Before the Cardinals got Matt Bowman last season, I knew nothing about the Rule 5 selection process. He was the Cardinals’ added bonus in 2016, but the organization went the opposite way in the Rule 5 draft this year. The Cardinals left Allen Córdoba exposed and the Padres scooped him up. That decision might have benefited the Padres, but it also does not look like a huge loss for the Cardinals.
To briefly go over the Rule 5 process, it is a secondary draft that happens during the winter meetings. It only includes players who were eighteen when they were drafted and have five years of employment at the minor league level, or those were drafted at nineteen and have four years of employment. This “draft” includes players who meet that criterion and are not on their team’s forty-man roster. "Leaving Córdoba exposed” means the Cardinals chose to leave him off the 40-man roster after last season, even though it would make him eligible for Rule 5 selection by another team.
The draft occurs in reverse order of the regular season standings. This year the A’s, Giants, and Padres will go first while the Dodgers will be last. The team receiving the player must keep that player on the major league roster for the entirety of the upcoming season.
Not to be obvious, but the Padres are not a good team. Earlier this season, I wrote about the Padres and their “little victories" because there were some good things happening for them. Allen Córdoba, at the time, was a ray of sunshine in a gloomy season. He made a significant impact at the plate and his defense was more than solid. However, Córdoba was far, far down in the minors before he headed to San Diego. He went from the Johnson City Cardinals and jumped straight to the major leagues! He started the year in the Padres outfield but is currently at shortstop while Aybar is on the DL (and not expected to return until mid-September). Córdoba had a great outlook on essentially becoming a utility player:
“I’m going to give it my all wherever they put me.”
He performed well early on, but that progress seems to have stalled. When I wrote that piece back at the end of May, Córdoba had a .350 wOBA and 118 wRC+. Now those numbers are at .266 and 62. Oh, what another hundred plate appearances can do! He lost eighty points of wOBA and his wRC+ was cut in half. I thought he had potential, but he has fallen into an extended slump.
To be fair, making the jump from Johnson City to the majors is a huge leap. He only has 203 plate appearances, which is still too small a sample size to form any solid conclusion. However, he stopped being a consistent contributor as his batting average rests at .217 and his isolated power is a very low .098. Of every Padres player with 200+ plate appearances, Córdoba is last in slugging, wOBA, and wRC+. He’s not hitting for power and he is not getting on base as often as he did earlier in the season. (Though, several Padres are not fairing much better.)
Córdoba has had some web gems in his time with the Padres. Check out this play at shortstop:
One of his problems seems to be a high ground ball rate, 52.6%. When I first looked at him two months ago, his BABIP was .362 but that dropped to .263. Players don’t have quite so much control over their BABIP, but putting so many balls on the ground and having that low BABIP is not a good combination any way you slice it.
There are a few potential reasons for this slump. Maybe his jump to the big leagues came too soon and Córdoba could still use some time at a lower level. I find that logic to be the most sound. Conversely, it could also be that Córdoba’s early power was a fluke and this low-average hitter is the kind of player he really is. Or maybe he is actually a Daniel Descalso-esque outfield/infield utility player in the making.
My question, then, is how might he have impacted the Cardinals in 2017?
Personally, I do not think Córdoba was a loss for the Cardinals. The Padres initially played him in the outfield, where St. Louis has a huge logjam both now and in the future. There are five big league-ready outfielders: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and José Martinez. Plus Harrison Bader, who made a fine impression during his debut stint, and Magnieuris Sierra who might be the center fielder of the future for the Cardinals. They have back-ups on back-ups on back-ups for outfielders, so Córdoba would not be needed there.
But he can also play shortstop! As far as shortstops go in St. Louis, Paul DeJong is hitting too well to be benched and Aledmys Diaz continues to rake down in Memphis. Greg Garcia is able to fill in when needed, so again, Córdoba did not have a real fit right now. But what about the future?
Maybe sometime in 2020, Córdoba may have finally been ready to help a major league ball club? And I think that's what the Padres are actually banking on. Or "tanking" on. (See what I did there?) As one managing partner said last year, "2019 is probably the earliest you can see this strategy working." Maybe the Padres see exactly what the Cardinals saw in Córdoba, and they are just willing to wait for him to put all the pieces together.
But then there was the trade deadline where the Cardinals did a whole lot of nothing. Mozeliak responded,
"We definitely had trial balloons going up on all fronts -- small deals, large deals, complicated deals, simple deals. We just weren't able to get something where we felt comfortable hitting the go button."
Might Allen Córdoba have changed that? He obviously had enough value that the Padres guaranteed him a roster spot for the season. He has never hit for power in the minors, but he had a high average and high on-base percentage in both 2015 and 2016, which suggests he had begun to figure something out. (Though he never managed to increase his walk rate.) If Córdoba had time to progress more at the high-A or even at the double-A level of competition, he might have further honed his skill set and become the player who made one of those big (or little) trades happen. If Córdoba was still with the club at the deadline, perhaps this team looks a little different.
There are Rule 5 wins and Rule 5 losses, but Allen Córdoba falls into more of a neutral category that is neither firmly to the Cardinals’ benefit or detriment. There are some might-haves and should-haves, but he is still developing even at the major league level. His season started high and is going to end low, but Córdoba might be a significant contributor for the Padres in the future.
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Audrey Stark is a contributor at Viva El Birdos. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.