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MLB Winter Meetings: Cardinals still looking at center fielder options

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MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a quiet first day at the Winter Meetings, I expect John Mozeliak to ramp up conversations with fellow general managers as he continues the search for an “athletic center fielder.” According to a timely update from Derrick Goold, in addition to free agent Dexter Fowler, “the Cardinals have also kept tabs on possible trade options such as Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain and the White Sox’s Adam Eaton.” Let’s take a look at these three options as well as eight other potential fits as the stove begins to heat up.

Free Agents

Dexter Fowler

The switch-hitting leadoff hitter for the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs has been the most talked-about center field option up to this point. Heck, even one of our good friends in Drew Silva is making deals with the devil in hopes of landing Fowler this offseason. Even though he admits it will be a bad contract, Silva doubled down on the move a few days ago. At the reported asking price of $18 million average annual value (AAV), and a term of at least four years, I’d stay away from the 30-year-old free agent, even with the money saved on the departures of Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday, and Brandon Moss. But, you already knew my stance on the matter.

Carlos Gomez

Exclude Gomez’s small-sample-sized rebound (139 wRC+ in 130 PAs) with the Rangers, and I’d laugh at myself for even including the ex-Brewer as an option here. And though his defense is in decline mode (he turned 31 yesterday), it cannot be denied that he put forth the best defensive metrics among MLB center fielders over the last 5 seasons. If the Cardinals are confident in Harrison Bader’s ability to adequately play center field, a position he has played 79.6% of the time in the minors, signing Gomez to a one or two year deal just may be the ideal option — assuming, of course, he’s still good at baseball.

Ian Desmond

The Rangers are probably going to re-sign the former shortstop, but he is technically still available, so I had to include him.

Trades

Kevin Kiermaier (Rays), Ender Inciarte (Braves), A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks)

I’ll classify these three as the “daydreamers.” Admittedly, their respective teams don’t seem interested in moving them. But, should any of them somehow become available, these are easily my top three (somewhat realistic) center field targets this offseason.

The Rays, who finished 25 games behind the Red Sox last season, may be open for business just outside of the nation’s capital, but I’d bet they’re more interested in trading the aging Evan Longoria and/or Chris Archer (in a barren starting pitcher market), than a 26-year-old Gold Glove center fielder under team control until 2021. The Braves, on the other hand, seem to believe they are closer to competing for a National League East title than they actually are, or just want to “fake it” considering their move to a new stadium. The Diamondbacks are checking in on bullpen help, don’t plan to “shock the world,” and probably don’t prefer to sell low on Pollock, solely because he endured a freak injury last season.

Charlie Blackmon (Rockies)

In general, I prefer the team I follow to avoid making trades with Colorado as they are notorious for overvaluing their players in trade negotiations. Though Blackmon’s not terrible away from Coors Field, his road slash line (.261/.305/.422) is clearly inferior — particularly that on-base percentage — to his home marks (.334/.389/.511). Factor in below average defense (that will only decline), and I believe I have already wasted too many words on this potential option.

Lorenzo Cain (Royals)

With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, the Royals will almost certainly take a different approach to their expiring contracts. Cain is a free agent after the 2017 season, and with the qualifying offer/compensatory first-round pick option no longer in play, the Royals front office will certainly listen to offers for their versatile outfielder. Cain improves the Cardinals on offense, defense, and the base paths. Yet, he is essentially a one-year rental because there is no chance he would agree to an extension before first testing a free agency without a first round pick limiting his asking power.

Adam Eaton (White Sox)

Eaton, 27, was an elite outfield defender last season. That being said, ~72% of his defensive innings took place in right field. Thus, beyond the usual concerns surrounding the validity of a single season of defensive metrics, we don’t yet know how his right-field defense will translate to a full-time center field. Yet, if Eaton can be had, at a corner outfield price (instead of a center field price), acquiring him to play left field just may work, especially considering his range could help ease Grichuk’s workload in center.

Byron Buxton (Twins)

Is Buxton, MLB’s former top prospect, even available? Probably not, but just as the Cardinals did with Grichuk last season, the Twins jerked Buxton around a little bit, despite being the worst team in all of baseball (.364 winning percentage). Plus, if Mozeliak is allowing photo op’s with Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, he might as well at least bring Buxton up because I am not sure there is anyone else on the Twins worth considering.

Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays)

Pompey is a definite question mark here. We do not yet know if his bat will translate to the Major League level (Steamer likes him more than ZiPS). However, he hit at every level of the minor leagues and is a switch hitter with speed — of which he can utilize in the field and on the base paths (80.6% stolen base success rate in the minors). The allure of Pompey’s prospect status has waned a bit, and Carson Cistulli/Dan Szymborski don’t even have him starting in their post on the Blue Jays’ 2017 ZiPS projections. With this in mind, could Pompey be available via trade and would his acquisition incrementally improve the Cardinals next season? Maybe, maybe not, but he is a 23-year-old under team control until 2023, so I’d at the very least submit a probing inquiry.

Cardinals Trade Package

Obviously, the package necessary for each potential target requires individualization based on the matching team’s specific needs. However, this piece wouldn’t be complete without at least providing names I think the Cardinals could part with in a trade. Of those with MLB experience, I think John Mozeliak would have no issue making Luke Weaver, Michael Wacha, Matt Adams, and Kevin Siegrist available. On the minor league side, there really aren’t any “untouchables,” but there are a handful of prospects they’d certainly prefer to retain (i.e. Delvin Perez, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber). I think value can be had in Bader, Paul DeJong/Allen Cordoba, and one of Junior Fernandez/Sandy Alcantara/Ronnie Williams.

So, which target do you prefer? If the target is of the trade variety, what package do you feel comfortable parting with? Did I miss someone? Feel free to provide your thoughts below.