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The case for bringing back Brandon Moss

Brandon Moss would be a boring but possibly effective under-the-radar signing for the Cardinals.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When I was a kid, every year at Christmas, my grandmother would get all of her grandchildren socks as a gift. Not special, holiday-themed socks, or exotically designed socks—just plain, boring, white socks.

Admittedly, when I was a little kid up through my teenage years, I did not care for the socks. Socks were just kind of a thing that existed—they were not exciting in the way that a video game or a book would’ve been for me. But once I reached adulthood, I began to understand that the socks were actually the perfect gift. My grandma, while she certainly would have tried her best, could have easily gotten me the real-life equivalent of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. But instead, by buying something very practical with virtually no downside (after all, everybody needs socks), she spared me the mildly irritating task of shopping for socks while allowing me to buy more fun stuff on my own.

If the St. Louis Cardinals were to sign Brandon Moss, re-upping with the player they acquired at the 2015 trade deadline from the Cleveland Indians for Rob Kaminsky and who amassed 615 plate appearances in a Cardinals uniform, it would not be an Earth-shattering transaction. It would be, to use parlance I just invented, the equivalent of getting socks for Christmas.

And if Brandon Moss is the biggest acquisition of the Cardinals’ off-season, fans would be reasonably disappointed. Certainly, the Cardinals should not make him the focal point of their 2017 plans, and if he were to be, the Chicago Cubs should clear room at Wrigley Field for another NL Central Champions banner. But Brandon Moss could be a compelling piece to the 2017 Cardinals, and it could come at a relative bargain.

According to MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents predictions, the lone free agent to go to the Cardinals will be Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals appear insistent on playing Matt Carpenter at first base, as well as Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the outfield, and if the Cardinals were to invest in Dexter Fowler (MLBTR predicts his contract at four years and $64 million, and this could very well be a conservative estimate), he would certainly be an everyday starting outfielder.

Seemingly, this would make Brandon Moss redundant. And if the Cardinals were to sign Dexter Fowler or another marquee free agent center fielder, or if they were to acquire a center fielder via trade without trading an MLB position player in the process, Brandon Moss would not be a regular starter. But he could still have value to the Cardinals.

In 2016, Brandon Moss had a wRC+ of 105, which amounts to a slightly above-average offensive season, but through the first half of the season, during which Moss had 250 plate appearances, he had a wRC+ of 138. By incorporating his April through August, in which he had 363 plate appearances, he had a wRC+ of 134.

In the first half of 2016, Moss was as good of a hitter as 2016 Robinson Cano. Through August, Moss was as good of a hitter as 2016 Yoenis Cespedes. And “aided” by a September in which his -10 wRC+ matched 2016 Luis Perdomo (whom the Cardinals left unprotected in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft, and also is a pitcher), Moss’s season on the whole matched 2016 Marcell Ozuna.

It seems like cherry-picking to expect Moss to be the all-world hitter he was in the first half or the pitiful hitter he was down the stretch for the Cardinals in 2016, as both sets of data are part of the overall picture. But as Brandon Moss struggled late last season, and most players performing so poorly would get days off, he still had 101 plate appearances in September and October. This was the ripple effect of Matt Holliday’s near-season ending injury—a desperate team clawing for a playoff position meant that Moss was overexposed.

In a world in which the Cardinals also have Dexter Fowler, Brandon Moss would not be forced to play more than a few times a week with perfect health. Perfect health for recent Cardinals teams may seem like a fairly ridiculous premise, in which case Moss perhaps would be less valuable on a rate basis but would be more valuable to the team overall.

In 2016, a season in which Moss began the year in essentially a glorified utility role, Moss was worth 1.4 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. This may seem pedestrian, but by FanGraphs WAR-to-dollar projections, he was worth $11.2 million. Even with his precipitous decline, and even with his lack of defined role, Moss was worth 160% of the average annual value projected by MLB Trade Rumors this off-season, which predicts that Brandon Moss will sign with the Washington Nationals for two years and $14 million total.

The Cardinals already have Matt Adams to act as a backup at first base, but as noted by Joe Schwarz, he could have some trade value given his relatively low cost and club control. The presence of Brandon Moss would make Adams redundant, and he has other strengths—unlike Adams, Moss has proven to be a serviceable defensive corner outfielder and while Moss is a better hitter against right-handed pitchers than lefties, it is not to as dramatic of an extent as Adams (while Adams was better against lefties in 2016 than he had typically been throughout his career, his 61 wRC+ in his career against lefties is half of his righties wRC+).

If the Cardinals were to sign Brandon Moss at the MLBTR estimate, it would not be a game-changing move, but it would serve many purposes. The Cardinals would, on any given day, have a very potent bench bat at its disposal for pinch-hitting duty. Moss could serve as a backup at first base and to both of the corner outfield positions, assuring sufficient days off for Matt Carpenter (who has dealt with bouts of “extreme fatigue”), Stephen Piscotty (who quietly suffered a performance decline of his own late in 2016, a season in which he led the Cardinals in plate appearances by 68), and perhaps most importantly, Randal Grichuk.

While the Cardinals sound excited for Grichuk in left field, he is also a player the Cardinals demoted twice last season. If Randal Grichuk turns back into the player that was sent to Memphis, the Cardinals will be thrilled to have Brandon Moss around. And while having names like Fowler and Cespedes circulating in the rumor mill might make Brandon Moss sound as exciting as a new pair of socks, the Cardinals could be thrilled to have him around.