As always, the annual St. Louis Cardinals post mortem press conference was filled with interesting tidbits. That's not to say that general manager John Mozeliak comes right out and sets forth the club's offseason plan. How could he? Doing so would put the Cardinals at a disadvantage during the Hot Stove. Moreover, Mozeliak has no idea what opportunities other GMs might present him with when it comes to adding talent. This dynamic makes for some fun Mospeak deciphering this time of the year.
Perhaps the easiest of Mozeliak's statements to assess had to do with outfielder Peter Bourjos. Per St. Louis Post-Dispatch beatwriter Derrick Goold, Mozeliak had this to say last week about the speedster:
"I think as we look at the roster and assess future playing time and how people fit in, the good news is we don’t have to address arb-eligible player in the near future," Mozeliak said. "Obviously Moss was someone we acquired because we like his power potential and we like his flexibility he gives you being able to play outfield or first. He’ll have a spot at some point. As far as Peter goes, I don’t think it ever worked to the point where we were hopeful of. That doesn’t mean we’re at the point to give up either. We’ll reassess and look at what our opportunities look like over the next six weeks or so."
Bourjos is under team control for 2016. His salary might be decided via arbitration. But before the Cardinals and Bourjos get to that point, St. Louis must exercise their 2016 control over him under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by tendering him a contract for next season. The ball is in the Cardinals' court, for It is the team's decision whether to tender a contract, not the player's. If a club elects not to tender a player a contract, that player becomes a free agent who is able to sign with any team.
That Mozeliak's assessment on Bourjos is intertwined with Moss provides a contrast. The Cardinals face the decision of whether to tender each of the players a contract for 2016. Mozeliak said that Moss will have a spot at some point because of his power potential and positional flexibility, which indicates the front office has already decided that it will exercise its control over the slugger by tendering him a contract for 2016. But Mozeliak elected a different frame when discussing Bourjos. He offered no guarantee that Bourjos would be back. Instead, Mozeliak lamented how things have worked out so far, said the club was not yet ready to give up on Bourjos, and said they would "reassess what our opportunities look like over the next six weeks or so."
Mozeliak referencing a six-week timeframe is insightful. Mozeliak made the statement last Thursday, October 15, which is about about six weeks from December 2. Under the MLB-MLBPA CBA, the deadline by which clubs must tender a player a contract is typically December 2. (If the December 2 is a Saturday or Sunday, the tender deadline under the reserve clause is the preceding business day; this year, the second falls on a Wednesday.) So when Mozeliak talks about reassessing the Cards' opportunities over the six weeks, he is saying that the Cardinals will explore trading Bourjos, which would offer a degree of roster clarity to the club before the tender deadline.
That Mozeliak indicated this will be the Cards' approach with respect to Bourjos is not surprising. Mozeliak has explored and completed multiple deals during the window between the season's last out and the tender deadline in years past. The Cardinals explored dealing infielder Daniel Descalso last November and only wound up non-tendering him because they were unable to match up with any other club on a trade. Mozeliak also shopped David Freese and Fernando Salas—both arbitration-eligible players at the time—and found a trade partner in the Angels, who sent Bourjos and Grichuk on November 22, 2013.
The Cardinals exploring a trade of Bourjos is made all the less surprising by his performance at the bat since coming to St. Louis. As Mozeliak noted, the acquisition of Bourjos has not panned out as the team had hoped. Nor, it can probably also be said, as the player had intended.
The Cardinals acquired Bourjos as their putative primary center fielder after Jon Jay's BABIP sagged to a still healthily above average .325 in 2013, which in turn dropped his overall batting line to .276/.351/.370 (.319 wOBA, 103 wRC+). But Bourjos got off to a prolonged ice-cold start. At the end of his premier month with El Birdos, Bourjos owned a hideous .160/.250/.260 (.236 wOBA, 47 wRC+) batting line. At the All-Star break, Bourjos was hitting .220/.284/.335 (.276 wOBA, 74 wRC+). Making matters worse for Bourjos, the team experienced an offensive drought in early 2014 just as he did. In search of a spark for the lineup, Matheny began to go with Jay and the more the Hurricane hit, the more playing time he earned. After the Cardinals lost the 2014 NLCS in five games to the Giants, Mozeliak and Matheny declared Jay the everyday center fielder.
Bourjos started the 2015 season and the Cards' backup center fielder, after some whispers in spring training that he might not even make the opening-day St. Louis roster. Here are the number of games started in center field by player in 2015:
- Jay: 49
- Bourjos: 41
- Grichuk: 34
- Pham: 29
- Heyward: 8
To look at those numbers, one might think that Bourjos is the club's No. 2 center fielder. But that would be incorrect. Thirty-five of Bourjos's 41 starts in center took place before the All-Star break. By the time Jay made his second trip to the DL due to nagging problems with his wrist, the Cards had moved Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and even Jason Heyward ahead of Bourjos on the center field depth chart.
Bourjos made just six starts in center field during the season's second half. Matheny did not even give Bourjos a start in the Cardinals' final series at Atlanta, after they had clinched the Central title. Bourjos took one plate appearance against the Braves that series, which was one of the 15 for which he dug in during the regular season's closing weeks during September and October. When it came time to select 25 players for the NLDS roster, the Cardinals left Bourjos off the roster in favor of Pham, an injured Grichuk, and an injured Jay, who had batted .210/.306/.257 (.253 wOBA, 57 wRC+) on the year and .159/.288/.227 (.248 wOBA, 54 wRC+) after coming off the DL. Bourjos had fallen to fifth in the Cardinals' center field pecking order.
Despite how the last two years have played out for Bourjos, Mozeliak claims the Cardinals are not yet ready to give up on him. This is either posturing on the part of Mozeliak as he begins contacting other GMs to gauge interest in a potential trade for Bourjos or the truth. It's possible that if St. Louis doesn't find a trade that they believe brings a sufficient return, they're okay with bringing Bourjos back for Year 3. If that happens, though, one wonders how often he'll play in 2016, behind Pham, Grichuk, Jay, and perhaps Heyward on the team's center field depth chart. Sitting here today, it appears that trading Bourjos is likely the best turn-of-events for player and team at this juncture. Bourjos could use another fresh start and the Cardinals have enough outfielders that they don't need Bourjos.