On Monday, I made the argument that the Cardinals’ biggest need this offseason is an infielder who can hit left-handed pitching. In case you have no interest in reading that, the basic argument is that the other needs the Cardinals have simply have more depth. More bodies to throw at the problem. The infield doesn’t even have that. There’s one guy who is overwhelmingly likely to not be ready quite yet (Elehuris Montero) and another who should probably only play SS because his bat can’t play anywhere else (Edmundo Sosa).
A natural follow-up to that post is listing possible targets. I am going to focus on free agents and not trades. It is entirely possible there is a trade out there that fills a need and that the Cardinals hope to make, but the simplest solution is to not trade any prospects and sign someone for not a lot of money.
With the recent news that Yadier Molina and his agents found the Cardinals most recent offer “ridiculous.” it’s tough to speculate on how much the Cardinals would be willing to spend on the infield, if at all. We know they will not spend 2 years, $20 million on Molina, and whatever the counter offer to Molina was, was “ridiculous.” The optimistic reading, from a Cards fan perspective, is that they’re trying to pay Molina less to make another move, but uh well it could just as easily be they don’t want to spend anything period.
Whatever the case may be, I’m still going to speculate. For the players I mention, the player has to be better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. So that rules out all the left-handed options who can play the infield. The player must be willing to accept a backup role, which would leave out someone like Cesar Hernandez. The player must be had a relatively cheap price, which would leave out DJ LeMehieu. And in my opinion anyway, the player should have the ability to play both 3B and 2B, which would leave out Maikel Franco. (He actually breaks the first rule too; he has an 88 career wRC+ against LHP, 92 against RHP; he wouldn’t be particularly useful in a platoon role because of that)
With Alberto, we have a bit of a sample size issue and a bit of a BABIP issue in the numbers you’ll see, but Alberto sounds pretty perfect if you don’t look deeper. He has a 117 wRC+ in his career against LHP, is nearly a +7 fielder by UZR at 2B and 3B, and has experience playing SS as well. That all sounds great. There’s obviously a downside.
Well, the thing is that he’s probably not good against LHP. I know career 117 wRC+. But two things about that number - one it was done in just 350 PAs, and two his wRC+ against RHP is 53. Yes, 53. In all likelihood, he is not that bad against RHP, but he’s also very likely not anywhere near that good against LHP. Because he has a .404 BABIP against LHP. He actually strikes out more against LHP than RHP. Walks the exact same. Against all pitchers, he was in the bottom 1% of the league in exit velocity. Do not be fooled by his numbers against LHP. They are a complete mirage.
Cabrera is the best type of backup infielder. While he is better against LHP, there’s barely a difference between his numbers against RHP and LHP for his career. He is a switch hitter, so he can basically play against either hand. We are looking for someone who can hit LHP, but having them not be worthless against RHP is also ideal. Since his move from SS two years ago, he has also been able to play every other infield position. Him not being able to play SS is not a big deal with Sosa in the fold and with Paul DeJong barely ever sitting in the first place.
The downside is that Cabrera is old. His 2020 Steamer projection is identical to his 2020 performance: a 95 wRC+. Which is a problem because he’s also not very good at defense. He was moved off SS because he was a bad defender there, and he was bad enough there, that he’s probably bad at 2B and 3B too. Whether he faces RHP or LHP, you’re getting a below average hitter with below average defense at this stage in his career. There’s always the chance he has one more good offensive season in him, but he could also turn into Mark Ellis.
We’re all familiar with Gyorko here, so I won’t spend too much time on him. He has a career 122 wRC+ against LHP, 93 against RHP. He’s a capable defender at 3B, and maybe 2B, although maybe he hasn’t played there in a long enough time that he might not be good there anymore. He has an above average hitting projection overall. His $4.5 million option was rejected with a $1 million buyout, so if that’s his market, he’s definitely cheap. He’s honestly the perfect solution.
If only we knew the behind the scenes situation with Gyorko. I have no clue if Gyorko has hard feelings about how things went down. I’m inclined to think if Gyorko is staring at two comparable offers and one of them is the Cards, he takes the other offer. But that’s just a personal gut feeling here based on nothing.
Hernandez is a true platoon player. You really don’t see many player survive as a guy who can only hit left-handed pitching. Like truly only hit left-handed pitching. Hernandez has a 120 wRC+ against LHP, 82 wRC+ against RHP for his career. He walks more, strikes out less, has more power, and a better BABIP against LHP. He has also played literally every position within the last two years, with the exception of catcher and pitcher.
One side effect of him playing everywhere is... I don’t have a good read of how good he is defensively. Like at all. He is -6 fielder by UZR at 2B, but +2 by OAA. He’s a +10 fielder at SS by UZR, but -1 by OAA. This is because he does not have a good sample of innings played anywhere. If you combine his OF numbers, it’s just 2,000 innings. It’s less than that in the IF. One thing that appears true is that he’s much, much better defensively in the OF than the IF. Which is a downside insofar as he’s nearly completely worthless to us playing the OF, seeing as he’s a sub for Matt Carpenter and he’s unplayable when a RHP is pitching.
He also appears to be a fantastic clubhouse guy, which can be added to the equation somewhere if you’re inclined.
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Lowrie has essentially not played in two years. He has just 8 PAs in 2019, and then missed 2020 completely. He would be cheap though. Very cheap. Maybe sign a minor league deal cheap. He’s the infield equivalent of signing 10 Pat Nesheks before the year, and maybe this year they’ll be healthy and good? Lowrie has a career 110 wRC+ against LHP and a career 106 wRC+ overall.
Robertson certainly has a unique career so far. As a part-time player, he broke out in 2018 with a 128 wRC+ in 340 PAs. He surrounded that season with a 77 wRC+ and a 71 wRC+. He barely played on the Giants last season, completely buried by their weirdly strong infield. He’s still going to be just 27. He probably got nontendered less because the Giants think he has no more use, and more because that 2018 season raised his price too high for a player like him.
He has a 103 wRC+ for his career against LHP, 94 against RHP. But as you can see, that’s pretty much one year. Robertson has a good eye with a 11.6 BB%, but strikes out too much. He also might not have any power, which is the real reason he’s probably not great at hitting. He seems to be a decent fielder, possibly good. Doesn’t appear to be a very good shortstop, but seems to be a positive at the two positions (2B, 3B) that would matter to the Cards.
Maikel Franco - I mentioned it above, but he’s not actually better against LHP and can’t play 2B.
Marwin Gonzalez - Has narrowly been better against RHP in his career, but more importantly, I’m not sure he’d sign without a clearer starting opportunity.
Renato Nunez - Exact same reasons as Franco. He actually has a bigger disparity, although less of a sample size. He’s also probably worse on defense.
Danny Santana - Aside from having a fantastically bad Steamer projection (-0.4 WAR), he has been worse against LHP in his career (81 to 89)
Jonathan Villar - I was about to list him, and then I looked harder at his career and I think he’ll get a starting spot for a bad team somewhere. In his last five seasons, he’s had 3 of them with 2+ WAR and two of them below replacement. No in between.