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I Think the Cardinals Should: Trade for Joc Pederson

The Dodgers slugger is potentially on the block. Should the Cardinals pursue him?

Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals - Game Four Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the Winter Meetings beginning tomorrow in San Diego and deals already going down all over baseball, it’s time to stoke that hot stove to full temperature. Rumors are flying and this is the place where we consider them all. At “I Think the Cardinals Should” all rumors are given credence and all arguments are considered. We’ll take your well-reasoned statistical analysis and your illogical, passionate diatribes and give them equal space. Last time, we looked at a statement that better fit the second of those types: “I think the Cardinals should give up on Alex Reyes”. Today, we look at the former type: “I think the Cardinals should trade for Joc Pederson.”

Well, of course they should!

At first glance, Pederson’s game seems to be one of extremes. The Dodger’s outfielder smashed 36 HR’s last year and carried a .289 ISO, both career highs. At age 27, Pederson already has 123 career HR’s. Let’s take a minute to admire his left-handed power stroke from the 2019 HR Derby.

Impressive stuff. Less impressive is Pederson’s ability to do anything with the bat except hit for power. The slugger typically sits just below a .250 batting average, and has a career line of .233. This lack of a hitting tool derives from a consistently low BABIP. His .249 BABIP was the 6th lowest in baseball last season and it seems to always land in the .240-.270 range, well below league expectations.

Is Pederson all power and nothing else?

Hardly. Joc has a career walk rate of 12.3%. As his power has increased, that has dropped, but he was at a still robust 9.7% last season. He is a surprisingly capable defender. While he broke through with the Dodgers as a centerfielder, those days are gone. He has settled in as a plus defender in both right and left fields, with a +11 DRS last season and an overall +6.2 UZR. Both of those are the best of his career, which correlates to his move away from center.

All together, Pederson was worth 3.0 WAR in 149 games played but just 514 PA’s last season. He’s finished between 2.7 and 3.5 WAR in every season of his career except an injury-shortened 2017, when a concussion stole much of his playing time and effectiveness.

It is consistency that is most notable for Pederson. He provides consistent defense, power, and walk rate, along with a consistently low batting average and BABIP. In total, he consistently provides a 125-128 wRC+ and about 3 WAR.

Oh, and he’s also consistently terrible against left-handed pitchers, which explains the odd way the Dodgers have used the slugging OF’er. Pederson’s career line against left-handers is almost too ugly to mention: .188/.263/.310, with a 52 wRC+. Yikes!

Not surprisingly, the Dodgers got him off the field any time a lefty so much as looked in his direction. In over 700 games played and almost 2400 plate appearances, he’s only faced lefties 375 times.

Low batting averages and extreme platoon splits are not the only downside that Pederson brings with him. He’s in his final year of arbitration and he is expected to demand a salary between $8.5-$10M. While that’s a discount for a reliable 3 WAR producer, he does only have one more year of team control.

Great power but weak hitting. Fine defense but a heavy platoon split. Relatively low salary but only one year before free agency.

Why would the Cardinals want to commit trade resources and stretch their already thin budget for a player wwho is such a mixed bag?

The Cardinals should consider Pederson because he’s pretty much a perfect fit for where they are and what they hope to accomplish.

2020 looks like a transitional year for the Cardinals. They are hoping to squeeze as much production as possible out of aging players like Wainwright, Molina, Fowler, and Carpenter, while also getting a long look at the next wave of talent coming up from the system. The Cardinals’ brass wants to give time to Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman, and Lane Thomas, and they also have Randy Arozarena, Justin Williams, and Adolis Garcia on the 40-man roster.

The problem with an offense built upon the old and declining and the young and unknown is that consistency can be a hard thing to find. The club experienced this to the frustration of nearly everyone – fans, front office, managers, and players – in 2019.

The Cardinals need stabilizers to surround the inevitable flux in player role and performance that comes from a roster built on the declining old and the untested young. Goldschmidt, DeJong, and Wong provide relatively consistent production on the infield. If the club wants to make another serious playoff run in 2020, they must find a similar constant in the outfield. Devoting at least one outfield spot to an established producer would give the club the freedom in the other two spots to search for their next set of producers without sacrificing their playoff chances. The club might argue that Fowler is this player. While his salary might place him in that role, his performance does not. Such a player has to come from outside the current roster.

Pederson is a platoon-level, HR smashing, 27-year-old BB machine who can provide quality and versatile defense on a one-year deal below $10M. What’s not to like about that? As a platoon-player his entire career, it should be no surprise to him when Shildt runs Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, or even Jose Martinez into his lineup spot when a lefty is on the bump.

Have I sold you yet? Mo, are you taking notes here?

If not, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve. Because of his massive HR numbers and his showing at the Derby, fans might be overestimating the actual cost that Pederson would require in trade. Recent trades involving comparable players have been surprisingly affordable.

At the trade deadline, another 27-year-old platoon-level pending free agent OF’er, Nicolas Castellanos, was moved for two A+ level pitchers, neither of which were rated above a 40 in future value by Fangraphs. Castellanos is probably a notch below Pederson in ability and costs at the deadline are typically cheaper than the offseason. But, the Castellanos trade provides a floor for a potential Pederson deal.

The Ozuna trade provides the ceiling. Ozuna was also 27 years old when he was dealt and had two years of control and no extreme platoon splits. He’s a comparable power hitter who was coming off a career 5.0 WAR season and had a 4.5 WAR campaign in his recent past. Cards fans might take Pederson over Ozuna now, but at the time of the deal, Ozuna was more valuable than Pederson is now. The Cardinals acquired Ozuna for a package that included a fringe top 100 prospect, a backup-caliber centerfielder, plus a bit more.

Put it together and Joc Pederson should cost the Cardinals somewhere between a iSandy Alcantara-like package and A-ball roster filler. There are several ways the Cardinals could go to fulfill such demands. The club needs to clear space on the 40-man and eliminate some outfield roster squeeze. The Dodgers might want to clear salary space to pursue some bigger fish.

In my proposal, the Cardinals take Joc Pederson for Randy Arozarena and an intriguing young pitcher. If the Dodgers prefer to be pitching centered, the club should offer Joc Pederson for Daniel Ponce de Leon and Justin Williams or Adolis Garcia.

I know what you’re going to say: “that’s not nearly enough! Pederson crushes the ball!” Comparable deals suggest it is. If the Dodgers demand more, Mo only needs to remind them that the Cardinals were nice enough to give them Jedd Gyorko and take Tony Cingrani off their hands for “future considerations”.

If you’re not a fan of well-reasoned arguments, “I think we should” also has something for you. I could see the Cardinals passing on Joc Pederson and claiming he is too much like what they already have. Couldn’t Tyler O’Neill provide power, walks, and solid defense for the league minimum? Pederson’s never even hit .250 for crying out loud! Randy Arozarena can do that! And didn’t Lane Thomas crack 27 HR’s across two levels in 2018? Power is easy to find! Why give up talent for a flawed one-year rental when you could just pay the current options pennies. Surely, between Carlson, Thomas, O’Neill, Bader, Fowler, Arozarena, and Martinez, the club can get solid production from all three OF spots. Oh, and Tommy Edman is around, too!

That’s just too much risk for me in what should be another tight year in the NL Center. Fowler’s bounce back season landed him somewhere around 4th outfielder territory. Expect him to continue to decline. Of the rest of those players, Carlson is the only one that I think is a lock to actually stick as a major league starter for multiple seasons, and he has only had a handful of AAA PA’s. I like Thomas and Arozarea and I want to see them succeed, but a controlled environment is the best way for that to happen. O’Neill could maybe be as good as Pederson someday, but so far he hasn’t done much to force his way into the lineup on even a semi-regular basis. If that changes, he’ll create room for himself even with Pederson around and the club will be better for it.

Simply put, liking players and wanting to give them free reign in the outfield on a club that should be competing for the division is not the same thing. The Cardinals need a stabilizer in the OF. They need consistent production. They need that to come over a short-commitment and at a low salary. I think the Cardinals should trade for Joc Pederson. I think they need him.