With this week’s General Manager meetings, the off-season has kicked off in full. It probably won’t be a very active off-season in St. Louis. There aren’t any massive holes on the roster, ownership seems unwilling to spend past their 2019 payroll, and several contracts are locked in for 2020. Moreover, there are internal solutions to their obvious needs- one more starting pitcher and a corner outfielder (preferably with power, which they probably don’t have internally). All of that adds up to diminished odds for any serious foray into free agency. Still, the name of the game is to get better. Let’s find some trade targets for the Cardinals in the outfield.
First, we’ll establish parameters. Since ownership anticipates payroll close to 2019, we’ll eliminate high-priced targets, even if one of them makes plenty of sense. Additionally, the Cardinals will want wiggle room in future years to give playing time to Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson, Randy Arozarena, and Tyler O’Neill should any of them step forward. That means they don’t want commitments past 2021. Our targets are players in their second or third pass through arbitration, one or two years away from free agency. I’ll exclude the Cubs, Reds, and Brewers for obvious reasons. Here are the players meeting our criteria. The arbitration estimates come from MLB Trade Rumors, and contract statuses were compiled on Baseball Reference’s team future payroll pages. I’ve included free agent outfielder Kole Calhoun, whose 2020 option was declined by the Angels, but excluded Betts because it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals winning a bidding war for him.
|Player||Tm||Contract||Arb. Est.||2019 fWAR||2020 Steamer|
|Player||Tm||Contract||Arb. Est.||2019 fWAR||2020 Steamer|
|Jackie Bradley, Jr.||BOS||Arb3||$11M||1.4||2.0|
|Steven Souza, Jr.||ARI||Arb3||$4.25M||-0.4*||1.1|
|Michael A. Taylor||WSN||Arb3||$3.25M||0.0||-0.2|
We can eliminate some of these immediately. The Astros aren’t trading George Springer, nor are the Mets dealing Michael Conforto. The Dodgers have no reason to deal Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernández, or Chris Taylor. The Twins are in an interesting spot for 2020, with much of their pitching staff entering free agency. Most of their lineup returns at reasonable prices, and they should have plenty to spend in free agency. They probably aren’t trading Buxton but Eddie Rosario could be available if it helps them address the rotation.
Since it’s sorted by 2020 Steamer projections, we can also ditch the bottom of the list. Considering how many internal options the Cardinals already have on the roster, there’s no point in acquiring players projected under one win. Here’s the remaining list of the most intriguing, along with Baseball Trade Value’s median surplus value for each.
$10.5M median surplus value
Rosario checks a lot of boxes for the Cardinals. His .224 ISO in 2019 is almost a perfect replacement for Marcell Ozuna’s departing .231, and for Rosario it comes from the left side of the plate. The fact that he’s left-handed is important for the Cardinals considering their lack of power from the left side this season. Rosario doesn’t walk much, but he has a contact-heavy profile (80th percentile contact rate in 2019) and his exit velocity increased this season. He’s trending in the right direction.
Additionally, he’s under contract for two more seasons, and his surplus value- if accurate- is very reasonable for the Cardinals. With the Twins rotation emptied out by free agency, it’s easy to see a package involving some of the Cardinals pitching depth as a starting place. That’s all of the good news. The bad news is that Rosario is a bad defender (albeit one with a good arm), a below average baserunner, and there’s no guarantee that the Twins would trade him. Still, he’s a good fit who addresses a lot of needs.
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
$2.0M median surplus value
Bradley is the opposite of Rosario. His game revolves around speed and defense, his contact percentage is poor, and he hits more groundballs. His ISO is a tick above league average, but still below Rosario. The quandary with JBJ is that he’s so similar to everything the Cardinals already have, with many of the same weaknesses the club needs to address. Acquiring Bradley would indicate a desire to go all-in on run suppression for 2020. That could be accomplished with internal options, though none of them are left-handed like Bradley. Bradley achieves three things for the Cardinals. He adds left-handed balance to the lineup, he gives them a more stable option than their internal choices, and he helps them build a run prevention Death Star. Complicating matters, JBJ is a center fielder, meaning it would take some shuffling to fit him and Harrison Bader into the lineup. There are better choices here, but Bradley’s pending arbitration figure and just one year before free agency could make him a cheaper option with a lower acquisition cost than others.
$21.4M median surplus value
There isn’t any reason the A’s would make Canha available. The only reason I didn’t remove him from the list is that the A’s are creative and he’s one of the few players that match our parameters. If you liked Rosario, you’ll really like Canha. He provides the same amount of thump, but gives less value away with his glove. He walks about four times as much as Rosario. Both his BB% and BB/K% were top 30 in baseball this year. His contact percentage is just under upper quartile, which would be a helpful addition. Unlike Rosario, Canha is right-handed. He’s also coming off of a breakout season that saw him amass a 146 wRC+, and his late development will suppress his arbitration salaries in his final two years of the process. He’s exactly the kind of player that cost-conscious teams like the A’s crave. Acquiring Canha would cost more in prospects or MLB talent than the rest of this list. That’s assuming the A’s can even be persuaded to deal him.
$7.8M median surplus value
Peralta carries a middling profile- average plate discipline and contact rates, production a little over league average at the plate, defense and baserunning a little below. A nagging shoulder injury diminished his production in 2019 and any deal would be predicated on the hope of unlocking the 2018 version if he discovers better health. He’s left-handed, and only has one year remaining before free agency. He’s a reasonable bridge to 2021. Whether or not the Diamondbacks want to deal him is a different story, as they’d be selling low and aren’t exactly teeming with outfield options. It’s do-able from the Cardinals perspective, and would likely cost them one of their own non-Carlson/O’Neill outfield prospects.
Calhoun only appears here because he doesn’t cost any prospects. He has decent power from the left side, though some of his 2019 ISO surge is the result of an unsustainable 22.9% HR/FB. Before 2019, his isolated power was average. His overall value has been slowly regressing from his 2014-2016 peak. The Angels just declined his $14M option, which should tell you how teams view him. He’s the easiest, and cheapest, addition the Cardinals could make. If you want a disposable player who has a chance to give you solid/average production, Kole Calhoun is a person who exists and provides the path of least resistance.
I’ve excluded first year arbitration players, but a few stand out. Specifically, Mitch Haniger and Andrew Benintendi seem like players who could be shopped. However, the asking price for both of those players- even after down years- will be steep. Looking at all of the options, Rosario stands out a bit, an imperfect player who fills several team needs. The biggest question the Cardinals will have to answer, both for the outfield slot and for any potential starting pitcher acquisition, is whether or not the asking price is worth it.