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An Early Look at Middle Infield Trade Options for the Cardinals

The struggles at the plate this season for Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong have largely gone unnoticed. This could be because of his stellar defense (so far). Or possibly the struggles of the top four in the lineup to put it together. According to Fangraphs.com and their leader boards Wong ranks 158th out of 164 in OPS (164 is worst). That would place him right behind our very own Dexter Fowler and just ahead of a very bad Jason Kipnis. Considered unqualified by his amount of plate appearances, he has been our primary starter at second base.

All together the Cardinals have a logjam of misfit parts as usual on their roster. Whether the stats say so or not, Carpenter should be at first base and is blocked by Jose Martinez. Jedd Gyorko suffers from this and has become an imperfect fit on this roster, if not the unheralded utility player. There is no ideal starter at either 3rd, SS or 2nd base, leaving room for improvement. Max Schrock would need to be added to the 40 man roster. His high batting average is also covering up for the severe lack of power.

Munoz won’t hold up well forever (not 2018, at least). Nor would I expect Gyorko to take over for Wong. Matheny swept him aside for the third base starting job after being among the league leaders there in DRS (16). Assume one of Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong is traded to make room in this instance.

Selling

Whit Merrifield, Royals (Free Agency in 2023)/Age 29 , 2B/OF; Bats: Righty

2018 Slash Line: .288/.324/.460

Merrifield is one of the lone bright spots remaining on the Royals. They currently sit at 20-36 (.357) in the AL Central, as expected during a rebuild. After the 27 year old got a shot in 2016, he burst onto the scene in 2017, batting .288/.324/.460 with 19 HR’s and 34 stolen bases. While impatient at the plate, he was a success. In his 236 games as a second baseman, he has put up an above average 14 drs, spanning 1988.1 innings. He has become the player we hoped Wong would be, and then some when thinking about his power.

He’s on nearly the same offensive pace this season when looking at OPS (.784 to .783) with an interesting change in his approach at the plate. The walk rate has increased from 4.6% to 9.8%, being 6 walks away from matching the 29 he put up in 2017. This has come with a sacrifice in the power department, as even though he’s making more hard contact than ever, he’s swinging less and less. I think a move from Kauffman would help nonetheless. Besides, we’re looking for impact players and not power bats specifically.

This is the most expensive player to acquire on this list in terms of prospects due to his years of control.

Pretenders

Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Free Agent After 2018)/Age 34, 2B; Bats: Switch

2018 Slash Line: .303/.369/.505

Image result for jed lowrie

An underrated veteran, Lowrie has put up very impressive seasons in between some average and disappointing ones. In 2012, 2013, and 2017 together he put 10.8 offensive WAR over 404 games, among the very best. He had a boring three year stretch from 2014-2016 though, hitting .248/.317/.354, putting on his best Daniel Descalso impression. Fair to mention is that he has cooled off since May 5th (19-84, .226) and could be due for major regression. For one his groundball rate is up and line drive rate is down.

While at his best he is an offensive weapon, he is no defensive addition by any means. Formerly a starting shortstop in Oakland, those days were behind him even then. He was the worst there in 2013, accruing -18 drs and now hasn’t started at SS in over 3 seasons. He has -10 drs since 2016 at second base and it’s only getting worse. Hopefully his bat rebounds in the next couple of weeks as he is easily the most trade-able player on this list.

I don’t think the A’s have what it takes for the second wild card spot.

Undetermined Availability

Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Free Agency in 2020)/Age 30, 2B/3B; Bats: Switch

2018 Slash Line: .257/.320/.471

Image result for yangervis solarte

2018 is an indecisive season for the Blue Jays. This is the last year they will have former MVP Josh Donaldson under control before testing free agency and are trailing the Yankees and Red Sox by a wide margin. Donaldson is not the main target here, since he is oft injured and on his way to DH.

Since Solarte is putting up impressive numbers offensively, he is definitely worth a look. His .471 slugging percentage ranks 5th in the majors for all qualifying second basemen. In years past he was able to do nearly the same damage with San Diego. Contrary to what his OBP would tell you about his ability to draw walks, he’s actually putting up a decent 8% walk rate. What is holding him back is the fact he’s currently at a career high in outside swing % and as a result has experienced a large drop in his outside contact rate (75.5% to 69.1%).

Solarte has likely become a utility player because he’s really no good at any particular position. He’s played in the outfield and all over the infield, grading positively no where. He’s racked up -7 drs combined already (mobility).

Chances are that Solarte being traded depend on what the Jays decide to do with Donaldson first, and if the team decides they are going to “sell”. If Donaldson is traded they are going to need Solarte to make it through the season as necessary depth.

Unavailable and Struggling?

Brian Dozier, Twins (Free Agent After 2018)/Age 31, 2B; Bats: Righty

2018 Slash Line: .237/.309/.396

Image result for brian dozier struggling

While the slash line is nothing to marvel at, there is more to Dozier that would lead me to target him. It largely depends on the idea that Dozier is a second half hitter only. Contrary to his earlier years where he would struggle into the dog days of summer, he made some change in 2016 that helped him turn it on during that part of the season. In 2016 he had a second half OPS of .990 with a slash line of .291/.344/.646, good enough to put himself in the running for the MVP vote even though he posted a more pedestrian .786 OPS in the first. That first half he posted a hard hit percentage of 28.6%. After the All-Star break that number boomed to 41.8%, explaining the huge leap in his slugging percentage. Oddly enough though his change in 2017 was linked instead to hitting more fly balls than normal.

An athletic player, Dozier like Merrifield is quick on his feet (16 stolen bases, +3.4 BSR value in 2017). Over 7091.1 innings at 2B, he has held up well with 4 drs. It is my opinion that his range helps make up for what he is lacking elsewhere in his defensive profile. His availabilty is unknown, as all of the AL Central has played sloppy to this point in the season (Indians not running away with it), keeping the Twins “in it”. Dozier’s name has surfaced in trade rumors for many years now and a trade has yet to come together.

In Division

Scooter Gennett, Reds (Free Agency in 2020)/Age 28, 2B; Bats: Left

2018 Slash Line: .345/.379/.553

Image result for scooter gennett

Scooter Gennett is a much different player than he was as a Brewer. He has just hammered the ball day one since arriving in Cincinnati last season, with his .531 SLG in 2017 ranking 16th in all of baseball. He tore right handed pitching up to the tune of a .571 slugging percentage, taking them for extra bases quite often. What is strange to me about Scooter is that nothing stands out to me in his approach that would lead me to understand how he has changed. He swings in the strike zone more often but would that really change much?

In his career to the point, left handed pitching seemed to be what held him back. He has been limited in his starts against them (624 R, 261 L) and his .611 OPS versus lefties is far weaker. In 2018 though, he is hitting same handed pitching just as well as the righties though, so it’s possible he’s made a timing change in his swing. Nothing special defensively.

The Cardinals haven’t traded with the Reds in over a decade so this should be a good one to watch.

Honorable Mentions for MI: Asdrubal Cabrera, Didi Gregorius, Jurickson Profar

Possible First Base Targets: Justin Bour, Justin Smoak

Possible Third Base Targets: Mike Moustakas

Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this (if you made it this far). My true target in all of this would be Whit Merrifield as the Cardinals could use a sure answer at second. For the now, it would be Jed Lowrie because he’s at the end of his contract. Make sure to message me on Twitter @Graham_Stl if I missed a player you want.

No Manny Machado for @The_Ryan_Shull

Graham Jacobi
Graham's twitter handle is Graham_Stl. I enjoy good conversation on Twitter and am excited for this opportunity to write about the Cardinals.
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