Yesterday, the Blue Jays traded outfielder Teoscar Hernandez for a reliever and a 40 future value prospect. It was interesting insofar as Hernandez is a good player who has a 132 wRC+ in his last three seasons. Typically not a move a contending team makes. Especially since they aren’t especially deep in the outfield. They have three legit starters there, but I’m not seeing much depth behind them after the trade. And George Springer has had some injury issues the past few seasons.
Given the light return, I suspect money is the main motivator. Hernandez is set to make $14 million in 2023. But there are also roster-related reasons. The Blue Jays, even with Hernandez, had one outfielder under contract past 2023, which is Springer. The rest are eligible for free agency next year. So it’s possible they want to acquire a starting caliber outfielder a year early because it would be difficult to acquire two in one offseason. And if money is the main motivator of the trade, a pre-arbitration outfielder is probably on their wish list. Some Blue Jays fans also want George Springer to move to RF, I think for injury reasons, and none of their current outfielders outside of Springer should play CF.
Luckily for the Jays, they happen to have an excess of starting caliber catchers to dangle as trade bait. Not only should they be able to replace Hernandez, they may even duplicate his production with a pre-arbitration player. That’s the kind of value at least two of their catchers have. And since the Cardinals need a catcher badly, it’s only natural that it has spurred discussion on a potential trade.
Here’s the thing though. Technically, the Cardinals aren’t a great trade candidate. Dylan Carlson means they have to acquire another centerfielder. Lars Nootbaar was a 4.7 fWAR player per 600 PAs last year, and while I’m not sure he’d do that over a full season, it is asking way too much of Jordan Walker to replace that production this early in his career. And I don’t think they’re looking for Tyler O’Neill, who is probably an overpay for the only guy who could be a return, Danny Jansen. But we’ll figure that out later. They also have Juan Yepez, Alec Burleson, and Brendan Donovan, but I don’t think any of them should play outfield ideally. They’re fine as depth, but they shouldn’t be the planned starters.
Anyway, I’ll propose two different sets of trades for each of the Blue Jays catchers, one with the centerpiece being a Cardinals starting OFer, and one with a more prospect-driven package.
Before I start with the proposals, let’s figure out the Cardinals’ values first. I’m going to be lazy and use Baseball Trade Values this time. Two reasons: the first is that I don’t like Steamer’s projection of Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, or Lars Nootbaar. Nootbaar and Carlson seems somewhat absurdly optimistic - not in a “it can’t happen” way - but a projection should be a lot more conservative than they are. This makes it hard to figure out trade values because I don’t think teams are valuing them that way. O’Neill’s has him with mediocre defense but also a career high in PAs. Steamer is the only one I’ve got, so the projection part is really not ideal.
Also, most of the players involved have unknown arbitration salaries and their arbitration salaries are not only not known, they will be determined by how they play this year and next year. Without a good projection, I can’t really project a good salary either. Unsatisfying current value and unknown salaries - I’m in the dark for value. I’m not the biggest BTV fan, but they are reasonably close in most cases.
Carlson has a value of $47.2 million. Tyler O’Neill has a trade value of $24.5 million. And Nootbaar has a value of $32.8 million. Feels like Nootbaar and Carlson should not be that far apart given Nootbaar just had a better season than Carlson has ever had in just 347 PAs, while also having an extra year of team control. I think it probably means Carlson has less trade value than it says more than Nootbaar having more. But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade Nootbaar if this is how he’s valued either I don’t think.
Jansen is easy to manually figure out. And it just so happens to line up with BTV. Jansen has a 2.8 WAR projection in nearly 500 PAs, but he’s never had more than 384 PAs and that’s the only season he’s had more than 300. So a 350 PA projection seems more appropriate which would give him 2 WAR. I like my 0.3 decline that I used for the shortstops, which gives him 3.7 WAR for his two years until free agency. Since he’s projected for $3.7 million in arbitration, which would also give him $5.3 million in his last year of arbitration, his value to the team is $35.15 million compared to his cost of $9 million, which is a $26.2 million in surplus. BTV has him worth $26.6 million. Really quite awesome when it works out like that.
Which means a straight swap of O’Neill for Jansen is fair.... theoretically. I’ll manually do O’Neill’s value to be sure. His offensive projection by Steamer passes the smell test, his defensive projection does not. They have him as a neutral defender. He’s been about +5 in his career. He’s only played 2,400 innings at LF so you still regress a bit, so it’s not adding a bunch, but his 2.9 WAR is now 3.1 WAR. But it’s also in 581 PAs, which is too much. Given his history, I do think 500 is fair, given his career high is 537. So 2.7 WAR. His projected salary is $5.1 million and then $7.3 million, so $12.4 million. At 5.1 WAR for his next two years, that’s $48.5 million in value and $12.4 million in salary, so $36.4 million in surplus. So my gut instinct that his value is too low by BTV seems correct.
So for the starting outfielder trade, I’m going to add a reliever from the Blue Jays. Hypothetically, they just added an elite reliever so they could trade the Cardinals one. It’s weak, but it would make sense. And I need to figure out $26 million in prospects for the Cardinals. So here’s the two offers:
Starter OF trade: Tyler O’Neill for Danny Jansen and Adam Cimber ($5.5 by BTV)
Prospect trade: Alec Burleson ($16.5), Joshua Baez ($6.8 million), and Austin Love ($2 million)
Harder to come up with a prospect trade than I expected. Burleson fits their future OF needs, though he can’t play CF. Baez is very, very far away but has high potential. And Love is not one of the Cards’ premium arms.
Kirk is not easy to figure out, so we’re going to go with Baseball Trade Values on this one. He is valued at $39.3 million, which seems pretty low to me! This is both quite a bit more than Nootbaar and quite a bit less than Carlson. I do think the difference between Nootbaar and Kirk is roughly accurate though as they may be similarly undervalued. Which does mean that they’d need to add to Nootbaar to get to Kirk.
I’ll be honest though. If Carlson is really valued the way he’s valued, I would probably take Carlson for Kirk straight up. This is technically an overpay by BTV but... I don’t know how. Kirk was a 3.8 fWAR player last year with a reasonable BABIP. Steamer has him with a 4.4 projection, although that seems absurd given his best season is 3.8. Even valued as a 3 WAR player, Kirk for Carlson would seem to favor the catcher, no? A player like Kirk is way rarer than a player like Carlson.
Anyway, I’m going to go for a theme of sorts here and use a different starting outfielder for each trade attempt. So Nootbaar for Kirk is what I’m going with. We need to add more, though. Nootbaar is valued at 32.8, which means we need roughly $6.5 to close the gap. This is oddly Baez again. But we’ll go with a slightly more valuable player and about as far away in Jonathan Mejia, who’s valued at $7.8 million.
Starting OF trade: Nootbaar and Mejia for Kirk
Prospect trade: Masyn Winn (25.5) and Burleson (16.5) for Kirk
The prospect version of this trade has to include Winn, because Walker is too valuable for Kirk, and it again makes sense to include Burleson who helps with their current and future outfield.
Moreno is a huge, huge prospect who debuted in the majors and had a 113 wRC+ in his first 73 PAs with all six years of team control in front of him, so his value is the largest of anyone discussed so far. He is valued at $61.4 million. He is the least likely of the trio to be traded, no doubt about it. Clearly Carlson is the closest in value from the MLB OFer according to Baseball Trade Values, so he’s the third OF. We’re still missing about $14 though.
Most of the major prospects are more valuable than $14, which includes players like Tink Hence and Gordon Graceffo. I don’t think Burleson is as appealing if he’s being paired with another outfielder either. I do feel this site is underrating his trade value, but Matthew Liberatore is... still not quite there. He’s very close though. Liberatore has a $12.7 value. So he’s next. And lastly, we’ll throw in... Alex Reyes. I don’t know I feel like one year of him may be more desirable than a $1.3 million prospect. Plus this is the MLB offer technically.
Starting OF trade: Carlson, Liberatore, and Reyes for Moreno
Prospect trade: Walker for Moreno
Yeah the prospect version of this trade is a straight up swap for Jordan Walker. Walker has pretty much the same value. Trying to combine other prospects would not work. You’d need to add the next three prospects together to equal Walker’s value, which would make way less sense for the Cardinals to do than just do Walker for Moreno. Which wouldn’t happen, but that’s what would be required.
Here’s the interesting thing about acquiring a Blue Jays catcher that isn’t true for acquiring Sean Murphy. The Cardinals would still need to acquire another catcher. Unless their feelings on Herrera have completely changed and they feel he is MLB ready right now, they need a catcher who can catch 70-80 games. That should not be Andrew Knizner. Murphy could be used as heavily as possible, you probably wouldn’t for these guys.
Reason being is Jansen is super injury prone, and Kirk is good enough offensively that he’ll probably DH to get his bat in the lineup more often. Moreno may eventually get to a point where you play him 130-140 games, but at 23-years-old, you’d probably not give him a heavy workload to start his career.
And by the way, I don’t think acquiring any of these guys or Murphy means you need to trade Ivan Herrera. For one thing, in some cases, you would DH these catchers to keep their bats in the lineup. The Blue Jays just had a season where they had two catchers who were both starting caliber all year. It’s not that difficult to make work. If it becomes a problem because Herrera is too good, well then we have a trade piece. Somehow the two teams looking to trade catchers absolutely do not need a close to MLB ready catcher, which is super inconvenient for these trades!
In order of preference for my proposals, I’d probably rank them:
- Burleson, Baez and Love for Jansen
- O’Neill for Jansen and Cimber
- Carlson, Liberatore, and Reyes for Moreno
- Nootbaar and Mejia for Kirk
- Winn and Burleson for Kirk
- Walker for Moreno
There is an enormous gap between 3 and 4 by the way. Enormous. I want to see what Nootbaar can do next year, in a Cardinal uniform. It’s difficult for me to argue that Nootbaar for Kirk wouldn’t be smart, that it would be trading him at his highest value. But well there’s a chance Nootbaar really is a 4-5 WAR OFer. Maybe a better chance than Carlson, despite their prospect pedigrees. And while Walker for Moreno is fair, catcher is far too volatile a position to trade someone like Walker for. Again, not that it will happen.