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Looking at former Cardinals

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How are the former Cardinals who would be Cardinals if the Cardinals did nothing?

League Championship - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game One Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

At approximately 1:20 on Tuesday, former Cardinal Sandy Alcantara took the mound for the Miami Marlins in Game 1 of the NLDS. He lost to the Atlanta Braves, helped by former Cardinal Marcell Ozuna going 2-5 with 2 RBIs. Later that day, former Cardinal Randy Arozarena would go 2-4 with a home run for the Tampa Bay Rays in a win over the New York Yankees, which featured cleanup hitter and former Cardinal Luke Voit going 0-3 with a BB and a run scored. It felt like no matter what game you watched, you were seeing evidence of missed opportunities.

Of course, I’m intentionally framing this as badly as possible. One former Cardinal who did not play that day was Joe Kelly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the mediocre but overpaid reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was traded at the height of his value, only to become a mediocre reliever. Former Cardinal Stephen Piscotty did play, but he was reduced to a platoon player in the ALDS after a 73 wRC+. He went 1-2, but was pinch-hit for as soon as the lefty starter was taken out of the game.

So, let’s take stock of the former Cardinals in the league and try to look at them objectively. Let’s look at the former Cardinals who have six or less years of team control still and would be on the Cardinals if they did nothing. And Ozuna, who was offered a qualified offer and probably would have taken it had he known what the market would be since he effectively signed that deal anyway with the Braves. So my remark on Kelly was a bit misleading: he doesn’t qualify for this post, having reached free agency prior to the 2019 season.

I’ll start from the beginning. And by beginning, the first possible offseason that the Cardinals could have traded somebody who would still be in pre-free agency right now. That is the 2014-2015 offseason. Given MLB options, it’s technically possible someone would still be under team control before that, but to give you an idea of how long ago that was in baseball terms, the Cardinals made the David Freese and John Lackey trades the year before. Of the seven players involved in those trades, four of them are retired now and a fifth (Fernando Salas) didn’t pitch in 2020 and whose career might be done as well. Fun fact there.

Dominating

In July of 2017, the Cardinals traded Marco Gonzales for Tyler O’Neill. The book on this one still isn’t closed until Tyler stops getting chances. But he certainly has a lot of work to do to not make this look bad. Gonzales has had seasons of 3.4, 3.7, and 2 fWAR, with the latter coming in the 60 game season. He is signed for 4 more years with a club option. Some important context: Gonzales was out of options and at the time of the trade, it would have looked insane to guarantee him a spot in the 2018 rotation. If the Cardinals have to reserve a spot for him, they probably don’t sign Miles Mikolas in the offseason. (Here’s who got starts in 2018: Adam Wainwright, Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver, Carlos Martinez, John Gant, Michael Wacha - kind of see how Cards thought they had no room here)

For the Marcell Ozuna trade, it is somewhat difficult to say what the real prize was supposed to be at the time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Zac Gallen. Gallen was oddly enough traded by the Marlins before he ever got an MLB shot for some reason. In just 2.7 career starts, he has 3.1 career fWAR. His age 25 season is next year, and ZiPS is a believer in him so this one might hurt.

At the trading deadline in the 2018 season, the Cardinals made four trades. The Tommy Pham trade is arguably the only that hurts. He had a great season and a half with the Rays, and was replacement level with the Padres in this short season. He has one more season until he reaches free agency. But with Pham, we all knew he had this in him. He didn’t get better after leaving the Cards. He got traded primarily because of a fear that his body would break down, specifically his eyes.* That fear has not been realized, which obviously makes this a bad trade.

*Count me as someone who doesn’t buy that he was traded because he criticized the team. It may have contributed, but it was a very small part. There’s the injury history, and the fact that they wanted to clear an OF spot and he was tradeable, while Dexter Fowler was not, and yes the eyes.

They also traded Luke Voit, and some people might take issue that Pham is the only one that’ll hurt. I’ll say this for Voit: you are definitely overrating him. So far, he has 39 really good games to end 2018 and 56 really good games in 2020. In between was a not very good 2019, which was a 1.7 fWAR season with a .345 BABIP. He has a career .286 BABIP. Plus there’s Giovanny Gallegos 2.2 fWAR since then as a reliever and the fact that there was no DH, so with the future trade of Paul Goldschmidt, there truly was no room here. It is stupid to complain about losing him. I contemplated whether to put him in this category, but for now, I think it’s the most accurate.

I honestly can’t believe this next player is under this category, but freaking Mike Mayers learned a new pitch on his own and then took that to a 35.2 K%. He was worth 0.9 fWAR in the shortened season. The Cardinals probably keep him if they could predict the pandemic, even if you don’t know his breakthrough is coming. So that’s kind of unfortunate timing.

Then of course there is Ozuna. Who technically doesn’t actually fit the parameters of this post, but it’d be weird to not mention him. But I will say that Ozuna is like the perfect player for a 60 game season - as long as you get the right 60 games. Which the Braves did. In the 2nd half of 2018, Ozuna had a 132 wRC+ for the Cardinals. We saw Ozuna for two solid years, and he was not a player I would have given a big contract to, and I don’t really think 60 games should change that. Just my opinion.

Then there’s the Matthew Liberatore trade, or at least I hope we can call it that one day. Randy Arozarena is here, but I will note it’s because I have no choice. If there was a “Great in an incredibly small sample size, but the jury is actually still out on him” place that I could put him, I would. I’ll be beating a dead horse on this one, but truly: counting the playoffs, he has 110 total plate appearances this year. I think he’s going to be saddled with unrealistic expectations from this playoffs that he will just not be able to live up to, and it’s not his fault, but I don’t think anyone should expect him to be a superstar. Good player, sure.

Serviceable

After the 2017 season, the Cardinals traded Aledmys Diaz for JB Woodman. He had a league average season with the Blue Jays, and then was a good bench player with the Houston Astros. He is getting paid $2.6 million this year (or whatever that is in 60 games). Interesting wrinkle though: the negative changes he made from his rookie to second year (less patience) seemed to have stayed except for he added more power when he left the Cardinals. Power he may not have had at Busch Stadium, being a right-handed hitter. He played at Rogers Centre and Minute Maid, both parks that I believe are good for home runs. So something to keep in mind. Regardless, I hope he was for clubhouse reasons, because he was a pure 40 man roster dump and the guy who took his plate appearances was Yairo Munoz.

The other starter involved in the Ozuna trade and mentioned above, Alcantara, I confess I’m not as much a believer in. It’s hard to say. His 2020 numbers are real improved from 2019, when he had a 4.55 FIP and 5.17 xFIP, but also it’s 9 total starts including the playoffs (his playoff numbers would bring down his season numbers across the board). So far, I have not missed him myself, but if the improvements are real, that’s a different story. I do think there’s a decent shot Alcantara would have burned both of his options by now with the Cardinals and would be going into the bullpen next year, ala Daniel Poncedeleon (which isn’t a sure thing I guess).

In February of 2018, the Padres selected Rowan Wick off waivers. This one is hard to regret and I’ll tell you why. Wick wasn’t good with the Padres. So if the Cardinals saw fit to give him another chance, they’d let him go after his 2018 anyway. He was traded to the Cubs, and he was a serviceable reliever last year with some insane luck (0 HR/FB%, .256 BABIP), but he might actually be good now. Again short season, who knows how reliable these improvement seasons are.

In November, the Cardinals outrighted Greg Garcia, who was picked up by the Padres. He had a bounceback season last year, with 1.4 fWAR, and had a below replacement level season this year. Once again, not necessarily something getting too worked up over except it would have been better if he got those plate appearances instead of Munoz.

Last year, both Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver would have been in the above category. Now they maybe belong to the “not worth missing” category. I’ll split the difference and call them serviceable. After a strong 12 starts last year, Weaver got hurt, and he was not good at all in 12 starts in 2020. He still has three years of team control, but does enter arbitration in 2021. Kelly meanwhile had a 1.9 fWAR season on the back of a burst of power I’m not sure he’ll see again. Without that power, he was a 71 wRC+ hitter this year. He’s somewhere in between that as a hitter probably.

One Good Year, Iffy Contract

At the trading deadline in 2015, the Cardinals traded Kyle Barraclough for Steve Cishek. Okay so this player never had an iffy contract, but since he had one great year and was let go by the Marlins for money, this is the best fit. He was briefly amazing. Eventually his lack of control was his downfall. After one great season (2.2 fWAR), he had a solid one though nothing special, collapsed in 2018, giving back some of the value (-0.6 fWAR). The Marlins traded him, he completely collapsed with the Nationals, and he’s since been outrighted twice.

At the same time that Ozuna was traded, Stephen Piscotty was traded. While the pieces the Cardinals got have amounted to very little, Piscotty isn’t really shaping up to be someone you regret moving. Plus, the trade had other motives. After a 3.1 fWAR season in 2018, Piscotty had 0.6 fWAR last year and 0.4 fWAR this year, but this year’s numbers is completely propped up by an insane defensive number (+14 in RF compared to career 0). In any case, he hasn’t really lived up to his contract the past two years (if you normalize those defensive numbers, which you absolutely should), getting paid $7 million a year going forward.

Same offseason, another outfielder traded, this time in the form of Randal Grichuk. Not really seeing much to regret here, although again the return wasn’t great. He had a pretty good first year with the Jays (2.1 fWAR), leading to a longer term contract through 2023. He, like Piscotty, got paid $7 million to be a 0.5 fWAR player in 628 PAs. He’s getting paid the prorated version of $12 million this year, and then $9.3 for the next few years. He would enter free agency now if not for the deal and he would certainly do worse than 4 years, $37.2 million, so good on you Grichuk. Cardinals would have let him walk.

Nothing Worth Missing

In the 2014-2015 offseason, the Cardinals traded Sam Gaviglio for Ty Kelly. While Kelly didn’t take an at-bat for the Cards, Gaviglio reached over two years of service time. But he had a career 4.88 ERA and 0.6 career fWAR in 296.2 IP. He was selected off waivers and then traded and has since been released following 3 ER in 3 innings in 2020.

In March of 2015, the Cardinals released Ildemaro Vargas, who had been in the system since 2008. The Diamondbacks signed him as a minor league free agent, sent him all the way down to A ball, he advanced all the way to the to the majors, and has accrued over a year of service time since then. But he has been worth -0.4 fWAR, was on three separate teams in 2020, and is currently on the Cubs. I would be surprised if he stays on an MLB roster in 2021.

In the 2015-2016 offseason, the Cardinals left Luis Perdomo exposed to the Rule 5 draft and the Padres chose him with one of their picks. Considering the jump from High to the MLB, Perdomo did surprisingly well, though had a massive homer problem keeping his ERA high and his WAR at just 0.2. And then he kind of just never improved. The Padres still have him but have burned his last option and he’s in arbitration, so I expect they’ll let him go. The next year’s Rule 5 draft, the Padres drafted Allen Cordoba. Cordoba was much worse than Perdomo and hasn’t gotten a chance at the MLB since, although he’s still just 24.

Back to the Marcell Ozuna trade. Magneuris Sierra actually had a decent 2020, although it was a total of 19 games for a 95 wRC+. It’s not counting this year, but his 2021 projection is literally -1 WAR. He has a career -0.4 fWAR. He’s out of options, so I don’t know if the Marlins will keep him around all next year. We can safely say if the Cardinals never traded him, he wouldn’t even make an MLB appearance next year though and he would be DFA’d.

The fourth piece, Daniel Castano, also made the majors in 2020, but in his case, you can ease your concerns. He had a 9.5 K% in 29.2 innings pitched. He’s already 26, and might move to the bullpen, but you should never regret moving a bullpen piece in a trade like the Ozuna trade.

And then the 2018 trading deadline. The first was Sam Tuivailala, who pitched 28.1 IP for the Mariners before getting hurt and eventually released. They then traded Oscar Mercado, one of the players frequently referenced last year in “why did they give him up,” which was bizarre because it wasn’t that good of a season. He completely collapsed this year with a -0.5 fWAR season. Which yes is a small sample, but now he has the equivalent of a full season in the MLB, and he has a 77 wRC+ with 1.2 fWAR in that full season. He did not have a good projection from ZiPS before his 2020 season, so I’m going to guess the projections will not be kind to him with 2020 factored in.

The final piece in the Goldschmidt trade was Andy Young, and while he had a promising first 34 PAs, I’m disinclined to put him above this category until he proves otherwise. He also had a swinging strike% of 21.4, so even under the tiny sample where he did well, he probably can’t continue to swing and miss anywhere near that rate and be successful.

Patrick Wisdom played in 9 total games before being outrighted. That’s because he struck out in 15 of the 28 plate appearances for the Rangers. The Cubs gave him two appearances in 2020 where he did not get a hit. His 58 PA stretch for the Cards might be more shocking than when Pete Kozma lit the baseball world on fire. Actually, nah Kozma will always hold that crown. The Cardinals sold Adolis Garcia to the Rangers, and after not appearing in the majors at all in 2019, he got 7 PAs this year. He struck out in 4 of them and didn’t get a hit.

It’s funny that it’s currently known as the Randy Arozarena trade, because when the trade happened, news outlets called it the Jose Martinez trade. Which you and me and most people reading this knew was a mistake. Hindsight will make the Jose Martinez part of this trade look like a salary dump, that’s for sure. He had a 57 wRC+ in 98 PAs this year. I knew he was doomed when Tyler Webb threw three fastballs by him. The “throws under 90 mph” Webb against a guy who is supposed to destroy lefties.

I double-checked to make sure I didn’t miss anybody and I in fact missed three players... that nobody would have called me out for since they’re in this section. Nonetheless, I found out about them, so I’ll share. The first is Rob Kaminsky, whose story most of us know. Injuries prevented him from really ever making the majors, he signed here, and made his MLB debut. The Cardinals traded Malik Collymore for Jonathan Broxton. Collymore appears to have never been more than a bench player in the minors or he just got injured a lot. And finally, Matt Bowman had a very Bowman season with the Reds last year in a half a year, and then missed this year to have Tommy John surgery (and he had it recently, so he’ll miss next year too)

Out of Baseball

Prior to the 100 win season in 2015, the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward. Shelby Miller reached free agency, so he’s not the relevant part. Jenkins on the other hand, debuted in 2016. That would prove to be his only season. He pitched 52 innings in 2016, with more walks than strikeouts and his professional career was over after the 2017 season.

In July of 2016, the Cardinals traded Charlie Tilson for Zach Duke. Tilson got his first MLB hit and then immediately got hurt in his first start after the trade, and then had two bad seasons before being let go. I’m not sure if his career is actually over, but it very well might be. After the season, the Cardinals took Jeremy Hazelbaker off the 40 man, where he was selected off waivers by the DBacks. He had 61 PAs with a .533 BABIP and that’s all the chance he got with them and the league in general. Tim Cooney was selected off waivers too, but never got another MLB shot. Dean Kiekheifer did, but it was three teams later and it was just 2 (bad) innings).

In May of 2017, the Cardinals released Mitch Harris, who got nearly two years of MLB service time with the Cards. He actually never pitched again. Right before the 2018 season started, they traded both Josh Lucas and Breyvic Valera. Valera has since played for the Dodgers, Orioles, Yankees, Giants and Blue Jays. Lucas has since played for the Athletics, Nationals, and Orioles organizations. Neither played in 2020.

To be determined

The Cardinals traded 19-year-old Diowell Burgos for Austin Dean. He was in rookie ball, and thus hasn’t had a chance to play since leaving the Cardinals. The Cardinals left Ramon Urias exposed to waivers, and he did well in a short sample. But it’s 27 PAs, and he needed a .444 BABIP to do it, so there’s really just about nothing for me to judge here.

And I’m putting him here for the same reason, but let it be known that he probably belongs in the “Not Worth Missing” category: Yairo Munoz. He had a 123 wRC+ this year, but it came with zero walks and a 24.4 K% and a .424 BABIP, so he doesn’t appear to have actually changed as a hitter at all, just got a bit lucky in a short sample. We already know he’s bad at defense too.

Conclusion

I know I included all manner of transactions in this post, but.... writing out all the former Cardinals made me personally feel better. Of the top section of guys, I think the Voit-Gallegos trade is a classic “both sides win” trade, so there should be no beef there. The Arozarena trade is, in my opinion, not worth judging yet. It was explicitly a now for future trade. The future was never supposed to be in the MLB in 2020, so wait to throw stones until Liberatore is ready. Pham? Everyone has a point. The Gonzales trade is a tough one currently, but context of when the trade was made is everything there. Plus, as long as the Cardinals don’t give up on O’Neill, I think he’ll make up some of the difference. Lastly, I just refuse to regret losing Ozuna given nobody else thought he was worth a multi-year deal.

The Ozuna trade is a good example of why sometimes quantity over quality works out in trades. It’s kind of incredible to see people both complain about who the Cardinals gave up to get Ozuna and think the Cardinals should have re-signed him. That feels like contradictory positions to me personally. In any case, Gallen looks for real and Alcantara looks like he might join him.

I think right now just looks particularly bad, because Arozarena is constantly reminding us of what the Cardinals could have. It’s hard not to. But the version we see of Arozarena in the playoffs is likely considerably better than the player Arozarena is and will be. I feel like people are going to give me trouble for that, but that seems like the least controversial thing I could say.

So there you have it. I think I covered everybody, but I will admit it’s possible I missed a transaction or two. Wouldn’t surprise me.