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Acquisition Lookback: Part 2

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A look at the players who are Cardinals no more—or never were to begin with.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough few days. Swept by the Brewers and now a game behind the Dodgers for the second wild card spot, today is an off day for watching other teams and hoping for some losses. It isn’t fun to be in that position with three games remaining. On the bright side, there were times this season where it was a bit of a long shot to think the Cardinals would be this close to a postseason spot at all. As of now, the games still matter.

Would this team still be where it is if things had gone differently this offseason? What about the trade deadline? Would the standings be better, or worse? Those are questions one can’t really answer given the way a particular acquisition can create a ripple effect moving forward. One thing is for sure, though: the Cardinals were rumored to be tied to tons of players since the end of the 2017 season. A roster set for an overhaul was being linked with nearly every big name ready to be moved or signed.

Last week, we took a look at the players who were acquired with the intention of making an impact on the major league roster. Now we’ll look at the players who were rumored to be connected to the Cardinals but never came to wear the birds on the bat this season. We’ll also look at unsigned free agents and players who were traded away. Like last week, there are the same caveats: 1) The player pool is restricted to roster moves that were made (or would’ve been made) this past offseason and beyond. That means guys like Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales are off the table. 2) The players have to have been expected to play at the major league level. That would removed Gonzales even if he had been traded in 2018.

Some of these are going to be extremely relieving. Others...not so much. Still, it’s interesting to look back at the way the dominoes fell and just how much they each impacted the season. Plus, it’s fun to see how our personal convictions that a player would be worth the investment were either so right or so, so wrong.

Buckle up, this is a long one.

Unsigned Free Agents

Lance Lynn

There was plenty of drama around the Lance Lynn situation early in the offseason, and even into Spring Training. Lynn didn’t get picked up until mid-March when he signed a one-year deal with the Twins worth less than the qualifying offer he received from the Cardinals. His time in Minnesota was pretty ugly to begin the season, but slowly leveled out. Regardless, he wasn’t exceptional. He accrued 0.8 fWAR and threw 102.1 innings across 20 starts for the Twins before being traded to the Yankees at the deadline.

Though his time in the twin cities was largely mediocre, his stint in the Bronx has been another story. Lynn has been so good that former site manager Craig Edwards went as far as to call it the best deadline trade of the American League in late August. Over just 51.1 innings, Lynn has accrued 2 fWAR. He’s posting his highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate since his debut season with the Cardinals in late 2011. He’s doing it all with a .367 BABIP. Though his ERA is 4.21, his FIP is just 2.20.

It’s easy to think Lynn should’ve been kept given the myriad pitching injuries the Cardinals have faced, but which Lynn would’ve shown up in St. Louis—the Minnesota version or the New York version? We’ll never know. This much is true: in 51.1 innings as a Yankee, Lynn has accrued more fWAR than he did in his entire final season as a Cardinal.

Zach Duke

Duke was another Twins signee, though he signed his contract earlier in the offseason than Lynn. Duke’s time in St. Louis was spent mainly on the DL, recovering from Tommy John. The amazing portion of the story was his groundbreaking return timeline, as well as his assistance offered to Alex Reyes as the young pitcher recovered from the same surgery. That was pretty much the end of the positive.

Duke was excellent in 2016, with 0.5 fWAR in just 23.1 innings of relief, but he was of negative impact in 2017 (-0.2 fWAR in 18.1 innings).

The lefty turned it around early on with the Twins, pitching to a 3.62 ERA and 2.67 FIP in 45 relief appearances. After a trade to the Mariners, he fell off again, with his ERA inflating to 5.11 and his FIP rising to 4.61. Duke’s strikeout numbers dropped off a cliff in Seattle, with his K/9 falling from 9.40 to 5.84. In that same time, his BB/9 rose to 4.83. It’s been a tale of two halves for Duke, and the second one has looked much like the end of his time in St. Louis.

Seung-hwan Oh

Oh’s story is much like Zach Duke’s: a strong first year gives way to a rough walk year and the club chooses to forego a reunion. Again like Duke, Oh delivered an excellent first-half performance for his new team. In this case, Oh’s team was the Toronto Blue Jays, or (as we’ll soon review) the St. Louis Cardinals of the north. Oh posted 1 fWAR in 47 innings for Toronto, looking much more like his 2016 self with high strikeout rates and few walks surrendered.

Again, similar to Duke, Oh’s production fell off after a deadline trade. Following a move to the Rockies, Oh’s FIP shot up by more than a run (3.03 to 4.37). His walk rate increased by more than a batter per nine. His strikeout rate decreased by the same amount. One would be tempted to attribute his decreased effectiveness to the Coors effect, given the increase he’s seen in home run rate, but his peripherals look much worse overall. His 2.84 ERA is much better than his expected statistics indicate he should be performing and, if the Rockies make the postseason, he could regress at a pretty bad time.

Juan Nicasio

Nicasio was a strange pickup at the end of 2017. A free agent-to-be who wouldn’t even qualify for the postseason roster, he threw some pretty meaningful innings for the Cardinals at the end of the year. His 1.64 ERA and 2.88 FIP in nine strong appearances left the fanbase longing after a contract with Nicasio in the offseason. It didn’t happen, with Nicasio instead heading for Seattle.

As a Mariner, Nicasio has been the victim of some atrocious luck. His ERA is 6.00, with six blown saves—more than he’s ever had in his career. Take a closer look and his misfortune doesn’t make much sense at all. His K/9 is 11.36, easily the highest of his career. His BB/9 is 1.07, easily his lowest mark. His FIP is just 2.99, his xFIP 3.18. Nicasio has been an excellent pitcher who has run into some awful luck, as also indicated by his .402 BABIP. Would he have been worth $17 million over two years? After seeing Greg Holland’s results, it’s hard to want to commit multimillion dollar deals to relief pitching at all. But Juan Nicasio has been excellent in 2018, even if his results don’t show it.

Traded Players

Aledmys Díaz

The former shortstop of the future.

2016 was really fun. 2017 was not. An all-star campaign as a rookie gave way to a midseason demotion in his sophomore season, eventually resulting in a December trade to the Blue Jays for outfield prospect J.B. Woodman.

The thing is, Díaz hasn’t been his 2016 self. But he hasn’t been the 2017 version, either. Barring a power surge in the final three games, Díaz came very close to a 20-homer season. He has 104 wRC+ on the year in limited time (441 PA). He’s teetering on the edge of being a two-win player. Diaz has been exactly what Toronto needed. That’s exactly why the Cardinals needed to trade him.

The Cards now have a guy who looks like a legitimate shortstop of the future, maintaining the success of his rookie campaign. Though a hand injury kept him out for quite a while, Paul DeJong is very close to a three-win season, the same mark he provided in 2017. He’s again done so in fewer than 500 PA.

The most interesting development with DeJong is that the bulk of his value has come from defense. Though his bat sits right at average with 100 wRC+, he has 14 defensive runs saved in 2018, tied for third-most by any shortstop in the majors. His UZR/150 of 8.1 ranks fourth in the majors, first in the National League. When DeJong emerged as a force, Diaz no longer had a place on the team.

Randal Grichuk

Randal. The slick-fielding outfielder was given a lot of time to emerge as a force in the Cardinals outfield but never really separated himself, with his fWAR totals dropping each season (3.0 in 2015, 2.2 in 2016, 1.4 in 2017).

Though Grichuk expressed some concerns with the way playing time was decided under previous management, he still wasn’t able to put together the power-packed, glove-backed season the front office was hoping to see. With a wealth of outfield talent waiting in the upper levels of the minors and Marcell Ozuna headed to the team, he really had no place left on the roster.

Grichuk’s 2018 has been more of the same—1.8 fWAR in a part-time role, 450 PA. His bat has been above average this season, with 111 wRC+ and one homer shy of his first 25-homer season, but he’s put up his first negative year on the glove side. Given that Grichuk’s glove was what kept him treading water on the Cardinals’ roster, he would’ve worn out his 2018 welcome very quickly.

Stephen Piscotty

There’s no way to say this trade shouldn’t have been done. Though the Cardinals got some value out of the trade through Yairo Muñoz and Max Schrock, Cardinal fans and Athletics fans alike praise this deal for the underlying implications. The move has also allowed the Cardinals to let players like Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill get much more playing time than they ever could have, along with José Martínez’s bat—fielding errors aside.

That said, Piscotty has had an excellent year in Oakland, confirming that his anomaly of a season in 2017 was more mental and emotional than ability-related. Piscotty has posted the highest ISO of his career (.221), hitting his highest home run total of his career as well (26). He’s put up 124 wRC+ through 592 PA. He’s been worth nearly three wins in the Oakland outfield. Now, he gets a shot at the postseason with an A’s team that started the year with the lowest payroll in baseball.

Most importantly, he was able to be with his mother, Gretchen. It’s hard to feel bad about this trade.

Sam Tuivailala

Tui was a fan favorite in. St. Louis, a player many expected had the potential to hold down the late innings if he could really bring everything together. He was traded as part of the major bullpen shake-up in the middle of the season, heading to the pacific northwest to be a Mariner.

Tuivailala made five appearances with Seattle and looked excellent, giving up one run, six hits and no walks while striking out four. After his first 5.1 innings, he went down with an Achilles injury which required surgery, ending his season. Tui looked like he was going to add to the extensive list of Cardinal pitchers who blossomed after heading to the Mariners’ staff, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until 2019 to see for sure.

Tommy Pham

Pham was beloved here at VEB. We had a Tommy Pham Appreciation Day earlier this season. Unfortunately, to start the season, he didn’t look like the player he was in 2017. In order to clear a path for Harrison Bader, Pham was sent to Tampa Bay.

Pham has always been a player who thrived on adversity, and it seems that’s been consistent in 2018. He was worth 1.5 fWAR in 396 PA for St. Louis this season. In just 152 PA after recovering from a foot injury, he’s been worth 2.1 fWAR.

Over his time as a Ray, Pham has posted 189 wRC+. He’s slashed .344/.441/.617. If that were his standard production, he would be completely dominant.

Given Tampa Bay’s track record, it doesn’t seem Pham will get the payout he’s searching for in Florida, either. He may continue to fight through adversity, which may be good for him. Either way, he’s been excellent to finish 2018.

However, after seeing Harrison Bader run with the starting role in center field, who would you rather bank on for the future?

Luke Voit

Dingers.

That’s all Luke Voit has hit since being trade to the Bronx. It seems he takes the Bombers nickname pretty seriously.

In 130 PA for the Yankees, Voit is slashing .302/.377/.621. That translates to 168 wRC+. His ISO is .319. He’s averaging a home run every 12 plate appearances. He is now hitting third for a playoff team. I could go on. He’s been phenomenal.

In that short time, Voit has been worth 1.2 fWAR. Again, it’s hard to say if he would’ve blossomed the same way in St. Louis with uninhibited playing time. Really, it’s impossible to know. But imagine the local kid who graduated from Missouri State raking homer after homer for the Cardinals as they push toward a postseason berth. Would’ve fit the narrative pretty well.

Rumored Targets

Josh Donaldson

How long have there been ties between the Cardinals and Josh Donaldson? It feels like it’s been mentioned every offseason and every trade deadline in recent years. Any iteration of Josh Donaldson between 2013 and 2017 would have been a perfect fit for the Cardinals: a power bat who slots in at third base. The front office clearly has a good rapport with Toronto and the package wasn’t expected to be huge. The issue came when Donaldson showed some wear and tear in 2017, playing in at least 42 fewer games than he had the previous four seasons.

The Blue Jays were hesitant to move Donaldson, having hopes of contending this season, and it’s looking good that they felt that way. To this point, 2018 has been one of the worst possible walk years one could imagine. Donaldson just broke the 200 PA mark last night, having missed most of the season on the disabled list. When he’s played, his bat has been above average, with 108 wRC+ on the year. But that isn’t the Josh Donaldson the Cardinals would’ve hoped to acquire. They wanted the Josh Donaldson with 150 wRC+ and 700 PA.

Even if St. Louis would’ve taken a chance on him at the trade deadline, he was put on the DL immediately after the trade by Cleveland. To this point, he’s logged 45 PA for his new team in 12 games. Josh Donaldson wouldn’t have provided the impact the Cardinals needed in the stretch run. Maybe he becomes a target this offseason, but the front office was right to avoid him as the season progressed.

Manny Machado

Machado rumors swirled both in the offseason and around the All-Star Break, before his move to LA was finalized. It made sense—Machado is a strong glove on the left side of the infield with a great bat. The issue was a combination of two things: the limited control and the Orioles’ asking price.

Machado was a big-name rental, which has never been Mozeliak’s forte. Matt Holliday comes to mind as the only big-name rental to come into St. Louis and he signed a contract pretty quickly thereafter. Jason Heyward was the last attempt, and he got out pretty quickly.

While it hasn’t been his best defensively, the 2018 season has been the best year yet for Machado’s bat, with 141 wRC+. He’s been a six-win player to-date, doing so at one of the most defensively challenging positions on the diamond.

Machado has been outstanding, but the package was rumored to focus on either Jack Flaherty or Luke Weaver. Looking back, a deal for Machado which focused on Weaver would’ve been a steal. But hindsight is 20/20. At the time, Weaver looked to be a great, young pitching asset. Flaherty has been the second-most valuable pitcher on the roster and is slowly shaping into an ace. With Paul DeJong cemented on the left side and playing a very excellent shortstop, along with decent internal options at third, it’s hard to give up that potential pitching payoff for one year of Machado.

The Cardinals have already shown a willingness to take on large contracts with our next player. Maybe they make a run at Machado this offseason, when the only thing they have to give up is money.

Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton falls into the category of what very well could’ve been much more easily than most of these players, given that both teams were ready to pull the trigger. The only thing stopping Giancarlo Stanton from being a Cardinal for the foreseeable future was the difference between a yes and a no. Honestly, it seems his decision was the best one for St. Louis.

VEB’s own Tyler Kinzy illustrated the point pretty succinctly:

Stanton ranks as the 17th-best outfielder in the majors, according to fWAR. Harrison Bader comes in at 16. Stanton’s biggest asset—his power—fell off a cliff this year. After slugging .631 in 2017, he’s not even at the .500 mark in 2018. He’s hit 35 home runs, but that’s nowhere near his 59 in his MVP season. This all comes with a move from the pitcher’s paradise of Marlins Park to the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. What’s more, Stanton has played more than half of his 154 games as a DH. That contract runs through 2027. It’s looking more and more like the Cardinals dodged a bullet with Stanton’s refusal.

Christian Yelich

Oh boy. There were many who said Christian Yelich was really the best among the three Miami outfielders, a rising superstar who had yet to reach his potential.

It’s looking like they may be right.

To this point, Yelich has accrued 7 fWAR. That’s more than Stanton and Ozuna combined. He has 161 wRC+. He’s honestly the likely NL MVP.

The Brewers also gave up a good bit more than the Cardinals did in the Ozuna deal. I’m sure there are some estimates of what the ask would’ve been from the Cardinals if they went after Yelich, but I’m not that type of a prospect guy, so it won’t come from me. It’s obvious, though, that the Cardinals have much more pitching depth than the Brewers. It’s likely it would’ve been prospects much more significant than Sandy Alcántara and Zac Gallen in terms of pitching help.

If you look at Yelich’s production, age and his ridiculously inexpensive contract, a case can easily be made that it would’ve been worth it.

Jose Abreu

Abreu’s name was thrown around briefly as a potential corner infield option. After a 1.9-win season in 2016, he put up 4.2 in 2017. The thought was that he could provide the pop the Cardinals needed at a much lower cost than the big-name pieces on the market.

Did he sustain that production? The answer is no. Abreu has had his worst season in the majors yet, worth 1.1 fWAR over 553 PA. He’s hit 67% of the home runs he did last year, not breaking 25. All the while, his defense has been extremely poor. I won’t belabor the point, as this piece is already entirely too long, but Abreu did not elaborate on his big season, and it was right of the Cardinals to avoid him.

Chris Archer

Chris Archer falls into the camp of Josh Donaldson. He’s been talked about consistently as a St. Louis target. “Look at his name!” There were talks of an Archer trade both before the season and at the trade deadline, and neither came to fruition. The issue was asking price.

MLB.com reporting and St. Louis Post-Dispatch coverage both report to how similarly the Rays and Cardinals value prospects as an issue to the deal. Either way, Archer fell to the Pirates for a package that included some pretty big names, including Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow.

Really, Archer hasn’t seemed worth it.

From 2014 to 2017, Archer flowed between three- and five-win seasons. This year, he’s been worth 2.4 fWAR. His ERA and FIP have both been 4.00 or above since the trade to Pittsburgh. Archer’s strikeout rate remains high, but he’s walking over three batters per nine innings. By no means is he bad, but he hasn’t been an anchor of the rotation like he was expected to be. It’s hard to see the production Archer has provided really helping the Cardinals make a playoff push, had he come to St. Louis.

Alex Colomé

Colomé was the other pitcher discussed from Tampa Bay, with rumors increasing when the reliever liked a photo about his trade rumors posted by a St. Louis Cardinals fan account on Instagram. It turned out to be nothing, and Colomé remained a Ray. Until May, when he was traded to the Mariners in a very early swap.

It was an interesting split between Colomé’s time on the two coasts. In 23 innings for the Rays, Colomé pitched well but didn’t really get the results; his 2.74 FIP was shrouded by a 4.15 ERA. In Seattle, those numbers reversed—a 2.64 ERA masked a higher 3.72 FIP, with plenty of home runs allowed.

Splits aside, Colomé has had a pretty decent year out of the pen. Across 66 innings, he holds a 3.14 ERA and 3.40 FIP, good for 1 fWAR on the season. Colomé wouldn’t have been a bad addition for $5.3 million, but it’s impossible to know what would’ve been asked in return.

Evan Longoria

Longoria is another oft-mentioned name for the Cardinals over the years. A solid defender at third with a historically consistent bat, Longoria made sense as a potential fit at third base. He thought so too, apparently. Though he didn’t have 10-and-5 protection, MLB.com reported the Cardinals were on a shortlist of teams Longoria thought would be a good fit for him, which he gave to the Rays’ front office. Eventually, Longo made the move to San Francisco instead. It’s looking like another win that the Cardinals passed on him.

Longoria began to show signs of deterioration in 2017, posting his first subpar offensive year in his career. Things continued to spiral this season, as he’s been worth just half a win over 500 PA. Not only has Longoria’s bat continued to decline, now sitting at 88 wRC+, but his long-praised defense has been below average this year as well. Even with a third-by-committee approach that the Cardinals have taken, they’ve gotten more production—and more roster flexibility—from their current structure.

Mike Moustakas

The national media thought Moustakas was a perfect fit for the Cardinals headed into the offseason. Kauffman Stadium profiles similarly to Busch, Moose has historically been a solid defender, he wouldn’t be too expensive...the list goes on. Either way, the Cardinals held back and the Royals ended up signing Moustakas to a one-year deal worth less than the qualifying offer they extended initially, with the deal including an option year.

Moustakas had a pretty solid first half and found himself wearing Milwaukee’s colors after the trade deadline. He’s accrued 0.9 fWAR in 198 PA as a Brewer, now at 2.6 fWAR in 615 PA across all of 2018. Moustakas is two home runs away from 30 on the year.

Even though he’s contributing to a division rival who just swept the Cardinals at home, Moose hasn’t been a clear-cut improvement over the Cardinals’ internal options at third. In 392 PA, Jedd Gyorko has accrued 1.8 fWAR. Patrick Wisdom has been worth 0.4 in 52 PA. Matt Carpenter has made some starts at the hot corner. Added together, Moustakas was never a clear upgrade over the in-house options.

Tyler Chatwood

The Cubs’ signing of Chatwood was a pretty clear counter to the Cardinals’ signing of Miles Mikolas three days earlier. Both pitchers had been discussed by both teams, with the Cardinals going for Mikolas on a two-year, $15.5 million deal and the Cubs landing Chatwood for three years, $38 million.

This one has been a clear win for the Cardinals.

In 103.2 innings, Chatwood has walked more batters (95) than he’s struck out (85). He has a 5.30 ERA that’s been generous according to his 5.60 FIP. To this point, Chatwood has accrued -0.5 fWAR. The Cubs still owe him $25.5 million over two years after this season.

Yu Darvish

When the Cubs signed Darvish to a whopping six-year, $126 million contract, much of the online community—or at least Twitter—exploded. There were major concerns that Chicago was picking up big-name free agent pitching and the Cardinals weren’t. To this point, the Cardinals had only signed some low-end relievers and some guy named Miles Mikolas (heh). We’ve yet to see if Darvish has been a positive signing for the Cubs, because he’s barely pitched in 2018.

Darvish has 40 innings under his belt as a Chicago Cub. He wasn’t able to throw any more after an elbow injury which required surgery ended his season. Darvish had given up 22 earned runs and seven homers in his 40 innings, but that inconsistency could’ve very well come from the elbow issue. It’ll take 2019 to see if Darvish will be effective in Chicago but, for now, he’s been paid $25 million to recover from an injury.

Tim Lincecum

Lincecum announced this past offseason he would be attempting a comeback, also posting a photo on Instagram apparently announcing that he’s now jacked. The Cardinals were said to be attending his showcase to kick the tires on the old Giants hero.

Ultimately, it’s good that they did. Lincecum signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, throwing 12.2 innings in 10 relief appearances for their Triple-A affiliate. He gave up 14 hits, eight runs, nine walks and collected 10 strikeouts. He was released in early June.

Zach Britton

Once a lights-out closer for the Orioles, Britton struggled a bit with injury in a 2017 season that was good, but not up to his previous standards. The beginning to 2018 looked pretty bad as well, with an inflated walk rate and other peripherals that pointed toward regression. The lefty is often mentioned at the deadline for the Cardinals, but talks seemed a bit more intense this year as the Orioles dove headfirst into a rebuild and St. Louis looked to freshen their pen. Ultimately, Britton went to the division rival Yankees.

Britton has been much more playable as a Yankee than he was as an Oriole. He dropped his walk rate by nearly three batters per nine while slightly increasing his K/9. His 3.00 ERA is lower than his numbers in Baltimore and much closer to his FIP of 3.74.

Brad Brach

While one could probably include the entire Orioles bullpen on this list, Britton and Brach are the two who were most frequently mentioned in connection with the Cardinals. Brach was eventually moved to the Braves after a rough start to the season with Baltimore.

As a Brave, Brach has been electric. In 25 appearances, he holds a 1.23 ERA and 2.70 FIP. He’s been worth half a win in that time, giving up no home runs over the entire span. While he would’ve been a good addition, his previous numbers this season weren’t great and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the front office being a bit gun shy about known names in the pen after earlier acquisitions.