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System Sundays: The Memphis Trade Bait Report

As we start to get a feel for the big league club, it’s important to know what assets are available to add to it.

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St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Morning, all.

I’m currently eating SpaghettiO’s for breakfast. This is probably not a very healthy breakfast, certainly not the ‘of champions’ sort of breakfast, but I like SpaghettiO’s. Maybe not the most dignified meal for a grown man capable of cooking pretty much anything he would like, either. But, you know what? Hell with it.

What makes my breakfast even better is the fact I’m currently eating my Spaghetti O’s out of my very own customised SpaghettiO’s mug. On the front of the mug is a little smiley face, with SpaghettiO’s for eyes, and a speech bubble coming from its mouth that says, “Oh-oh, SpaghettiO’s!”, which was, some of you may recall, the advertising tag line of this particular product back around the time I was a child. On the other side of the mug is “AARON” in big black block letters. The ‘N’ is ever so slightly lower than the other letters, giving my name a somewhat off-kilter appearance. I don’t mind it. It’s held up far better than the rest of my childhood, all things considered.

We sent away for this mug when I was about four years old; I don’t recall how many proofs of purchase we needed from cans of SpaghettiO’s, but as many cans as I ate (they were my favourite food for a period of time from roughly age three to about, um, maybe last week some time?), it probably didn’t take long to gather them up. I’ve had it ever since. I also basically never use it for anything but eating SpaghettiO’s out of; I have a couple dozen other mugs of one sort or another I use for tea or hot chocolate or whatever else, but the SpaghettiO’s mug I only take down off the shelf for SpaghettiO’s. One can fills the mug about twice. So when I’m lonely or sad, I have SpaghettiO’s (with meatballs, specifically, and I actually like the Super Mario Bros. variety that includes block- and mushroom-shaped noodles), out of my 30 year old mug, and I generally feel better in relatively short order. Give me my SpaghettiO’s mug and an episode of the Joy of Painting and I don’t need antidepressants.

You know, I miss those strange giveaways from fast-food restaurants or mail-order premiums from food companies. You can still find Jigglers molds at the grocery store at certain times of the year, and usually the mold comes either free or discounted with a couple boxes of Jell-O, but those physical premiums have all but disappeared. To this day, maybe my favourite Christmas glasses are the holly pattern glasses we got from Arby’s when I was a kid; I’m sure a lot of that is nostalgia, but it’s also just a really nice pattern. We had glass mugs from Long John Silver’s when I was young, too; engraved Ninas and Pintas and Santa Marias on these clear glass mugs that cost $3.95 with purchase of an entree or some such thing. I bought a whole set of ten Garfield mugs a couple years ago at a flea market; they were premium giveaways from McDonalds back in the mid 80s. We had them all when I was little, then sold them in a yard sale, and then 20 years later I paid way more than they were ever actually worth to have them in my cabinet in my own house again. Those sorts of things don’t exist in the world anymore, it doesn’t seem like.

As is so often the case with my article introductions, I don’t really have a point to any of this. I was just eating my breakfast out of my mug, and thought I would share with you the thoughts that were in my head. Now I’ve done that, and we can talk about baseball.

There’s an interesting thing happening in Memphis, home of the Redbirds. Our own winged horse, now just some guy named Andy, not too long ago broke down whether or not the Redbirds would be a competitive team in the majors. His conclusion? The Memphis Redbirds, a remarkably good Triple A ballclub, were probably slightly worse than the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series in 2015. Probably better than the Marlins, and the Tigers. About the same as the White Sox, though admittedly the South Siders are getting better. Considering how bad the Padres have looked so far this season, I’d bet the Redbirds could take them as well.

Now, that was a fun exercise Pegasus ran, and without getting too insulting toward some of the league’s bottom feeders, it really underscores just how wretched some of the tankers in the game right now truly are. But more than that, it really showcases just how remarkable the depth in the Cardinal organisation is, that they could come very close to fielding two major league quality (ish) teams if they had to.

We’re fully into the regular season now; the Cardinals this afternoon will complete their third series of the campaign, and while that’s certain still in way-too-early-to-jump-to-conclusions territory, it’s also no longer Opening Day or home opener or opening weekend territory. We’ve seen the 2018 Cardinals, and have a fairly good idea of what the team looks like. Injuries could, and probably will, alter the landscape somewhat here and there, but the club basically is what it is for awhile at least.

There’s an important aspect of the picture we need to consider, though, and that’s just how the minor league depth will play into the major league club this year. And I don’t mean as replacements or call-ups; I mean as trade bait. The Cards tried this offseason to make a couple of really big moves. They pulled off one really big move in acquiring Marcell Ozuna, and then settled for smart-but-smaller additions elsewhere. Signing Greg Holland on Opening Day might also end up a big deal, if he pitches more like the 2014 version of himself than what we’ve seen since his elbow issues began, but the fact is the Redbirds were somewhat stymied in their attempts to finish off the offseason with another big add such as Josh Donaldson or, um, well, pretty much just Josh Donaldson, I guess.

The Memphis Redbirds have played three games so far, all against the Round Rock Express, currently the Triple A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. The results have been....interesting, to say the least. Memphis has won all three games, by a combined score of 36-14. No, that’s not a typo. Admittedly, allowing fourteen runs in three games isn’t an awesome outcome, but it’s not bad. Four and a half-ish run allowed per game is just fine, particularly in the Pacific Coast League. Scoring 36, though, is something altogether different.

There’s also the matter of what the Round Rock announcers were saying about the Redbirds during last night’s broadcast. Essentially, it boiled down to, “This basically isn’t fair,” and “They’re like an All-Star team,” and “This might be the most talented Triple A team we’ve ever seen.” Now, far be it from me to read too much wisdom into what broadcasters say — we do have Al Hrabosky and Tim McCarver regularly calling games for our club, after all — but when the opposing team’s booth is essentially conceding your team is just too good for the league, well, it’s worth taking note of.

So what I thought we would do this morning is take a quick stock of the players on the Memphis club who are most likely to serve as trade fodder this summer to shore up whatever gaps there may be in the big league club, and check what kind of start they’re off to. I’m not including Jack Flaherty, because I think the club sees him as too much a part of their future now, nor Alex Reyes, because the organisation just seems set on holding on to him, which is understandable. It’s possible Reyes could be moved this season, if the player being acquired was of suitable stature (and under contract for awhile; see my column tomorrow morning for one such option), but for now, still coming back from Tommy John surgery, I don’t think he’s yet in the realm of being tradeable.

Tyler O’Neill, OF — At this point, I have to believe O’Neill is one of the most likely players in the whole of the system to be moved this season. He has the upside clubs want, is young for the level, still has options and no service time yet, and with Marcell Ozuna entrenched in left field for the next couple years (and I get the feeling the Cards are going to do the full-court press to keep Ozuna here beyond 2019), O’Neill doesn’t really have a clear road to the big leagues. If he were more of a center fielder, maybe he would be untouchable, but as a corner guy I think he makes a whole lot of sense as a centerpiece or co-headliner of a big deal.

Through three games, O’Neill has been, um, something. He’s hit three homers in those three games, and is currently sporting a nifty 1.176 OPS. Now, he has struck out five times in seventeen at-bats, but three homers and two doubles over that timespan is tough not to be excited about. I’d say it’s about even odds that O’Neill is used in a midseason trade this year. Trade Likelihood: 50-50

Adolis Garcia, OF — One of the real big surprises of spring (I need to get around to finalising that game’s results, don’t I?), Garcia hasn’t missed a beat since heading off to the PCL. He’s played in all three games so far, and is currently carrying a .500/.563/1.000 batting line through those three games. Two doubles, one triple, one home run. He’s walked twice in sixteen plate appearances, and only struck out twice. Adolis Garcia is doing everything he can to make himself look like a major player in the future of the St. Louis Cardinals.

He’s older than O’Neill (he just turned 25, while O’Neill is still about two months shy of his 23rd birthday), but if pressed, I would say the Cards would be less willing to deal Garcia, due to his defensive chops in center field. For now, Tommy Pham appears to have center on lockdown for awhile, but plans do change, and Dexter Fowler isn’t getting any younger. Garcia might have so much value as to be moveable by midseason, but I think the org would be loathe to move him for anything less than a healthy haul. Trade Likelihood: 25%

Oscar Mercado, OF — See a trend here? Even after dealing away Magneuris Sierra, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty this winter, the Cardinals are swimming in outfield depth. Mercado is maybe the strongest defender of the bunch, an easy 65+ runner capable of chewing up territory in center field with the best of them, and doing damage on the basepaths to boot.

Mercado’s gotten into two games and come to the plate ten times total. One strikeout, one walk, one stolen base, one double, two hits. A .222/.300/.333 line overall. What will bear watching this year will be that K rate for Mercado; he sacrificed some contact last year to try and drive the ball a bit more aggressively, but he’s never going to have the kind of thump to justify a 20-25% strikeout rate, I don’t believe. I think the Cards would be very willing to move him in a deal, but I wonder if other clubs will see that much value in the bat, even if the defense and speed play at a high level. Trade Likelihood: 55%

Randy Arozarena, OF — And the beat goes on, with my personal favourite minor league outfielder in the system (though Adolis Garcia is closing the gap, I must admit...). Arozarena has gotten into two games, collected ten plate appearances, and has three singles and a walk to show so far. Four strikeouts isn’t great, but we are talking microscopic samples and all.

I think, just reading the tea leaves, that Arozarena is behind Garcia in the organisational pecking order right now, but not by a whole lot. I think he’s a little more likely to be moved than Garcia, but still less so than Mercado, who has less offensive upside, or O’Neill, who is more blocked at the big league level. Trade Likelihood: 33%

Luke Voit, 1B — Of all the players on the Triple A roster, Voit is probably the guy I would most like to see traded this season. Not because I don’t like him, but just because he’s so incredibly blocked, and at 27 is probably running out of time to have a meaningful big league career. Some non-competitive team could pick Voit up, give him 600 at-bats, and I think there’s a 50/50 chance he could be a ~2.0 win first baseman for them. The Cardinals, of course, have no such opportunities to offer, but somewhere like Tampa, with no entrenched first baseman, would seem to be an excellent destination. Hurts to see a local kid go, but he’s going to need to go elsewhere to get a real chance.

The problem is that Voit probably doesn’t have enough value on his own right now to justify actually making a move with him. He would need to be part of a larger package, and I don’t know if that big move requiring a multi-player package is going to happen. Trade Likelihood: 50%

Patrick Wisdom, 3B — Wisdom feels very much like a forgotten man in the Cards’ system, and the fact he hasn’t been selected in the Rule V draft yet says a lot about what the rest of baseball thinks of him as well. Still, he is at least an average defender at third base to my eye, and has plenty of power. His plate discipline has long been his Achilles’ Heel, though, as he’s regularly posted sub-.300 OBPs in the minors.

In three games and fifteen plate appearances this season, Wisdom is hitting .462/.533/.615, with two walks (good!), and six strikeouts (bad!). It would be really nice to see Wisdom moved to a club that could offer him a low-risk season-long tryout at third just to see what happens, but I don’t know if that’s realistic. Maybe after this season he follows former Cardinal sluggers Xavier Scrubbs and David Washington to Japan. I’ll bet he would do well over there. Trade Likelihood: 25% (limited demand)

John Brebbia, RHP — Brebbia came up as the odd man out in the Cards’ preseason bullpen shuffle this year, being bumped in favour of Jordan Hicks. He’s getting called up today to replace Ryan Sherriff, though, who apparently has a fractured toe. (!?)

I don’t think the Cards are going to be too quick to trade any of their relievers, particularly not any of those with options, as they’ll need those guys to run the Memphis shuttle effectively. If pressed, I would say Sam Tuivailala is more likely to be moved than Brebbia, simply because Tui can’t be optioned, limiting the flexibility. Trade Likelihood: 10%

John Gant, RHP — Being John Gant these days has to be a little frustrating. He was as good as any pitcher the Cards ran out to the mound in spring training, and there just doesn’t seem to be any room at the inn for ol’ Gantsy. The org sees him as too valuable as a starter to convert to relief, yet Jack Flaherty has passed him on the depth chart, and barring catastrophe there just doesn’t appear to be any clear road for Gant to the big leagues.

If any one pitcher at Memphis is likely to be traded this season, I’ll bet it’s Gant, who should have enough appeal to some club with big rotation problems that they’ll make the Cards an offer they won’t refuse. Trade Likelihood: 50%

Austin Gomber, LHP — Gomber, as one of the few lefty starters in the Cards’ system, is probably less likely to be moved than Gant, but finds himself in a similar sort of purgatory. He’d be on the cusp of a callup in a lot of organisations, but the choking depth of the Redbirds means he’s almost certainly stuck inside of Memphis with the Mobile blues again all year. Trade Likelihood: 15%

Dakota Hudson, RHP -- Hudson made an impression in spring training, looking more poised and efficient than ever before, but still has yet to turn his high-end repertoire into consistent empty swings. His groundball-getting game is on point, though, and he could move to the ‘pen in a pinch.

The thing about Hudson is that, given his pedigree as a first-round pick and the quality of his stuff, other teams may very well be pushing for him as a big part of any package sent out for an addition. I think he’s more likely to be moved than Gomber for that reason, but probably not as likely as Gant, who really would represent a readymade solution for some club with an injury in their rotation. Trade Likelihood: 25%

Max Schrock, 2B — Now here’s a really interesting case. Schrock was acquired in the Stephen Piscotty deal, as I’m sure many of you recall, and represents one of the more intriguing bats currently in the Cards’ system. He possesses relatively modest power to go with his modest stature, but all Max Schrock does is hit. For instance, in three games this season, Schrock has come to bat sixteen times. He’s walked once, struck out just once, stolen a base, hit a three-run homer on opening night, and has six hits overall. It’s a .400/.471/.600 line so far, which...yeah. It’s a very Max Schrock-y sort of line.

In the right deal, I absolutely believe the Cardinals would be willing to move Schrock, if it was for some long-term solution at a position of need or opportunity. However, I also believe there’s as good a chance he steals Kolten Wong’s job by the end of the season as there is he gets traded. Wong, with his defense and speed game, could be a part of a trade package just as easily. Trade Likelihood: 20%; Wally Pipp Likelihood: 20%

Carson Kelly, C — And finally, the Most Interesting Trade Candidate in the World, or at least the Cardinals’ system. Carson Kelly’s story should be fairly familiar by now; third base draftee out of a Portland-area high school, converted to catcher, got rave reviews for his defense, and the bat really started to come around last season.

However, things hit a snag this spring, when Kelly came in to camp and didn’t look nearly as sharp as he had in the past. He didn’t hit, and there were some defensive lapses that the organisation wasn’t shy about pointing out. He was, surprisingly, sent to Memphis in favour of Francisco Pena making the club as Yadier Molina’s backup, and it would appear Kelly is stuck right back in limbo.

The situation is, of course, exacerbated by a pair of circumstances. One, Yadi doesn’t appear interested in moving toward more of a time-sharing arrangement behind the plate, and two, the Cardinals have Andrew Knizner moving up quickly behind Kelly, currently playing at Double A Springfield. I’m personally higher on Knizner than Kelly, and I get the feeling the Cardinals may be as well. Knizner also probably fits the time frame slightly better, as he could be added to the 40 man roster next season, come up to the bigs as an understudy sometime around, say, midseason, and then learn under Yadi in a timeshare for the 2020 season before stepping into the spotlight himself in 2021 at age 26. That’s still probably not 100% ideal, but Kelly being already on the 40 is burning options, whereas Knizner isn’t yet.

If I had to call it, I think it’s very likely that Carson Kelly will be the piece employed to facilitate a trade this season. He’s very close to big-league ready (he’s probably there already, honestly), and has the defensive chops to give him a relatively high floor. He didn’t look great this spring, but sometimes shit just happens over one month of exhibition games, and I don’t think I’m changing my opinion of Kelly all that much. That being said, he’s a very valuable piece with no easy path to playing time, and a similar prospect with higher offensive upside squeezing him from below. Tyler O’Neill and Carson Kelly are two pretty great trade assets to possess, and neither of them has a clear path to the big leagues at the moment. Kelly is, in my ever so humble opinion, the most likely position prospect in the system to be dealt this year. Trade Likelihood: 55%

Now, obviously, even the guys I think are the absolute most likely to be dealt are not actually overwhelmingly likely to be moved. That’s why there’s nothing higher than a 55% on here. But, the Cardinals, as intriguingly solid as they appear right now, will almost certainly be looking to make a move come midseason, either shooting for a big splashy star-level upgrade (I won’t say the name again, but you know who I mean), or trying to add another piece to a bullpen that could be chewing up the NL already by that time if things go well. And when they go into the market to try and make that move, this is the pool of players most likely to be drawn from, I think. These are the guys closest to the big leagues, and are thus likely to be the most attractive to clubs looking to compete either now or in the near future.

Maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll look at some other trade candidates of specific note at other levels in the system. For now, though, just keep your eye on Memphis, who are quite possibly the Triple A equivalent of the Astros, and may very well be too good a source of talent not to raid when the rubber hits the road in the big leagues.

See you all tomorrow morning.