks down something like this:

Starting Pitchers (6)

  • Chris Archer
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Yu Darvish
  • Shohei Otani
  • Luke Weaver
  • Adam Wainwright

Relievers (7)

  • Alex Colome
  • Mychal Givens
  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Tyler Lyons
  • Brett Cecil
  • Sam Tuivailala (?)
  • Who knows? I’ll say Montgomery, but it’s really a big group of guys.

Catchers (2)

  • Yadier Molina
  • Raffy Lopez

Infielders (7)

  • Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B)
  • Shohei Otani (1B)
  • Jose Martinez (1B)
  • Kolten Wong (2B)
  • Paul DeJong (SS)
  • Jurickson Profar (3B)
  • Greg Garcia (SS/2B/3B)

Outfielders (5)

  • Dexter Fowler (LF/CF)
  • Tommy Pham (CF)
  • Giancarlo Stanton (RF)
  • Jose Martinez (LF/RF)
  • Jarrod Dyson (LF/CF/RF)

Yes, it appears to be 27 players, but Otani and Martinez are both on there twice.

As far as the farm system goes, this would pretty well gut my upper levels of high-end talent, sending away Hudson and Reyes and Carson Kelly and Sierra and Garcia, along with some of the prospects I got back in that initial liquidation phase. It would probably drop my farm system from top 3 to bottom third, maybe nudging toward 20, so it wouldn’t be completely barren.

And I’d have a superteam made of tons of weird, interchangeable infielders, the best outfield in baseball, and the best pitching staff on Earth.

Now, let’s all go back to reality and hope that even just one or two biggish moves get made this offseason. Hopefully as soon as possible.