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St. Louis Cardinals trade analysis: Was trading Rob Kaminsky for Brandon Moss an overpay?

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When current St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz and future ESPN 101 radio host made the news official by tweeting that the St. Louis Cardinals had traded lefthanded pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss, I did a double-take. My knee-jerk reaction was that the Cardinals had paid a prospect price too steep for the veteran they acquired. Since Thursday's trade is the second one involving Moss in the last eight months, I decided it might be a useful exercise to compare the Cardinals-Indians trade of July with the Indians-A's trade of last December.

Timing and Value

Comparing two trades—even if they are for the same player—is difficult because different organizations have different needs. As a result, one player might have greater value to one club than another. If a team's farm system is bereft of high-upside pitching prospects, they might covet such an arm more than an organization with half-a-dozen potential top-half-of-the-rotation arms.

Moreover, a power bat that will probably help a team win down the home stretch of the pennant race likely has more relative value than any prospect in the here and now. The prospect's value is based on potential—what might come to pass someday in the future—and the slugger's value is immediate—he is a proven big-leaguer in the here and now who is able to help a club win today, tomorrow, and in the weeks ahead. Thus, a team's need can be affected by timing just as much as organizational depth. The urgency of July is not present in December, when the pennant race is a mere abstraction. This impacts how a club might value a player.

Organizational Rankings

Farm system rankings give us a bit of a backdrop against which to assess the prospects the Cardinals and Indians gave up to acquire Moss. This is not perfect by any means. The 2014 Cleveland rankings were of a farm system that included Wendle. The 2015 rankings, which were released after the Indians-A's Moss trade, do not account for Wendle as a an Indians prospect. Nonetheless, it feels safe to say that if Cleveland's farm system was ranked below the Cardinals' prior to the 2014 season when Wendle was considered in the tenth-best range for Cleveland, consideration of him after his injury-plagued 2014 season likely would not have been enough to boost the Indians over the Cards in the pre-2015 rankings. Put otherwise, the St. Louis farm system had more talent than Cleveland's before the 2014 and 2015 seasons (and probably in July 2015 before the Cards' two trades).  I'm going to use the Minor League Ball and Baseball Prospectus organizational rankings because they are free and readily accessible.

December 2014

Last December, the Indians acquired Moss from the A's in exchange for Double-A second baseman Joe Wendle. At the time, Moss was coming off three seasons of elite power-hitting. In Thursday's post analyzing Moss, I used Isolated Power (ISO) to illustrate how elite his slugging had been. ISO is a stat that excludes a batter's singles (unlike slugging percentage, which includes singles) and focuses exclusively on extra-base hits. By ISO, Moss tied Mike Trout for eighth in all of MLB for the time span from 2012 through 2014.

Moss Stats (2012-14)

Year

Age

PA

BB%

K%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

fWAR

2012

28

296

8.8

30.4

.359

.291

.358

.596

.306

.402

160

2.3

2013

29

505

9.9

27.7

.301

.256

.337

.522

.267

.369

137

2.1

2014

30

580

11.6

26.4

.283

.234

.334

.438

.204

.339

121

2.5

Career

-

2505

9.4

26.2

.294

.243

.321

.452

.209

.335

112

8.0

Three years of excellent power-hitting was not the only thing Moss was coming off of, though. He was less than two months removed from hip surgery at the time the Indians acquired him from Oakland. According to John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News, Moss underwent surgery to repair "a torn labrum as well as some other general cleanup to alleviate the impingement in [his] hip."

Hip surgery notwithstanding, the preseason projections for Moss forecasted a good year.

Moss: 2015 Preseason Projections

System

PA

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

fWAR

ZiPS

523

9.9

30.2

.236

.321

.475

.796

.239

.347

2.1

Steamer

523

9.8

27.7

.248

.330

.484

.813

.236

.354

2.6

PECOTA

510

9.4

27.5

.245

.323

.462

.785

.217

-

1.7

Oliver

600

10.5

28.2

.230

.319

.439

.758

.209

.330

-

It's also worth keeping in mind that the Indians traded Wendle for two years of control of Moss. The veteran was eligible for salary arbitration both in 2015 and 2016. What type of prospect did Cleveland give up to get those two years of Moss?

Cleveland selected Wendle in the sixth round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He hit well in the New York-Penn League upon his pro debut that year. In 2013, his second season went swimmingly as well. Wendle then played in the Arizona Fall League and continued to hit. But he then hit a speed bump in Double-A while playing in the Eastern League where his production sagged a broken bone in his hand sidelined him for a portion of his age-24 season.

Wendle: Career MiLB Stats Pre-Moss Trade

Year

League

Level

Age

PA

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

2012

NYPL

A-

22

267

.349

.327

.375

.469

.143

.393

149

2013

CAR

A+

23

474

.327

.295

.372

.513

.218

.398

143


AFL

-

23

70

.353

.311

.371

.492

.180

.389

133

2014

EL

AA

24

370

.279

.253

.311

.414

.161

.323

98


ARZ

RK

24

26

.556

.455

.538

.591

.136

.528

218

Wendle did not merit mention in every write-up of the Indians' top prospects. During the 2013-14 offseason, Wendle was not ranked among Cleveland's top ten prospects by Baseball America. But Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the No. 9 prospect in the Indians' system. Jason Parks wrote:

Wendle isn’t a sexy prospect, and you can argue that he was old for High-A and was expected to produce good numbers at the plate. This ranking has nothing to do with his numbers; rather, this ranking has everything to do with the scouting, more specifically, his hit tool, which several sources said has a chance to really play at the highest level. He’s always going to be limited in the field, and without much power, he’s unlikely to be an impact stick, but the kid can hit a baseball, and with a fundamental approach to the game has a chance to maximize his limited skill set and bring the bat-to-ball ability to the highest level. He will move up to Double-A in 2014, and I absolutely expect him to keep hitting. Again, this is not a sexy prospect and he’s easy to discount, but guys who can hit find a way to carve out major-league careers, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Wendle holding his own against major-league pitching in the next few seasons.

During the 2013-14 offseason, Fangraphs ranked Wendle as the 11th-best prospect in the Indians' farm system entering the 2014 season. Marc Hulet's blurb on Wendle was a less robust echo of Parks's more detailed assessment.

Baseball America released their list of the top ten Indians prospects before the Moss trade during the 2014-15 offseason (Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus did not). Wendle was not listed. At the time of the trade, however, Baseball America included this assessment of Wendle penned by Vince Lara-Cinisomo:

His hit tool might be the only one that’s plus, but that could be enough to get him to the majors. He has a short, compact swing, an advanced feel for hitting and solid control of the strike zone. While his numbers don’t stand out, scouts say he uses the whole field and makes good contact. One scout likened Wendle to former Cardinals star Tommie Herr. The lefthanded hitter hangs in well against lefthanders. His work at second base still needs polishing, scouts say, but he has good hands and agility. He would have ranked near the back of the Indians’ top 30 prospects, had he not been traded.

July 2015

The Cardinals selected Kaminsky out of high school in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft with the 28th overall pick. It was a selection that made VEB's resident MLB Draft guru, The Red Baron, dance naked in the streets. (He is still paying the legal price for his reactions to the selection.) Since becoming a pro, Kaminsky has pitched well.

Kaminsky: Career MiLB Stats Pre-Moss Trade

Year

League

Level

Age

G

GS

IP

K%

BB%

HR/9

ERA

FIP

2013

GULF

RK

18

8

5

22.0

28.6

9.2

0.4

3.68

2.87

2014

MWL

A

19

18

18

100.2

19.4

7.6

0.2

1.88

3.28

2015

FLA

A+

20

17

17

94.2

20.1

7.1

0.0

2.09

2.53

During the 2013-14 offseason, here is how Kaminsky ranked on top St. Louis prospect lists:

Here is how Kamnisky fared in the 2014-15 offseason rankings:

A blurb from the Baseball Prospectus assessment of Kaminsky from their 2014-15 offseason prospect ranking gives a well-developed critique of the southpaw:

Kaminsky sailed through his first full-season test without issue, thanks in large part to the quality of his fastball-curveball tandem. Midwest League bats were generally overwhelmed by the two offerings, as well as the Garden State product’s ability to consistently spot each in the zone, with lots of soft contact resulting. As Kaminsky advances to High-A in 2015 he will need to show further development in his off-speed and a lesser reliance on the curve if he is to continue to prove capable of keeping pro bats off balance through multiple lineup turns. Changeup savant Marco Gonzales has already provided the young southpaw with some pointers regarding the former, and as Kaminsky’s comfort level with the pitch increases he should feel less reliant on the breaker as his go-to change-of-pace pitch. The fastball has a chance to reach consistent plus velocity, but the lack of plane could cause the pitch to play down some even when delivered with precision. In the aggregate, the parts all add up to a potentially valuable asset in a major-league rotation, with just enough projection to leave the door open for an impact outcome. It was a strong full-season campaign for the lefty, but much work remains to bridge the gap between present skill set and rotation stalwart at the highest level.

For contrast, a snippet from a free Baseball Prospectus scouting report on Kaminsky from late May or early June of this year by Jeff Moore:

A lack of size and fluidity to his delivery leave Kaminsky without much projection despite being just 20 years old. He shows good pitchability for a player his age, understanding how to add and subtract with both his fastball and curveball and showing a feel for the development of his change-up, which has the potential to be a third above-average offering. None of the pitches showed as potential plus offerings, however, leaving him with a relatively high floor but a low ceiling as a back-end starter.

Kaminsky appears to be settling into the high floor, low ceiling group among evaluators. That's not to say that he is not valuable, just that he does not have the potential ace upside of, say, an Alex Reyes. This is why Reyes uniformly ranks higher on top-prospect lists than Kaminsky.

Prospects: Wendle vs. Kaminsky

To me, it is fair to say that the following is true with respect to Wendle vs. Kaminsky:

  • Kaminsky (first round) was more highly regarded at the time he was drafted than Wendle (sixth round).
  • The St. Louis farm system has been more highly regarded during Kaminsky's pro career with the Cardinals than Cleveland's farm system during Wendle's pro career with the Indians. Thus, it was more difficult to make a list of the top ten Cardinals prospects than top ten Indians prospects during Kaminsky years with the St. Louis organization and Wendle's with Cleveland.
  • Kaminsky has been more highly regarded relative to other St. Louis prospects than Wendle was relative to his Indians prospect peers as evidenced by prospect watchers ranking Kaminsky more highly on top Cardinals prospect lists than they did Wendle on Indians prospect lists.
  • Kaminsky is a better prospect right now than Wendle was in December 2014 and consequently he had a higher objective value.

Moss Trades: December 2014 vs. July 2015

Since the Indians acquired Moss, he has not hit well. His 2015 numbers are rather bad for a corner bat. In fact, they're a bit worse in terms of overall production than what Mark Reynolds has posted for the Cardinals this year.

Moss: 2015 Stats

Year

Age

PA

BB%

K%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

fWAR

2015

31

375

8.5

28.3

.265

.217

.288

.407

.190

.302

94

0.8

That has understandably had a negative impact on the projections for him for the remainder of 2015.

Moss: 2015 Rest-of-Season Projections

System

PA

BB%

K%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

WAR

ZiPS

210

9.5

29.5

.282

.230

.310

.451

.222

.329

112

0.7

Steamer

229

9.2

27.7

.289

.242

.319

.467

.226

.339

120

1.1

Depth Charts

238

9.4

28.6

.285

.236

.315

.459

.224

.334

116

1.0


Some have declared that Moss's hip impingement and offseason surgery are to blame. I don't have any inside information on Moss's medicals, but I tend to think that if both the Cleveland and St. Louis medical staffs signed off on acquiring the slugger post-surgery, there must not be anything glaringly wrong with the medicals. That's not to say that Moss might not still be feeling the effects of the surgery or that his hip is not negatively impacting his swing—that could be the case. I'm just saying that I'm not ready to draw such a conclusion at this point in time, without more information of the sort to which I don't have access.

Regardless of why Moss has hit more poorly in 2015 than expected or than he did in 2012, 2013, or 2014, it appears that the Cardinals' expectations for his batting production with St. Louis post-trade should be lower than the expectations the Indians had for him in December 2014 when the traded for him. None of the projection systems forecast Moss to hit as well over the remainder of the 2015 season as they projected him to hit over the entirety of 2015 before opening day. He has hit poorly this year, is older, and might be injured—a fact that is more roundly baked into the rest-of-seasons projections now by way of his poor 2015 numbers to day than in the preseason projections.

In conclusion, it appears that the Cardinals paid a higher prospect price this July than the Indians did last December for a lesser term of club control and a worse hitter.


FanDuel

SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive agreement regarding daily fantasy baseball. The Rockies have hit on the road .243/.292/.396 away from Coors Field this year. They scored eight runs at Busch Stadium last night. I doubt they are able to duplicate such an offensive onslaught tonight without Troy Tulowitzski against Michael Wacha. Play FanDuel here.