This article is inspired by all the mock trades I’m seeing for Bryan Reynolds and all the talk around needing a fourth outfielder. I’m here to tell you that those things can be fun to talk about but they aren’t realistic. The St. Louis Cardinals are not going to make a move for another outfielder. They simply are not. It wouldn’t make sense for them to do so after they have played the offseason the way they have.
I know I’m coming out strong against this but there’s always a chance that I’m wrong and I don’t want to discount that. But Bryan Reynolds isn’t going to be a Cardinal. Neither is any other outfielder being discussed right now.
The Cardinals had plenty of trade assets this offseason, including a number of young and controllable outfielders. So what did they do? They signed a catcher. They didn’t trade for one. If the Cardinals didn’t want to trade their assets to get a catcher, which they desperately needed, they aren’t going to trade them to get an outfielder that they don’t really need.
And why don’t they need an outfielder? I have four reasons.
Bryan Reynolds is a really good player. There’s no doubt about that. He was only worth 2.9 fWAR this past season but in 2021, he put up a whopping 6.1 fWAR. Again, he’s a really good player. But the Cardinals are going to bet on their players, and honestly, I don’t blame them.
Look at it this way. In Reynolds best season, he was worth 6.1 fWAR in 646 plate appearances. That’s 5.7 fWAR per 600 plate appearances.
In Tyler O’Neill’s best season (also 2021), he was worth 5.6 fWAR in 537 plate appearances. That’s 6.3 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. O’Neill had a down year last year, likely due, at least in part, to his injuries. Sure, health has to count for something but O’Neill actually had a better year than Reynolds in 2021 on a rate basis. Neither one was able to replicate their success the next year, but I find it hard to believe that the Cardinals would really give up a ton of assets for a player like Reynolds when they already have a player with the same (or higher) ceiling.
Then there’s Lars Nootbaar. The Cardinals have already called him an everyday outfielder after his breakout 2022 season so it’s all but guaranteed that he will be playing right field in 2023.
He compiled 2.7 fWAR in 347 plate appearances last year, which is good for 4.7 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. That’s another really good, potentially all-star caliber player if he can maintain that pace. He needs to prove his breakout was legitimate but he added a ton of exit velocity after adding a ton of bat speed at Driveline so it seems like a pretty safe bet to say that his newfound power isn’t a fluke.
So there are the two corner outfielders. And there’s the kicker because Bryan Reynolds simply isn’t a good centerfielder. If the Cardinals were to trade for him, they wouldn’t put a -14 DRS and -7 OAA outfielder in the middle of the outfield. It simply won’t happen.
Dylan Carlson looks like a pretty safe bet to be the Opening Day centerfielder after how well he handled the position last year. I expect his bat to be better because I can only imagine how hard it is to hit with a messed up wrist. Yet even in a down year, he was worth 3.0 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. The Cardinals are going to play him and see if he can find his bat. And they should.
This Cardinals outfield already has upside but what Reynolds would add is security. His bat is a sure thing. He’s just a hitter. Plain and simple. The defense leaves a lot to be desired but his bat gives him a really high floor.
To me, if the Cardinals were to trade for Reynolds, that’s what they would be trading for. He’s pretty much a 3 WAR player at a minimum. O’Neill may finish lower than that. Nootbaar may finish lower than that. And Carlson may finish lower than that. But the Cardinals aren’t going to trade a bunch of young and controllable pieces for outfield security.
Think about security this way. It guarantees production but it doesn’t guarantee better production than what already exists. Reynolds could be a 6 WAR player next year. He could also finish with less WAR than O’Neill and Nootbaar. He raises the floor but not necessarily the ceiling.
Let’s not forget that this is an outfield group that ranked 5th in fWAR last season. Some of that belonged to Harrison Bader but it’s still a good group overall. It seems a lot of Cardinals fans have tricked themselves into thinking that this team needs an outfielder and that’s just not the case. There’s two reasons for that. The first is that it already has upside, as I’ve already mentioned but the second reason is that it already has plenty of depth. And it’s that depth that provides security.
Depth is something that the Cardinals have a lot of. And it’s not just Corey Dickerson depth either. It’s truly quality depth. Or at least it could be. But the Cardinals have enough of it to find out what it is.
I know a lot has been made of the outfield this winter but for the sake of this article, let’s go through the options again. The starting three are probably O’Neill, Carlson, and Nootbaar. On the bench we have Alec Burleson and Juan Yepez. In Triple-A we have Moises Gomez and Jordan Walker.
That’s a lot of options and I’m sure the Cardinals want to see what those options can do. Alec Burleson deserves playing time in 2023 after completely dominating the minors and making his MLB debut before completing his second full professional season. Juan Yepez deserves a shot too. I’m a little uncomfortable with him in the outfield but I think we all want to see his bat.
But the real story here is Jordan Walker. The Cardinals have talked openly about giving him a chance to earn his way onto the Opening Day roster. That’s not something that happens if the Cardinals are about to trade for Bryan Reynolds. Thus, Walker absolutely counts as a depth option at least.
And then there’s Gomez who absolutely obliterated the ball whenever he made contact.
.635 wOBACON (wOBA on contact) is flat out insane. In comparison, Aaron Judge in his record-breaking season last year led the majors with a .602 wOBACON. The next closest was Goldy at .506 https://t.co/bchMcdXHgc— Kareem (@KareemSSN) December 19, 2022
That gives the Cardinals four quality young options outside of the starters - Burleson, Yepez, Walker, and Gomez.
So, I’ve already eliminated Reynolds as an option but now I think we can go ahead and take away the fourth outfielder type too.
If the Cardinals do need depth somewhere, it’s at centerfield. I expect Carlson to be the starter and O’Neill to be the backup with maybe Nootbaar factoring in too, but beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of depth.
I think that centerfield depth will come at the minor league level in the form of Oscar Mercado and Scott Hurst who will only play in a pinch. There are simply too many bats to get in the lineup ahead of them so the Cardinals are probably willing to deal with average defense to play their more highly touted prospects. Again, they don’t need a fourth outfielder.
Giving Prospects a Chance
This whole offseason I’ve been thinking about something that John Mozeliak said at Blogger Day as he was very clear in referring to the organization as a team that likes to build from within. We all knew that to an extent but now we’ve all seen the reluctance to trade from the pipeline to get impact players.
I don’t think the Cardinals are holding on to their prospects to not give them a chance to play. I think the Cardinals want to see what they have.
I wrote about that a little bit in my last article when I discussed the rotation and I think it applies here too. The Cardinals have a ton of outfielders who all tore up the minors. I think they want to give them a shot to prove themselves at the major league level before they try to bring in veterans to fill gaps.
That seems to be the goal right now and I’m honestly okay with the Cardinals not getting bogged down with another outfielder right now. I’ve seen a lot of pessimism surrounding Alec Burleson but I don’t share in that pessimism. This is a guy who hit at every level and then posted high exit velocities and a low strikeout rate in his brief intro to the majors. I think there’s a lot in his bat that he hasn’t shown at the major league level.
I don’t even need to say anything about Jordan Walker. He’s simply an outstanding hitter. And then there’s Moises Gomez who had an outstanding year in Triple-A.
The Cardinals have enough outfield options that it seems pretty reasonable to expect one or two of them to emerge as a quality fourth outfielder or even a starter when someone inevitably gets hurt.
The benefit of this approach is that prospects will get a chance to prove themselves which makes it less likely that the team trades away someone who turns into a solid MLB player. The downside is less certainty but I would rather have this group of prospects than someone like Corey Dickerson or even Max Kepler.
The Cardinals aren’t going to trade for Bryan Reynolds and they don’t need to. They aren’t going to sign a fourth outfielder either and they don’t need to. They are right to roll with the prospects they have and I’m super excited to see potentially three players who have done nothing but hit in the minors get a chance to hit in the majors.
If the Cardinals wanted to trade from their depth, then I would love a starting pitcher. But that’s it. The current group of outfielders should be fine at least and potentially really good. It’s not too hard to envision a scenario where they repeat as a top 5 group.
Thanks for reading, VEB! Have a happy Tuesday!