John Mozeliak, to the surprise of some Twitterers, understood the Cardinals’ need for an impact bat. After pursuing Giancarlo Stanton to the point of a formal rejection, Mo quickly pivoted to another Marlins outfielder, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna had a career year in 2017, so there are doubts that he will repeat his 37 homer, 4.8 WAR performance in 2018. Regardless, Ozuna is an upgrade and makes the current outfield one of the best in the National League.
That being said, Ozuna doesn’t make the Cardinals the favorite to win the division. After the Ozuna acquisition, Fangraphs projected the Cardinals to win 88 games, still five behind the rival Cubs. Mo gave up four prospects — Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zach Gallen, and Daniel Castano — for Ozuna, but none are in the Top 100. That means Mo still has an outfield surplus to deal from, as well as starting pitching depth that is among the best in baseball.
Naturally, the Cardinals have been linked to upgrades at third base, including Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Evan Longoria. I expect Longoria to come as part of a larger package that (hopefully) would include closer Alex Colomé, so I want to focus on a Machado and Donaldson comparison.
At age 25, Machado is coming off a down year. In 2017, he slashed .259/.310/.471, which was good for a surprisingly-low wRC+ of 102. He’s never been someone who walks a lot, but he suffered from some poor batted-ball luck in 2017, with a BABIP of .265, well below his career norm.
He still hammered 33 homers and drove in 95, but much of his value comes from his defense, which has slipped since 2013. In 2013, his first full season, he saved 35 runs. In 2014 he only played 82 games, but in 2015, he only saved 15 runs. He slipped to 14 DRS in 2016 and last year, he saved only 6 runs, ten fewer than Jedd Gyorko did. All things considered, Machado isn’t the huge defensive upgrade (at least according to DRS) that his reputation suggests.
The Orioles would certainly ask for a significant package in return. After all, they don’t have to trade him. That being said, Baltimore was ranked 27th in terms of “organizational talent” by Baseball America. Their only Top 100 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is catcher Chance Cisco. That’s not good news if you’re thinking Carson Kelly could be in the middle of a package.
Baltimore has significant holes at first base, second base, and third base. Unless Baltimore thinks Andrew Knizner has a serious future at first base, there’s no way easy way for the Cardinals to fill one of Baltimore’s organizational needs. Baltimore will probably ask for Alex Reyes, but I don’t think that will be a sticking point in negotiations.
In my mind, the hypothetical deal depends on the Cardinals willingness to give up two of their legit pitching prospects. If Mo can stomach dealing any two of Flaherty, Weaver, Helsley, or Hicks, they have the pieces to land Machado. Considering, however, Machado’s defensive regression, one year of control, and the recent trend of players rejecting St. Louis in free agency, I wouldn’t pull the trigger.
The other third base upgrade is 32-year-old Josh Donaldson. Rumors suggest the Jays are hesitant to move him; they think they can compete in 2018. With all due respect to Mark Shapiro, I think he should rethink his position. The Yankees just acquired Giancarlo Stanton and got below the luxury tax threshold; they’re in position to add serious talent.
Fangraphs projects the Blue Jays to be around .500 next year, and that’s with a bounce-back 6.1 WAR season projected for Donaldson. Speaking of Donaldson, there was chatter about him entering his decline after a slow start to 2017. Well, he answered most of those questions.
In 113 games, Donaldson hit .270/.385/.459 and still managed to crank 33 homers. In total, Donaldson was worth a 149 wRC+, superior to any Manny Machado season. As for his defense, he’s average at third base. That’s not a selling point by any means, but when you consider Machado’s defense isn’t all its cracked up to be, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker considering his far superior production.
As for the hypothetical Toronto rebuild, they’re off to a decent start. They have three prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 50: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the fourth overall prospect , middle-infielder Bo Bichette, and outfielder Anthony Alford. They are lacking the pitching the Cardinals have.
In my humble opinion, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, or Jordan Hicks would be their top pitching prospect. Ryan Helsley would certainly be in their Top 10. Newly acquired Max Schrock could fill a hole, as Toronto doesn’t have a true second baseman in their Top 30.
Call me crazy, but I like the Cardinals chancing of resigning Donaldson better than their chances of resigning Machado. At age 32, the market for him won’t be quite as active as the market for Machado. Additionally, Donaldson brings an edge that Cardinals teams have lacked over the past two years.
I started this post with an open mind. Not anymore. Despite his age, Donaldson is a better fit for the Cardinals, in terms of both how much it would cost to acquire him and their chances to resign him. There’s still no guarantee he’ll be available. Regardless, I’d be hesitant to pay a premium for Machado, especially if he wants a move up the defensive spectrum.
Thanks for reading.