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FA Spotlight: Brandon Nimmo

A player who hypothetically fits the Cardinals’ stated desires over the offseason.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets-Game 1 Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

John Mozeliak is usually not very forthcoming about his plans, but he revealed that the Cardinals were looking for catching and would like a left-handed bat to balance the lineup. This is a fascinating thing to point out. Because if it’s a stated goal, it’s sort of a confusing look at what the offseason could be. None of the shortstops are right-handed, none of the (starting caliber and theoretically available) catchers are right-handed, and the free agent options are limiting. This could mean they foresee a future trade with a left-handed bat that we’re not expecting or they’re banking on one of the few left-handed free agents.

If I may interject my own opinion, I don’t think it really makes sense to acquire a 1B/DH/LF left-handed bat just for the sake of getting a left-handed bat, because I don’t think they need another questionable defense, bat-only guy at those positions. They have that in spades. Alec Burleson, Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, and even Brendan Donovan is questionable in the outfield. And at least two of them are not going to be the (planned) starters anyway with zero moves. Why use your limited resources on something that’s already covered?

Thus, does this indicate they’re more interested in Brandon Nimmo than the rumors indicate? He can play CF, he is a left-handed bat, and he would probably be the new leadoff hitter they’re searching for. He has one downside: he gets hurt a lot. Not a small downside, granted. But if you present me with two 3 WAR options, and one of them gets 3 WAR in 400 PAs and the other in 600, give me the former. Because past injury does not guarantee future injury.

I also do wonder if his injury history is maybe just a bit overrated. Nimmo was drafted 13th overall in the 2011 draft out of high school. He made his first appearance on an injured list in May of 2013, and he was off the injured list after just 21 days. He was next on the injured list two years later for almost a month. He was never injured in 2016, going back-and-forth from the majors and minors all year. He was on the injured list twice in 2017, first for a hamstring sprain, which lasted a month, and later for a partially collapsed lung for less than three weeks. He was on the injured list once in 2018, for the minimum 10 days. He did spend most of 2019 injured with a stiff neck. He was healthy in 2020. He had a left index finger bone bruise that sidelined him for nearly two months in 2021, then a hamstring strain for a couple weeks later in the year. He played in 151 games this past season.

Point being, I’m not necessarily seeing anything that would indicate he will absolutely have injury problems in the future. People don’t typically get healthier as they get older, but the stiff neck is the most concerning, but hasn’t popped up since 2019. A bruised finger sounds like he got hit by a pitch, and a hamstring strain is just one of those things. If he’s going to miss a couple weeks due to a hamstring strain, you can deal with that.

The main reason to potentially get him is that he will not be valued as the player he is. He will be valued as a worse, healthier player would be. His injury history will be factored into his price. He is a 4+ WAR player healthy who will not cost what a 4 WAR player will cost. Basically, you will pay for him as if he will be injured for about 100-200 plate appearances, and hope he’s not injured for those plate appearances. Even though the projection will likely end up similar to a 3 WAR player, this seems more desirable than a 3 WAR player who is expected to be healthy.

There is a concern that just had his best season. But he just had his best season because he was healthy. He had a 134 wRC+. He has had a better wRC+ in three other seasons of his career, two of which were 2021 and 2020. 2020 was two months and 2021 was only 92 games, but nonetheless, he’s not exactly Dansby Swanson, popping off a 6 win season out of nowhere. This was predictable. Nothing he did in 2022 was out of line with expectations, he just happened to be healthy.

He has a fairly good projection by Steamer. ZiPS, as I’ve said in previous posts, is not available yet. But there’s little reason to doubt his Steamer in this case, except for his PA total. He has a 131 wRC+ projection. This would certainly fit the big left-handed bat they are supposedly searching for. Nimmo walks a lot, strikes out a below average amount, and has enough power to be a threat. He would be a fantastic lead-off hitter for a team somewhat in search of one.

Perhaps most importantly - at least in my opinion - he can actually play CF. I know most Cardinals fans think Dylan Carlson is a good centerfielder, but at least on the merits of advanced stats, this is a rather weak case. While his CF numbers have been fine in a limited sample, his RF numbers are below average. He is also really slow for a centerfielder. Also, just personally, just by the eye test, some of his better catches seem more in the “making up for not much range” more than “actually great catches.” But that’s just my personal opinion, I do know I’m on an island to some extent here.

Nimmo has some evidence for being a solid centerfielder. He has stood in centerfield for nearly 3,000 innings, which is fairly close to a good sample of innings. By outs above average, he is +8 runs overall. Which is about +3 per 1,200 innings, which seems fairly likely to at least be better than Carlson defensively. Carlson has been +2 in 1,144 innings and -4 in the corners in about 1,350 innings. With what we know about positional adjustment, he’s probably a below average centerfielder, despite good numubers there over about a season of innings. If you use positional adjustments on his RF numbers and fill in the missing season of a good sample with average defense, he’s a -2 defender in CF. Not a huge difference, but a difference.

Nimmo is also probably a sold baserunner despite not being good at stealing bases. For his career he is a +4 BsR according to Fangraphs. This is despite stealing just 23 bases to 14 caught stealing for his career. Or it could be related to him rarely getting into double plays. He has just 25 for his entire career, which is over 2,000 plate appearances. Which, I suppose, may be a reflection of being a leadoff hitter. But nonetheless, his baserunning does not hurt the team at the least. He should never attempt to steal though.

As with all free agents, the real question is: how much does he cost? Nimmo had a 415 plate appearance projection from ZiPS before the 2022 season, and then Nimmo had 673 in 2022. So we’ll up that to a 450 PA projection. His Steamer is a 4.5 WAR projection in 658 plate appearances, which translates to 3.1 WAR in 450 PAs. So I suspect he may get paid as if he’s a 3 WAR player then. He will be 30 in the first year of his deal, and this offseason, I am using a 0.3 decline until you turn 32, then a 0.5 decline after. So that’s 3.1, 2.8, 2.3, 1.9, 1.4. Assuming a five-year deal.

That comes out to 5 years, $109 million. Ben Clemens is, amusingly enough, projecting nearly exactly that, at 5 years, $110 million. The crowdsourced number is 5 years, $100 million. So I’m certainly in the ballpark of what he’ll likely get. Frankly, he’s probably worth it.

Though, he does come with a draft pick penalty, which should cost him about $4.6 million if the Cardinals were to sign him. The probable lost draft pick is in the 2nd round, and produces $4.6 million in value, and thus the loss of that pick will likely lead to a lower offer. So really, it’s more like 5 years, $105 million.

Cause the question with Nimmo isn’t the usual question, it’s: will he stay healthy? Also, will a future injury ultimately lead to worse play? Because when healthy, he is a verified bargain at 5 years, $100 million. Fills kind of a need with the Cards, does what the Cardinals evidently want in the offseason, and would be a very obvious leadoff hitter, which the Cards have been struggling with since Matt Carpenter declined. Given Mozeliak’s comments, I actually wonder if Nimmo is really who we should expect because he does make a fair bet of sense and is one of the only non-trade left-handed bats who makes sense to me.

So 5 years, $105 million for Nimmo? Yes or pass?