The recent influx of non-tendered players onto the free agent market channeled baseball’s inner-Victor Frankenstein, briefly jolting a moribound hot stove to life. Fans all over the league began meticulously scrolling through the non-tender lists to find the skinniest kid at fat camp for their favorite team to target. While that’s going on, I’d rather look at a traditional free agent who fits well for the Cardinals. Let’s make the case for Jurickson Profar.
Until recently, Profar was primarily known as a busted Texas Rangers prospect. In 2012, he was Baseball America’s #7 prospect. He jumped all the way up to the #1 spot in 2013, two spots ahead of Oscar Taveras. He arrived in Texas in 2012 at the age of 19 before seizing a full-time slot in 2013. His debut season saw him struggle to a 75 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR. Then, all hell broke loose for Profar. A series of shoulder injuries robbed him of the entire 2014 season and all but 12 minor league games in 2015. His prospect star had faded. He fought his way back to the Rangers in 2016 but struggled again (75 fWAR, 0.2 fWAR). He had one more rough season in 2017 (36, -0.1 and most of the season in AAA) before everything clicked in 2018.
By 2018, he had become a utility player logging time all over the infield and even making the occasional appearance in the outfield. A switch hitter, he registered a 107 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR. Since 2018, he has a 100 wRC+ and 5.4 fWAR, including a 111 wRC+ last season. Of 440 qualified hitters, his K% is 39th lowest and his BB/K is 43rd best. His .191 ISO is solidly above average (156th). A quick glance at his Statcast data suggests that this is no fluke. Overall, he doesn’t exactly blow off anyone’s doors, but this is a useful player.
Let’s chat about the Cardinals needs for 2021. The Cardinals need the following:
- Someone to play third base against lefties in place of Matt Carpenter
- Someone to man an outfield corner against lefties in place of Dexter Fowler
- A utility player, a Zobrist™ so to speak, to replace Tommy Edman in the role since Edman is taking over for Kolten Wong at second base. That means someone who can give Paul DeJong a break when he needs it, can play third base and the outfield corners, and second base. Since this person would replace Edman, ideally he should also be able to hold his own defensively at those positions. It would also be great if this person was a switch hitter like Edman, lacking in any extreme platoon split.
- More offense in general, and more power specifically
I think they have more needs than that, but that’s a pretty good summary of what needs to be addressed amongst position players beyond the Yadier Molina situation.
Now let’s continue with our recap of Profar. We already know that he has played all over the diamond. His Outs Above Average (OAA) in the outfield is +3 in his career and includes time at all three positions. His OAA at third base is a more modest -3, which isn’t great but also isn’t a dumpster fire. It’s -5 at second base, which includes a full season of playing time there in 2019. He’s -7 at shortstop, but nobody is signing him to play there with much regularity. Overall, he holds his own at most positions- especially the outfield and third base- and can be used in a pinch at several others.
Profar does carry a bit of a platoon split, though it favors him in the area of greatest Cardinals need- a 112 wRC+ against lefties and a 95 wRC+ against righties since 2018. In the truncated 2020, his platoon split was basically dead even (113 wRC+ vs RHP, 108 vs LHP).
If you’re keeping score, Profar checks off three of those four bullets above. His offense, while very respectable, isn’t likely to make a massive overall difference for the Cardinals. Then again, both his 100 wRC+ since 2018 and his 111 in 2020, paired with Edman, would represent a slight upgrade over the offense the Cardinals received from Edman/Wong. Profar’s .191 ISO since 2018 is more than three times what Wong provided in 2020, and substantially better than what Wong provided historically.
None of this is to say that Profar is a magic bullet capable of fixing all that ails the Cardinals. There would still be plenty of work to be done to enhance the offense. Rather, think of Profar as an affordable and tasty side dish as part of a complete meal. He replaces the Edman-as-super-sub portion of production lost when the team declined Wong’s affordable option. In other words, Profar brings the Cardinals back to their 2019-2020 baseline. That kind of move allows them to make the true improvements elsewhere rather than treading water.