STLCardsfan4 had an excellent take of the value and fit of one such free agent, Brandon Nimmo, here . He makes a really good case that there is a fit between the Cardinals and Nimmo. Right need, right price point. It did, however, get me to thinking about all the collateral impacts of such a deal. Things I think of as roster construction issues.
So, let’s start with the original premise. 5 years, $105 million gets us a new centerfielder that hits LH, plays decent defense and leads off. What is not to like, given the Cardinals’ needs and available payroll space? Let’s go with this premise and carry it out to a logical conclusion.
First, he fits on the 40 man roster. No one has to be removed from the roster to fit him. So, no value lost. Starts to fit the path-of-least resistance profile Cardinal’s management seems to prefer.
Now consider … As you install Nimmo as your (more or less) every day CFer, where do Carlson, O’Neill, Yepez and Nootbar fit? Let’s pencil in Nimmo for 450 ABs in CF. Seems easy to project Carlson for the other 150+ ABs in CF, primarily when LH are on the mound and for the small injuries that seem to follow Nimmo and keep from accumulating 600 AB in any season. As pointed out, Nimmo is still worth 3+ WAR even at 450 AB. Now, do you think of Carlson as a 4th OFer, working the short side of a platoon, playing part-time in CF and maybe part-time in RF, too? Or do you seem him displacing Nootbar in RF? Seems like the Cardinals a pretty high on Carlson and prioritize his playing time. So if they move Carlson to RF, you’ve basically signed Nimmo to replace Nootbar, from an offensive standpoint. Using Steamer 2023 projections, they have Nootbar at 380 AB, with a 2.8 WAR. So, in effect you replace a 2.8 WAR player with a 3 WAR player. Now is that worth $20 million a year?
Perhaps you can envision a 4 person rotation in the outfield, with Carlson and O’Neill playing against LH pitchers, Nimmo and Nootbar against RH pitchers and mix/match the other spot based on match ups and hot-handedness. Logically, that works. Maybe you get four 3 WAR players out of that deal. Not bad by any stretch. In that picture, Burleson becomes the odd man out, effectively blocked. Steamer sees Burleson as a .4 WAR over 90 AB, which plays out to ~2 WAR player over 450 AB. Is one win worth $20m/yr for a player like Nimmo? Nimmo is much closer to a certain thing than Burleson for sure, and Nimmo gives you defense at a premium position, so can’t discount that all together, but $20 million/yr to block a prospect who may provide similar value at minimum salary doesn’t seem like the Cardinals speed, does it?
Then look a year or two down the road. You’d have pretty much this same picture in 2024, except you’d add Walker to the mix, and you’d be thinking about how to split playing time among 5 outfielders, not just 4.
I tend to agree that a Nimmo signing makes sense, but moreso if one of the other 3 (likely Carlson) are part of a package (maybe with Gorman and Graceffo?) for a high-end starting pitcher. Otherwise, I think I’d rather see that $20m/yr go towards a really good FA starter.