Kyle Blanks was designated for assignment by the Oakland A's on Friday night to make room for their new acquisitions following the surprising Josh Donaldson trade. Blanks is a 6'6" righty with some power who can play first base and corner outfield. In other words, he checks off all the boxes on the Cardinals' wish list for a bench bat who can complement Matt Adams and Jason Heyward.
There's not a whole lot to know about Blanks. He's hit pretty well for his career, especially against LHP, but his career has been scattered and sparse, as he has been hurt more often than he's been healthy. He just turned 28 in September and has been really good in the limited PA he's had the last two years, so it's easy enough to imagine some upside to him if he could just stay on the field.
Some key numbers (from fangraphs)
- 301/.380/.540 was his line in high A ball in 2007.
That was his worst season in the minors on the way up.
- 115 career wRC+ against LHP in 295 PA's with a 12% BB rate.
- 101 career wRC+ against RHP in 567 PA's.
- .172 career ISO.
- 138 wRC+ against LHP in 2013 in 118 PA
- 149 overall wRC+ in 2014 in 66 PA
A few more numbers (all from baseballprospectus)
- 32 games missed in 2009 from a partial plantar fascia tear.
- 147 games missed in 2010-2011 with Tommy John surgery.
- 154 games missed in 2012 with labrum surgery.
- 41 games missed in 2013 with Achilles tendinitis.
- And he played just 26 games in 2014, missing the rest with Achilles issues and/or a calf strain.
So what should we make of him? He raked on his way up to the majors, and has been pretty good since, especially against lefties, and he's gotten better the last two seasons, albeit in small sample sizes. But to say his health is concerning is a big understatement. There's a clear risk that Blanks has another set-back with the Achilles tendon that's been bothering him for 18 months or suffers another injury. However, that injury history is why a 28 year-old with a good pedigree is available for likely very little (more on that later). In fact, his injury history makes his career batting performance look more impressive, as he's managed it without ever really getting the chance to see a lot of major league pitching over the course of several months. 2013 saw the most playing time for him, and he crushed lefties. There's something encouraging there.
Given his scarce playing time, defensive metrics aren't terribly useful, but after reading quite a bit about Blanks, it appears he's at least average and possibly slightly plus defensively at first base, and while not good in the outfield, he won't embarrass himself if his legs are finally healthy.
Is he healthy?
Checked in w/Kyle Blanks today. Still rehabbing from Achilles tendinitis in both legs, but thinks he'll be recovered early in offseason.— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) September 23, 2014
Note the date, and take that for whatever you think it's worth.
Blanks has just over five years of service time, so he can refuse a minor league assignment, but the A's can still try to trade him to another team's major league roster in the next 9 days. If they cannot, he will be released. The slugger has an interesting profile, and the Cardinals aren't the only team in the NL Central, let alone the league, who could use a right-handed 1B/bench bat with some pop, so it seems likely he'll be traded rather than released. For comparison's sake, Ike Davis was recently traded three days after being DFA'd by the Pirates. In sending Davis to the A's, Pittsburgh swapped international signing pool slots netting $269K of international signing money from Oakland in the deal, or just a bit more than what the Cardinals got for Mitchell Boggs. Even with some competition, Blanks isn't going to take all that much to acquire.
The way I see it, Blanks actually makes some sense for the Cardinals. He's shown a lot of promise in hitting lefties, and he's talented enough to be a difference-maker when he's on the field. His extreme injury risk will make him easy for the Cardinals to acquire, and his contract (arb 3) is projected at just $1.3M. The Cardinals have plenty of room on the 40 man roster for Blanks, so there shouldn't be collateral costs, and unless the front office is really high on Corey Hart (who Ben Humphrey profiled here) or Mark Reynolds, acquiring Blanks wouldn't likely represent much of a lost opportunity elsewhere. Given his injury history, Blanks should not attract the interest of any team who needs him, but rather that of a team who could afford to give a roster spot to a wildcard, like the freshly beHeywarded Cards.
Kyle Blanks is not all that likely to turn into a key piece for the Cardinals, but neither was the last player the Birds picked up after being DFA'd by the A's. Blanks' career numbers don't exactly tell a clear story, but there's more than enough there that if the Cardinals' scouts and medical personnel think he's worth a spin, then so do I.