The St. Louis Cardinals offense is lacking. Some hitters are lacking in discipline, while others lack base running skills. And although they seem to have enough pieces in place – based on track records – they are lacking power overall. Put these things together and, most nights, it leads to a lack of runs scored. The team could use an infusion, a fresh face to alter the look of the lineup. Most people that follow the team believe that a player will be added via trade sooner or later. I believe that this should happen sooner, in the form of the relatively uncommon, June Trade.
For a little bit of perspective, think back to 2009. Troy Glaus didn’t appear in a game until September 2nd, and David Freese was not quite ready to step in. For the first few months, the Cardinals survived at 3B thanks to April’s NL Rookie of the Month, Brian Barden, and solid early season play from Joe Thurston. However, Barden’s production disappeared in May and Thurston was a light hitting utility infielder. Add to this the lack of Glaus’s bat, creating a hole in the middle of the lineup. Ryan Ludwick was a nice 5 hitter, but not a true 4 (Think: Jedd Gyorko 2017). As the season stretched into June, the Cardinals knew they needed a 3B and a cleanup hitter, and they need him ASAP. Waiting until the July 31st trade deadline was simply not an option. Thus, on June 27th they finalized a trade with Cleveland for Mark DeRosa. This is the type of move they should make this season.
A while back I declared that the Cardinals should just go defense-first at 3B. Then, I advocated that (should he become available) that the Cardinals should look into Josh Donaldson. Then Jedd Gyorko settled in and change the conversation. And that is why 3B is NOT the position that should be addressed with this June trade. Rather the immediate need, due to under-performance, is in the outfield. In 2009, the June trade fixed immediate need, and allowed the team to reassess its other needs as the July deadline approached. At that point they would make the trade for Matt Holliday. In 2017 they can do that in reverse. They can address the lacking OF production early, and then assess whether or not they need to make a move at 3B later.
Who Gets Replaced?
Dexter Fowler will be fine and is in year 1 of a 5-year deal. Piscotty has yet to find his stroke, but his strikeout rate is still good and despite the low batting average he is getting on base at a .353 clip. He is not an amazing RF, but he is solid. These gentlemen will not be supplanted.
The man on the hot seat is Randal Grichuk. After returning from Memphis late last season, Grichuk went on a power surge. He hit .275 with 12 HR and 33 RBI from August 11th to the end of the year. That strong finish earned him a long look this season, as it appeared his struggles of the previous 4 months were behind him. Heck, after Opening Day I declared that he had rediscovered his best approach and was about to breakout.
Now, 2 months in, he looks much more like he did April-July 2016. As I write this he is hitting just .227 with a meager .282 OBP. The trade-off with him was always that you accept the low average to get the impressive power. Unfortunately, he has just 4 HR and .387 SLG, effectively failing at his greatest strength. Former Redbird Daily colleague, Zach Gifford, has repeatedly pointed out that Grichuk has really only been able to hit pitches in one location. I have had a “man crush” on Randy since he went yard on Kershaw in the 2014 NLDS, but his tryout may be coming to a close.
Let’s Make a Deal
In the short-term, Tommy Pham has earned at-bats over Grichuk and should be in the lineup everyday. Over his career, when he has his health and his vision, Pham has shown himself to be a far more complete hitter than Grichuk and possesses very similar power. If no move is made, at the very least, Matheny needs to roll with a Pham/Fowler/Piscotty outfield. Will that happen? Unlikely. But I’m here to talk trade, so let’s do it. When I say that Grichuk should be the man replaced by the player acquired via trade, I don’t just mean his position on the field and in the lineup. I mean his spot in the organization as well. Grichuk is easily the most tradeable player on the 25-man roster. He still has big upside and 3 more seasons of team control after 2017. Someone will bet on him and be glad to get him as a returning piece in my June trade. But who are we getting?
Well, here are a few ideas. Much like 2009, you probably have to turn to a team that got off to a poor start and has little chance of competing this season, that also has pieces to sell. A quick look at the standings brought me to Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, and Miami.
From Oakland, the Cardinals could target Khris Davis. This is a player that essentially already is what the Cardinals had hoped Randal Grichuk would become. Not much average or on-base, but big-time power and run production. Swapping him into the lineup for Grichuk basically gives you a lineup that is more like we expected coming out of spring.
With KC the Cardinals would look at pending free agent, Lorenzo Cain. A CF by trade, he has played in the corners and would bring speed and a good all around bat. Detroit is a stretch, but J.D. Martinez is a legitimate hitter that has both big power and strong average and on-base skills. However, he has not been a good defensive outfielder, but for his bat he is a logical target.
Here Comes the Boom
Here is where I get really, really, REALLY bold. Let me set this up a little bit. The Cardinals have spent recent months scouting and preparing to pursue Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, with hopes that they could sign him and make him a future cornerstone of the franchise. They came up short. Now that he is firmly in the rear view, John Mozeliak can pivot and pursue a different “core” piece that he has been searching for since Pujols went Disney. I know you all want Manny Machado, but his free agency isn’t until AFTER the 2018 season. And even then, the Cardinals will be competing in a marketplace with every big spending team in baseball. That’s not their style, plain and simple. They like to work in an environment where they aren’t in a bidding war, specifically they like trades.
Look at the last 20 years and see how they have acquired their true “core” players. Pujols, Molina, and Carpenter are homegrown, but McGwire, Edmonds, Rolen, and Holliday were all brought in through trades. They attempted the same thing with Heyward. The only high profile free agent position players have been Reggie Sanders, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and now Fowler. Those first three were stop-gap contracts. They simply don’t sign their cornerstone players in free agency. That’s why the next core piece for the St. Louis Cardinals is probably not Manny Machado, but COULD be Giancarlo Stanton. No, I’m not crazy. He could be a long-term piece (signed through 2027 w/ ’28 option) acquired in a June trade.
Why I’m Not Crazy
This past week I read a John Heyman article listing 70 players that could be on the move this year. Stanton was not on the list, but he was mentioned briefly as Heyman talked about other Marlins players. Referring to Dee Gordon‘s contract making him tough to trade he said, “Giancarlo Stanton is a good player but his contract would make him even more untradeable, too.” On the contrary, I think the Cardinals ability to take on this enormous contract is the exact reason they can target and get him. The Marlins are in the process of being sold for upwards of $1 Billion. That’s a lot of jack up front, with Stanton’s contract alone adding another $285 million in guaranteed money through 2028 already on the books. It’s not unreasonable to think that the new ownership would like to have the contract moved, perhaps even requesting it be done prior to finalizing the sale.
Enter the Cardinals. We are all well aware that they are a revenue machine. They have a new television contract starting in 2018 that will pay them a total of $1 Billion over a 15-year period. This team has the financial viability to afford the player. They have the desire to add a cornerstone player and the immediate need for his bat. The farm system also holds plenty of talent to get a deal done.
Consider that Miami desperately needs quantities of quality pitching in their system. Parting with high floor prospects like Luke Weaver and Austin Gomber in addition to a more high profile arm like Jack Flaherty or Sandy Alcantara, would be very intriguing to the Marlins. Of course there would surely be position players involved, likely Harrison Bader as he would be blocked, Randal Grichuk as mentioned earlier, and perhaps others. I’m not attempting to put together a proposal, rather just giving some names that could be in the conversation, it is by no means a complete list. Also, in response to losing arms in the system, the Cardinals may be more inclined to offer Lance Lynn an extension.
The Cardinals have the ability to make the big splash and get Stanton. He is the type of player they covet and is in a situation that can really limit his market and give them a rare opportunity to acquire such a talent. However, even if they don’t do that they should be looking to acquire an outfielder in a pre-All Star break trade. The trade could be looming. On a recent episode of The Best Podcast In Baseball, Derrick Goold made a point Mozeliak occasionally does some “roster pruning” specifically mentioning the trade of overused/underperforming Chris Duncan in Mid-July 2009. This was a precursor to the Matt Holliday trade. Fast forward to 2017 and the Matt Adams trade could be a similar indicator of things to come.
I certainly hope so. The team needs a shake up, a fresh look to kick start them. In regards to potentially trading Grichuk, it would be a similar move to the trade of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in 2014. It rattled the cage, it sent a message. There is almost a sense of complacency and comfort-ability with this team in recent years. They need a wake up call every now and then. Just like with Lackey, they can double down and acquire an impact player while also lighting a fire. It needs to happen sooner rather than later.
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