If you were on the internet at all in the past week, you probably heard the rumor linking former Pirate Colin Moran and the St. Louis Cardinals. There are pretty much three things a Cards fan can feel about this rumor - excitement, disappoint, or nothing. I fall into the last camp, but there are certainly reasons to be excited or disappointed about the potential signing of Moran (if the players and owners can ever reach an agreement).
Excitement over the potential signing comes from the fact that Moran had a 113 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers last season. In his career, he has a 107 wRC+ when he has the platoon advantage and a 66 wRC+ when he does not. He may not be much against fellow lefties, but the Cardinals already have plenty of hitters who can crush southpaws. Having a left-handed hitting corner complement to Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Juan Yepez could be beneficial. Besides that, he is simply an MLB quality player who can provide depth behind two of the Cardinals best players or at the DH spot.
Also if Moran plays for the Cardinals, then he can’t hurt the Cardinals. Last season, the left-handed hitter had a .936 OPS against St. Louis, which was his second highest OPS against any team (min. 15 PAs). Interestingly, his highest OPS came against the Cubs (1.027). In his career, Moran has had more modest, but still solid, success against the Redbirds with a .783 OPS. He has been a Cub-killer, though, with a .908 OPS in 188 plate appearances. Signing a Cardinal and a Cub killer would theoretically turn Moran into just a Cub killer, which is always a great thing.
People who are disappointed by the rumor also have valid reasons for their reaction. Moran isn’t a great player. He has 0.8 fWAR in 1,564 career plate appearances and a career 99 wRC+ as someone who is restricted to the corners. He’s also a one-dimensional player who is only useful against righties. None of these things are exciting. As a 29-year-old who was recently DFA’d by the Pirates, his value is pretty low.
It would be frustrating to watch Moran take plate appearances away from players like Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, or Lars Nootbaar, who all have more promise and may even be better players than Moran right now. Blocking those players with someone like Moran would be disappointing and after years of the two Mikes at manager, it is hard to blame anyone for being wary of such a scenario.
Overall, signing Moran, or someone similar, would be a smart decision even if it would be a boring signing. Currently, the Cardinals have eight starters, Andrew Knizner as the backup catcher, Lars Nootbaar as the fourth outfielder and Edmundo Sosa as the backup to Paul DeJong, That’s 11 players. Add Yepez and there’s 12. Since the DH is coming to the NL this season, the Cardinals will likely want to keep four bench players, which means they will need 13 hitters on the roster. This leaves space for one more player. Moran or another free agent could take that final spot or it could go to Brendan Donovan or Nolan Gorman.
I want to see Gorman and Donovan in St. Louis this year, but neither would be harmed by more time in Triple-A. The Cardinals aren’t going to give Gorman the call until there is a place for him to start, and he needs more time in Triple-A before he is ready for that. Donovan also had just 33 games in Memphis last year. Additionally, with Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, and Edmundo Sosa set to share time among the two middle infield positions, there won’t be much playing time to go around.
The Cardinals will need someone who can play first and third base because I expect the DH will be sometimes be used to give quasi-rest days to Goldschmidt and Arenado. The only other player penciled onto the roster who can play first base is Yepez. Having someone else who can play the corners would be beneficial. If the Cardinals need a middle infielder they can always pull Donovan up to St. Louis.
Neither Yepez nor Moran have been given high marks for their defense, but corner depth will be more important this year even though the Cardinals have every day players at both first and third. Allowing Donovan and Gorman to get more experience in Triple-A will be beneficial for their careers and this can be done by adding depth in the form of Moran or someone else.
If the Cardinals are going to sign a corner player, it should be a left-handed hitter, since Goldy, Arenado, and Yepez are all right-handed. Kyle Schwarber also seems to fit the bill here, but he would have a higher price and he isn’t the most experienced first baseman. Schwarber is a solid player, but it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals signing him for a role other than everyday DH and occasional outfielder. This would almost certainly block Yepez and maybe even Nootbaar, Donovan, and Gorman. I don’t think the Cardinals want to go that route, nor should they. A player like Moran is not someone who will block prospects. He is basically someone who will cover for them if they disappoint and provide injury coverage. He could be signed for around $2 million and he would almost certainly be given less opportunity than Yepez. If Yepez thrives, then Moran shouldn’t be used much.
For as exciting of a player as Yepez is, the Cardinals need a contingency plan if he doesn’t hit his stride immediately. If he struggles and the Cardinals don’t sign anyone, then the team will be really thin at the corners, and especially at first base.
The Cardinals don’t need a player like Schwarber to take a ton of at-bats. They simply need a veteran depth piece to provide stability. So, yes, a Moran signing isn’t exciting. In the best case scenario, he hardly sees the field because the Cardinals young players have thrived and taken all of the available at-bats. In the worst case scenario, Moran sees a lot of time against right-handers and is a league average hitter. It may not be a flashy signing, but signing Moran, or someone like him, would be a smart move by the Cardinals front office because, as we found out last year, you can never have too much depth.