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Looking at three LF options who just got nontendered

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Cardinals need a left-handed hitter, here are options.

Cincinnati Reds v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

The deadline for teams to tender contracts has not typically been an important date for fans to know. It was an uneventful time. Players did get nontendered, but they were the fringe players, the players you acted like wouldn’t come back anyway. Until last year that is. A change happened: suddenly players who were on reasonable deals were getting nontendered. The simple WAR calculation no longer applied.

If a 2 WAR player was getting $8 million, and you had a player who could duplicate that production, they might get nontendered. Cesar Hernandez got nontendered. Kevin Guasman got nontendered. 54 other players also got nontendered, and most of those were not remarkable. But it felt like something had changed. A player like Gausman before would have been tendered a contract, and if that team didn’t want him, they’d be able to trade him fairly easily. That was no longer the case.

So it comes as no surprise, that an offseason later, better players are being let go. Things were functioning normally last offseason and I’m not even saying it’s a travesty those guys got nontendered, but it did seem like teams were more willing to get rid of a clearly above replacement player who could perhaps be easily replaced than in the past, when they’d just pay that guy or trade him to someone who would. According to Bob Nightengale, the most dangerous sentence ever written, 59 players were nontendered, which is not that out of line with last year.

Three players in particular stick out, or at least three players fit the left-handed power bat role that the Cardinals could use. Two things before I name them. The Cardinals will probably not get them. That’s the obligatory statement. Secondly, I’m not even sure the Cardinals should get them. None of them move the needle, and signing them takes playing time away from players who will help give us a better idea of the plan for the future.

But let’s set all that aside and look at the three: David Dahl, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber. All of them are left-handed. All of them would be ideally suited in a platoon role. All of them were nontendered by the teams that drafted them. First, David Dahl, because the chatter about him, led by Derrick Goold because there’s not a Rockies player he doesn’t want, annoys me a bit.

You’re going to hear David Dahl is a reasonable option, a cheaper alternative to the two others and what you hear is going to be wrong. Dahl is not good. Someone explain this phenomenon for me, because I’m a loss. Fans understand Coors Field helps with hitters’ stats. Fans are also utterly unable to not overrate every single hitter coming out of Colorado despite knowing this. This is not a home/away splits argument by the way, which typically normalize when they leave Coors.

Dahl at his best was not good. He’s a left fielder who’s so far peaked as a 113 wRC+ hitter. A season where he had a .404 BABIP. Okay so that’s probably not his best. He had a 110 wRC+ with a .386 BABIP in 2019. Well, I’ll give you the 110 wRC+ with the .311 BABIP in 2018. That’s probably his best. Last year, he tanked hard. In 99 PAs, he had a 10 wRC+. For his career, he has a 101 wRC+ with a .358 BABIP. In addition to all that, he has had injury problems every season of his career.

ZiPS is not much of a fan of Dahl. Helpfully, ZiPS has released the team projections for the Colorado Rockies, one of the few released so far. The projection system has him as a 0.7 WAR player in 429 PAs, or 1 WAR per 600 PAs. They project his career wRC+, 101. None of this is terribly encouraging.

Dahl is a weird case. Because I can see the argument that he has upside, but I don’t think you’re going to make a terribly convincing argument using his actual MLB stats, but an argument that somehow injuries have severely impacted his stats, which is more plausible. Because even ignoring 2020, Dahl is a 111 wRC+ hitter for his career with a .369 BABIP, playing mostly at Coors Field. He also has been pretty easily below average defensively at LF. Injuries is your only argument because the stats do not support that he has any upside whatsoever.

Moving on, there’s who will presumably be the most expensive in Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber is essentially Joc Pederson-lite. He has now played 3,500 innings in LF, and well we can safely say he’s at least fine out there. He’s a +5 UZR/150 in his career. I am skeptical he’s that good having watched him, but it is simply hard to argue he’s not at least average. He has a 123 wRC+ and a 75 wRC+ against LHP. He’s about as extreme a platoon player as you’ll get.

Schwarber is another case of ZiPS not exactly being the biggest fan. Or to put it a different way, I’m not terribly compelled to sign him based off these projections. I’m not entirely sure if 2020 stats are taken into account here. His 2020 would not help him if they are not. They project 2 WAR in 527 PAs. That’s... fine. He’d be worth the contract to annoy Cubs fans alone so I’m certainly not going to argue against him.

And then there’s Eddie Rosario, my favorite of the three options and still a guy I’m not terribly interested in signing. With Schwarber and Dahl, I’m not convinced their upside is that great. With Rosario, I think you can make an argument for upside. Rosario would be the same as the other two in that he should only start against right-handed pitchers. He has a career 113 wRC+ against RHP, 88 against LHP.

So how does he have upside exactly? When Rosario started in this league, he was about as bad you can get in the plate discipline department: he struck out about 25% of the time and walked just 3% in his first two seasons. He was a predictably bad hitter both years despite relatively high BABIPs. He made ground his third year, which was incidentally when he broke out, walking a bit more (5%) while cutting his strikeouts down significantly (18%). He also added power that season. That was probably not coincidentally his age 25 season.

Those changes stuck. He basically repeated his 2017 the next year. In 2019, his walks faltered, but he stopped striking out even more (14.6 K%) which helped offset the walks decline. And then in a limited sample of games this year, he maintained that K rate but added a ton of walks, finally walking at a slightly above average rate (8.2%). He didn’t lose power, but his BABIP sank to .243. The upside, as I would argue is, what if his plate discipline change was mostly for real and his BABIP returned to his career .305 level. He was a 110 wRC+ hitter with a .243 BABIP last season. Put a .300 BABIP on that and well, I’m not going to do the math, but it’d be better than his career high 117 wRC+ I’m sure. Rosario is an essentially average defensive LF, slightly above average in truth to round out his profile.

MLBTR projected Rosario for $8.6 million (although one of its methods has it as high as $12.9 million), so it stands to reason he’d be had for less than that, since every team in baseball had a shot to claim him. With the others, we can guess on their price. We know no team wants him with a price tag of around $9 million for one year.

Anyway, I neglected to mention years of service time. Both Schwarber and Rosario have over 5 years of service time, so with what will presumably be a one-year deal would lead directly to free agency. So essentially, they function as normal free agents. Dahl, on the other hand, has just over three years of service time. If they sign him to a one-year deal, he stays under team control for two more seasons. At least, I believe that to be the case. I might need Skyriq to clarify that point.

Of course, Dahl is already in arbitration and is projected for between $2.5 and $2.7 million this year before he got nontendered. His Year 2 arbitration price, no matter what his free agent deal would be, would roughly follow that framework. If he breaks out, he’d cost north of $5 million I think. If he stays the same player, maybe $4 million. If he’s bad, I’m pretty sure he’s still targeted for around $3 million. So he might ended up getting nontendered again.

So there you have it. I made my case for Rosario of the three, although I’m not sure I’d sign any of them. I’d prefer to use whatever available money the Cards want to spend on an infielder who can back up/split time with Carpenter. (I’m assuming Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are signed here) I think they need an infielder far more than they need an outfielder. One of the benefits of having uncertainty in the outfield is that there are like eight of them and one of them going down doesn’t necessarily spell doom. If Carpenter sucks or Paul DeJong gets hurt, the Cards are very, very screwed.