Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

$82 million is a lot of money. It would be a lot of money regardless of who was collecting that money, but it really looks like a lot of money when it is being paid to a 31 year old center fielder who has spent as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field.

Just over halfway through the first year of his 5 year contract with the Cardinals, Dexter Fowler already looks like a mistake. Offensively, Fowler has been okay. His .452 slugging percentage and 14 home runs have been a pleasant surprise. However, the on base skills that were the primary reason behind the Cardinals being willing to pay him $82 million have diminished to the tune of a .334 mark and only 4 stolen bases.

And the improved center field defense that took Fowler from being a -20 DRS player during the 2014 season with the Houston Astros to being a +5 DRS player with the 2016 Chicago Cubs? Yeah, it’s been pretty awful to the tune of -12 DRS and a -3.3 defensive fWAR in only 631 innings.

Yikes.

With yesterday’s announcement that Fowler was headed to the 10 day disabled list for the 3rd time this season, I heard a lot of kicking and screaming on Twitter about his contract. And after top prospect Harrison Bader’s heroic performance last night, that kicking and screaming has only gotten louder this morning.

Well, as the headline says, everyone needs to chill.

Fowler 3
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Firstly, Dexter Fowler hasn’t been that bad. His on base skills have always been prevalent, and if he can shake the injury bug and find himself some consistent at bats, he’ll be right around the .380 – .390 OBP mark that we all expected prior to this season.

The unexpected slugging has been beautiful to see. Fowler’s 2017 ISO of .210 would be a career high mark by nearly 50 points, and project out his 14 HR’s in 333 plate appearances over a full season of 600 plate appearances and we’re looking at 25 HR’s. Combine that with the on base skills that will show with consistent at bats and the Cardinals have themselves a dynamic offensive player.

Secondly, Fowler’s injuries this year have been small, nagging things that no player can control. Injuries are the worst and it’s not fair to already call his contract a ‘mistake’ just because of the injuries he’s dealt with.

Personally, I believe that those nagging injuries have been a part of Fowler’s determination to play center field in St. Louis. Earlier in July, when asked how the outfield would shake out after Fowler’s initial return from injury, Tommy Pham commented, “Dex is in center field, we know that for sure.”

Center field is a tough position to play every day. It’s especially tough for a guy dealing with small, nagging injuries. So, to do our part in trying to solve some of Fowler’s injury issues, just move him to a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals already have several in-house replacements to take his spot.

In just 178.1 innings played in CF, Tommy Pham has been worth 6 DRS and 1.1 defensive fWAR. His defense hasn’t just been good, it’s been exceptional. So why keep trotting out a terrible defensive center fielder when there’s a great defensive center fielder hanging out next to Fowler?

And thirdly, we all have to take a look back at the state of the Cardinals when they initially signed Dexter Fowler.

On December 9th, the Cardinal outfield looked unstable, at best. Randal Grichuk was coming off of a rough year during his debut season in CF. Stephen Piscotty was locked into the right field position, and beyond those two players, there didn’t seem to be any options that could be counted on to produce in 2017.

Tommy Pham was an oft-injured Triple-A guy that didn’t seem to have a spot. Jose Martinez wasn’t a name that anyone knew, Harrison Bader wasn’t ready yet, and Tyler O’Neill was still in Seattle.

The Cardinals needed a center fielder. The trade market was exploding, and players like Adam Eaton were being dealt away for entire farm systems. St. Louis was wise to avoid an inflated trade market, and Fowler was clearly the best fit on the free agent market.

Fowler 2
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

At the time of the move, it was imperative. Fowler slid right into the Cardinals immediate plan and the 5 year deal provided St. Louis with future stability, which was desperately needed entering the 2017 season.

Since then, Tommy Pham has played his way into becoming the Cardinals’ most productive position player and a 5 WAR outfielder. Jose Martinez has turned heads and become one of the best pinch hitters in the sport. Harrison Bader has crushed Triple-A and now made his mark in the Major Leagues. Tyler O’Neill has been acquired from the Seattle Mariners and players like Magneuris Sierra, Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia have shown themselves to be potential Major League impact players.

If, on the day Dexter Fowler signed his contract, you saw all of this coming, you’re lying.

Hindsight is everything, and being able to look back on all that has transpired during the 2017 season allows us to see that yeah, if we were given the option right now of whether or not to sign Dexter Fowler before the season, we would gladly pass on him.

But he was needed at the time and that’s all that matters. So everybody take a second and chill; have some patience.

Fowler simply needs to be moved out of center field, which will hopefully solve the nagging injury problem. Being moved to a corner outfield spot will improve his defense by giving him less ground to cover. With the nagging injury issue presumably solved, Fowler will be able to gain his stride and get consistent at bats. With consistent at bats, the on base numbers will get back to where we expected them and can combine with the improved power to create a highly productive corner outfielder.

So everybody just relax. Put away your pitchforks and torches about Dexter Fowler’s contract and have some patience. Baseball is a fickle beast and unexpected things happen. Fowler is not suddenly a horrible player that needs to be cut. He’s a productive and dependable Major League player that simply needs a few adjustments to harness that production and dependability.

Let’s all enjoy Harrison Bader and Tommy Pham for right now, but stop going too far and calling Fowler a mistake.

He’s not. So chill.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel

On yesterday’s episode of, ‘Ryan is the GM of the Cardinals’, I traded away Kolten Wong to Oakland in exchange for Matt Chapman and I also sent Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal to Tampa Bay in exchange for Willy Adames.

My trade deadline goal remains to sell 2017’s expendable parts in exchange for pieces that will help the Cardinals win in 2018 and beyond. So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at who is still left in my ‘sell’ pile, shall we?

The most simple player in the pile is Lance Lynn, so let’s start there.

Lynn is set to become a free agent at the end of 2017 and he surely won’t re-sign with the Cardinals. For starters, St. Louis has a wealth of pitching talent just waiting for an opportunity to take Lynn’s rotation spot. Alex Reyes is presumably first in line, closely followed by Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson among others.

Secondly, with Lynn’s track record of quality, (career 3.37 FIP while averaging 191 IP in each of his 4 full seasons as a starter) he will likely be able to command money on the open market the Cardinals won’t be willing to pay him with so many younger, cheaper options available.

Lance Lynn
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals

The course of action is simple here. With a 3.30 ERA in 114 IP so far this season, Lynn poses as an attractive piece for one of 2017’s many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching help. Houston needs pitching help, Milwaukee needs pitching, the Cubs need pitching, but I’ve got my eyes on two teams and I want a bidding war between them.

With today’s news that Clayton Kershaw will be out for 4-6 weeks with back trouble, the Los Angeles Dodgers suddenly have a real need for starting pitching. Pair them up with a New York Yankees team desperately trying to catch the Boston Red Sox and we’re in business.

From both of their perspectives, Lynn makes a lot of sense both during and beyond 2017. Quality, durable, dependable starting pitching is difficult to find. Lynn would fill an immediate need in both teams’ rotations – the Yankees’ rotation already needed help before Michael Pineda went down with Tommy John surgery – and he would make sense to sign in the offseason considering that both teams easily have the money and will definitely be looking to win immediately beyond 2017.

From the Cardinals’ perspective…oh boy is this going to be fun.

Both the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ farm systems are loaded, but I believe the deal more feasibly gets done with the Dodgers as the trade partner. For one, the Yankees have already given up Blake Rutherford and others to trade for a Todd Frazier package and they could be hesitant to give up even more future talent for more rentals. However, if the Cardinals can manage to net Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams in return for Lynn, that would be ideal.

As for the Dodgers, they haven’t made any moves yet and maintain that the team they put out on the field right now is plenty good enough to win the World Series. However, staring down the barrel of being without Kershaw for possibly 6 weeks and with the Diamondbacks and Rockies hot on their trail, starting pitching is needed and the iron is hot.

Does that mean that the Dodgers will panic and give up Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler for Lynn? No, that seems excessive, but neither of those guys are players the Cardinals should target. Willie Calhoun makes much more sense.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

Could demanding a Calhoun for Lynn trade still seem excessive from the Dodgers’ end? Absolutely, but he’s the guy the Cardinals should have earmarked in this potential trade.

Calhoun is currently wrecking Triple-A to the tune of a .965 OPS with 22 homers and 65 RBI’s and the bat is an asset. He’ll be ready to contribute immediately in 2018 and getting him in return for Lynn would be a steal for the Cardinals.

I’m probably overvaluing Lance Lynn right now, but the need for starting pitching is dire for contending teams right now and the starting pitching market appears dry. Other than Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray – who will both cost a fortune of talent – the trade market for starting pitchers is weak at best. Lynn has definite value and the Cardinals need to capitalize on that value while the need is there for some teams.

After trading Lynn, I’m left with Michael Wacha, Randal Grichuk and Seung Hwan-Oh as the only remaining players in my ‘sell’ pile. I don’t think any Cardinal fan needs a reminder that Oh has struggled this year, so I’m not even going to pretend like I can move him for any future value players. I’ll keep him in St. Louis, let him play out his deal and then go from there.

But Wacha and Grichuk? I’ve got a few ideas.

While the two of them do seem to be having down years, there is a lot of value between Wacha and Grichuk, so I want to package them together. Neither of them are rentals in any way, as Wacha has 3 more years of team control after 2017 and Grichuk has 4 more years of control. Both in their age 26 season, it’s reasonable to expect each of those team controlled years to be of prime production.

So what kind of team would want two young, controllable, productive players? Both Wacha and Grichuk strike me as players that don’t fit in on a winning team right now, but will be focal points in a year or two. This means that the kind of team interested in Grichuk and Wacha would have to be a rebuilding club, but not a club in a full rebuild. Someone like the Angels, the Twins, Rangers or Mariners. However, the Angels don’t have any pieces I like, the Twins just made a trade for Jaime Garcia, the Rangers appear to be in sell mode, and the Mariners just gave up a top prospect to the Cardinals already so let’s leave them alone for now.

None of those teams make perfect sense, so let’s head down to the Braves and make a deal with them because they make perfect sense.

Firstly, from the Braves perspective, they have never viewed themselves as truly rebuilding. With the opening of a new park this year, Atlanta tried to put out as competitive a team as possible to break in SunTrust Park instead of buying into a full rebuild. But, while still doing that, the Braves have stacked up their farm system and will be loaded in two or three years.

Wacha and Grichuk, being young and controllable, make sense in the mold of Atlanta’s rebuild. They can both help right now while still being around for the completion of the rebuild project. Grichuk and Wacha both slide right into Atlanta’s current team and help to accelerate the rebuild process.

For the Cardinals, we’re gonna keep looking for players that can help win in 2018. One name from the Braves’ system come to mind; Sean Newcomb.

sean newcomb
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Braves

Newcomb has already come up and had a cup of coffee with the big club and although he struggled, the stuff is outstanding from the left side. A high 90’s fastball combined with a hammer curveball have produced 75 K’s in 56 IP at Triple-A this year. As stacked as the Cardinals’ farm system is with pitching, there aren’t any top quality left handed starters. Newcomb fits that bill perfectly.

A Michael Wacha and Randal Grichuk for Sean Newcomb trade would serve the Cardinals and Braves both well and would continue the necessary ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trend in St. Louis.

So, after all the dust has settled, let’s take a look at the work we’ve done.

Kolten Wong is an Oakland Athletic in exchange for 3B Matt Chapman. Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal have both been sent to Tampa Bay for SS Willy Adames. I’m making an executive decision here and sending Lance Lynn to the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for Willie Calhoun. And a Michael Wacha + Randal Grichuk package has been shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Sean Newcomb.

These 4 deals combined with the Tyler O’Neill trade that I based these articles on create a clear direction for the Cardinals and put them in prime position to win in 2018 and beyond.

Matt Chapman slides in at 3rd base with Gyorko gone. Willy Adames takes the reigns at SS while bumping Paul DeJong over to 2nd base. With Lynn and Wacha now out of the rotation, the way is cleared for Luke Weaver and Sean Newcomb. Calhoun stays down at Triple-A for now, but he’ll hit his way up soon and create some fantastic outfield depth.

My way certainly isn’t the only way for the Cardinals do go about their trade deadline business, but I believe it’s pretty darn effective. Here’s hoping Mike Girsch can come up with a plan as good as one created by an unexperienced kid that works retail and still believes that ERA is more important than FIP.

Happy deadline week!

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s

About 3 weeks ago, when the Cardinals initially announced that they would be promoting John Mozeliak to President of Baseball Operations and that Mike Girsch would be taking over Mozeliak’s former role as General Manager, my initial reaction was one of hope.

I believe that Mozeliak’s approach as GM had become stale and passed over. His ‘win now, but protect the future’ thinking model had led to an average Major League team and an average farm system, leaving the Cardinals stuck in an awkward spot entering 2017. That awkward spot has brought St. Louis to a 47-50 record thus far and left the team without a clear direction for the future.

When Mozeliak’s promotion was announced, I was hopeful because I figured that a new set of hands on the Cardinals could bring some direction to the team. Girsch’s first significant trade as General Manager happened on Friday afternoon, shipping out Marco Gonzales to Seattle in exchange for Tyler O’Neill.

The move has gotten rave reviews from all corners of Cardinal nation thus far, and for good reason.

Gonzales, at 25 years old and coming off of an entire missed season because of Tommy John surgery, had been passed up on all sides within the organization as a pitching prospect. Once viewed as a potential #2 or #3 starter, Gonzales had become expendable as the incredible wealth of Cardinal pitching talent has unfortunately flown by him during his missed injury time.

Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Luke Weaver, Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and others are now viewed as far more valuable than Gonzales. Capitalizing on the value that Gonzales still had, Girsch managed to net a top OF prospect from Seattle in return for him.

Tyler O’Neill immediately jumps to the front of the line among Cardinal outfield prospects, and he was acquired in exchange for a position that St. Louis had depth from. It was a textbook trade executed brilliantly by Grisch.

And while a prospect for prospect deal doesn’t particularly seem like it designates a clear direction for the Cardinals, this particular deal provides a valuable start to a pivotal trade deadline for the St. Louis front office.

Considering where they are right now, the approach that I believe the Cardinals need to take during this deadline is giving up on 2017 while building to win in 2018. It’s both buying and selling, but avoiding rentals at all costs; specific and difficult, but necessary.

The Tyler O’Neill trade fits this bill almost to a ’t’. O’Neill is a future asset that the Cardinals have long term control over, but can realistically be counted on to help the big club win in 2018. And he was acquired for practically nothing in the big picture of the St. Louis system. So what are some other Tyler O’Neill-esque trades that the Cardinals can make before the July 31 deadline?

I’ve got some ideas.

The thing the Cardinals need to do in order to successfully execute a ‘sell for 2017 but buy for 2018’ trade deadline is know the players that are expendable. In the ‘sell’ pile, I’ve placed Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Seung Hwan-Oh, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, and Randal Grichuk.

Out of those listed, the most valuable trade asset the Cardinals possess is Wong. A plus defender still yet to enter his prime and controllable for another 3 years after 2017 at a team friendly salary of $5 million per season. Wong’s potential surplus value (the difference between the value of his projected WAR versus actual salary) is immense and serves as an attractive piece for a team like Oakland.

So that’s where we’ll look to start this. Who can the Cardinals gain from Oakland in exchange for Kolten Wong?

Matt Chapman.

Matt Chapman
Photo by Getty Images

A Kolten Wong for Matt Chapman trade serves the Cardinals (and Oakland A’s) beautifully. With Jed Lowrie under contract and struggling defensively at 2nd base, the A’s gain a cheap 2nd baseman that slots right in and allows Lowrie to slide into more of a classic Oakland platoon role. The deal also fully clears the way at 3rd base for Ryon Healy, having a breakout season and needing at bats to stay consistent.

As for the Cardinals, Chapman is the type of piece they need; not ready right now, but has near future 4-5 WAR potential. He plays a top quality defensive 3rd base, (Fangraphs has him at a future 60 on the 20-80 scale for both arm and glove) and the power is legit. His career ISO in the minor leagues is a robust .231, highlighted by a .331 mark at Triple-A this season with 16 home runs in only 204 at bats.

Chapman has struggled at the major league level this year, but has the kind of difference making bat that the Cardinals could realistically count on to produce in 2018. And although this is a much bigger subject to be discussed deeper on a different day, I prefer Paul DeJong as the future 2nd baseman of the Cardinals over Kolten Wong anyway.

Now, the one problem with a trade for Matt Chapman is that it creates a logjam over at 3rd base for the Cardinals with Jedd Gyorko currently playing at a high level. So, instead of letting Mike Matheny decide this (please fire him anyway and solve ALL the problems), let’s see what we can get for Gyorko, shall we?

According to defensive runs saved, Jedd Gyorko has been the second best defensive 3rd baseman in all of baseball only trailing the immortal Nolan Arenado. Combine that with a 117 WRC+ over 343 AB’s and you have a player on pace for a 5 WAR season while under contract for only $6 million.

Gyorko is signed for the next two years at $9 million and $13 million, and when considering the production he’s posted over the last two seasons and the current market value for a win, he’s a bargain buy.

The exact kind of bargain buy that the Tampa Bay Rays create the base of their franchise off of.

From the Rays perspective, Gyorko is an attractive piece; controllable, cheap and versatile. He could slide in to provide production from a 2nd base position that has posted a combined 0.1 WAR between Daniel Robertson and Brad Miller. He could slide in at 3rd base when Evan Longoria needs a day off. He’ll be ready to help a currently playoff bound Rays team win right now and he’ll still be around for another 2 years to help a young team still win in the future.

From the Cardinals perspective, Chapman makes Gyorko expendable and the Rays have an overflowing fountain of talent that fits the current trade deadline blueprint. I’ve got my eye on one guy, though.

Willy Adames.

Willy Adames
Photo by USA Today

Now, considering the type of franchise the Rays are, giving up their top prospect in exchange for a 28 year old utility guy makes no sense. And that’s why the Cardinals also throw Trevor Rosenthal into the deal.

Under contract for next season in his final year of arbitration, Rosenthal gives the Rays another bullpen weapon as they close in on October. Now, bullpen arms and quality infielders aren’t a position of strength for the Cardinals so this doesn’t technically qualify as a ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trade, but it’s two expendable pieces being traded for a quality prospect at a position of need in 2018.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, Adames becomes the anointed shortstop of the future. Is it fair to move on from Aledmys Diaz so quickly? Absolutely not, but I’m in the business of winning baseball games, and Willy Adames helps me do that more effectively, fairness be damned.

Adames is another part of the generation of bigger shortstops, listed at 6’1” and 200 lbs. His power grades out as a future 60 (according to Fangraphs), and while he’s never been known for his glove, the defense has markedly improved between 2015 and 2017 to the point where he is now a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball.

Currently at Triple-A, he falls almost exactly into the same mold as O’Neill and Chapman; not quite ready yet, but will be in 2018 and beyond.

Trades for Matt Chapman and Willy Adames sets the Cardinals infield for 2018, with those two manning the left side of the diamond while Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter hold down the right side of the infield. Young, athletic, and massive power potential.

With the amount of pitching talent that is about to tear it’s way up to the Major League team, the Cardinals aren’t far away from being the type of winning team that they are used to being. These two trades give St. Louis an even clearer sense of direction heading into 2018 and I haven’t even touched players like Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn or Randal Grichuk, which leaves St. Louis with the pieces to still go pull off a blockbuster deal for somebody like Christian Yelich.

This trade deadline is as pivotal as any I can ever remember to the Cardinals’ future and it needs to be executed with a clear sense of purpose for the team to be successful in the future. Tyler O’Neill was just the start, but more trades like that are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s

Josh Donaldson to St. Louis: Yes or No?

MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported yesterday morning that the St. Louis Cardinals are interested in trading for Toronto Blue Jays’ 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson but “have not had any formal discussions.”

Now, full disclosure here, while I understand that Morosi has to have something to base this report off of, it does seem a little dumb when you step back to think about it. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in trading for a player that is 2nd in the American League in WAR since 2015.

But, when I read about the Cardinals’ interest in Donaldson, I was immediately intrigued. Normally when I hear about the Cardinals having interest in a big name player, I brush things off and take it with a grain of salt; I mean, aside from St. Louis having a very conservative approach to player acquisition over the past several years, it is just a rumor.

But I’m intrigued because Donaldson to St. Louis just makes so much sense to me. So, to answer the question I posed in the title of this article…

Yes.

Yes times 50,000.

About a month ago, Ben Markham over at Viva El Birdos broke down what he believed it would take for the Cardinals to land Josh Donaldson. To summarize, Markham pull together several packages all based upon the concept of ‘surplus value’ – based upon the market price of WAR and a player’s projected WAR, how much ‘surplus’ do they create?

Donaldson’s projected surplus value over the 2017 and 2018 seasons that he would be under guaranteed team control is $56.7 million. Fangraphs projects a 5.5 WAR 2018 season for Donaldson at $9.5 market WAR value, creating a tremendous value of $52 million.

Now, 5.5 WAR is an aggressive projection for a 32 year old coming off of an injury prone season, but it still feels reasonable for a superstar like Donaldson.

So, as I was initially brainstorming the idea of a St. Louis Cardinals trade for Josh Donaldson, the package that I immediately put together in my head was Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and either Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty.

In Markham’s article, he centers each of his proposed trade packages around Kolten Wong; understandably so. Wong is under team control through 2020 with a 2021 team option year on a friendly extension that  pays him an average salary of $5.1 million.

Wong’s projected surplus value while under team control is $37.4 million, and while that’s a nice number, it doesn’t match up with Donaldson’s. However, Wong is still the centerpiece of my trade concept for several reasons.

Firstly, the potentially 4 years of team control are an attractive commodity to the Blue Jays and it’s the type of attribute that the Cardinals will need to give up in order to entice Toronto into giving up one of their franchise faces.

Secondly, depending on how Toronto views itself right now, Wong could be exactly the type of player they are looking for. Young, controllable and cheap, yet ready to produce right away at the Major League level. I believe that the Blue Jays view themselves as a contender having a down year, meaning that they will look to trade Donaldson for several pieces that can help them win as soon as possible.

And lastly from the Cardinals’ perspective, Kolten Wong is expendable. There’s a lot to dive into on this topic, but just to shorten my reasons I’ll just put it this way: Paul DeJong > Kolten Wong.

I can’t speak for Toronto in this situation because my proposed return package going back to them is speculative and does feel light when considering just how good Donaldson has been. But 4 cheap years of Kolten Wong, 4 years of Randal Grichuk, and 6 years of Luke Weaver is an attractive package for your 32 year old 3rd baseman who appears set to walk after his contract is up in 2018.

From the Cardinals point of view, if a Wong, Grichuk and Weaver for Donaldson deal goes through during this July trade window, I believe that it solves all of the Cardinals’ issues in the foreseeable future.

Donaldson slots in at 3rd base and immediately becomes a big time bat right in the middle of a currently thin Cardinals line up. Jedd Gyorko, currently receiving the lion’s share of at-bats among St. Louis’ currently employed 3rd base options, would move to 2nd base full time and Paul DeJong would take over at shortstop with Matt Carpenter still holding down the fort at 1st base.

Mike Matheny has a track record of mucking up things with the Cardinals that make sense, but moving Wong for Donaldson seems to set the Cardinals’ infield for at least the next 2 years.

Leaving the Cardinals for Toronto with Wong would be Randal Grichuk, and with Dexter Fowler’s return off of the DL the Cardinals now have 4 starting caliber outfield mouths to feed with only 3 spots. Tommy Pham isn’t moving, Fowler isn’t moving, and Piscotty isn’t moving, which leaves Grichuk as the odd man out anyway so you might as well do him a favor and give him a change of scenery.

Bang, another problem solved.

But, the biggest issue that a Donaldson trade would solve for the Cardinals is the lack of a true #3 hitter.

Between Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler, and even Paul DeJong, the Cardinals have a bunch of guys all suited to be a #2 or #5 hitter. None of those guys are a true #3 hitter.

So, what is a true #3 hitter and why does Josh Donaldson fit that bill?

From a numbers standpoint, your #3 hitter should be the best run producer in the lineup. In a perfect world he will be the hitter with the most opportunities to drive in runs, so it makes sense that he be your lineup’s best run producer. Josh Donaldson has driven in 93, 98, 123, and 122 runs in his past 4 respective seasons. Those RBI totals would have ranked 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 1st on the Cardinals during each season.

Best run producer? You bet Josh Donaldson fits that bill.

But, the other part about a true #3 hitter that is much harder to quantify is the presence that your #3 brings to the plate.

A make or break aspect of being the 3rd hitter in a batting order is the confidence that you bring to the plate. The #3 hitter is expected to be the best in the lineup, and that pressure follows you up to the plate every time you step into the box. I’ve never been a successful #3 hitter because I’ve never had the confidence in myself to succeed under that pressure and I haven’t seen a Cardinals player that can say any differently.

Josh Donaldson oozes confidence when he steps into the box.

Josh Donaldson gets offended whenever a pitcher throws him a strike because he knows the damage that he can do to a baseball.

In 1087 Toronto at bats as the #3 hitter, Donaldson has a .934 OPS with 72 home runs and 201 RBI’s. For comparison, Matt Carpenter, the guy the Cardinals tried to push into the #3 hole at the start of the season, held a .723 OPS over 159 AB’s with only 7 home runs and 28 RBI’s.

Putting Josh Donaldson in the #3 hole completely transforms the Cardinal lineup.

Carpenter is able to settle back into his leadoff role like he has – since moving back to the top spot, Carpenter has a .437 OBP with 6 HR’s and 16 RBI’s. Tommy Pham can lock into the #2 hole. Jedd Gyorko can be the #4 hitter, Dexter Fowler #5, Stephen Piscotty can bump down to #6 and take the pressure of being the #3 hitter off his shoulders, Yadi in the 7, Paul DeJong in the 8.

Every #3 hitter that Mike Matheny has penciled onto his lineup card this year has felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole. Being able to pencil Donaldson into the #3 hole every day immediately lengthens the lineup and transforms the Cardinal order.

Don’t believe that a true #3 hitter can make a difference? Go take a look at the Dodgers.

Justin Turner (and Cody Bellinger) made his season debut on April 25th and has taken every one of his 2017 at bats in the #3 hole of the Dodgers’ order. Los Angeles is 51-18 since Turner took over as the #3.

Donaldson can make that kind of impact in the Cardinals order.

2017 has gifted the St. Louis Cardinals a sub-.500 Chicago Cubs team and a weak Milwaukee Brewers team leading the NL Central division. Even with both of these presents, St. Louis will still find a way to be under .500 at the All-Star break.

Trading for Josh Donaldson is risky, but it’s a division changing move. The Cardinals will win the Central if they make this move.

Take it to the bank.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Josh Donaldson to St. Louis: Yes or No?

Why Brandon Crawford Will Decide the Future of the Giants

The San Francisco Giants are 33-51 this season. Flash back one week ago and the Giants were 27-51. The only Major League team having a worse season than the Giants so far has been the Philadelphia Phillies.

The only difference between those two teams is that the Phillies don’t have a $175 million payroll and weren’t expecting to be a serious contender entering the season.

The other day, I broke down my disdain for the idea of ‘holding’ at the upcoming July 31st trade deadline. The Giants aren’t one of the teams that needed to read my article because their course of action should be clear this month.

Sell.

However, because baseball just can’t stand to be simple, the Giants’ decision is much more complicated to have a simple one word solution. The question of ‘buy or sell?’ has a clear answer, but the next question that the Giants must ask is, ‘but who do we sell?’

This past Tuesday, reports came out of San Francisco that the Giants were willing to trade anyone except for Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Crawford. This makes a lot of sense to the naked eye, but I find just one problem with it.

If I’m gonna go shopping at the Mall de Gigantes, Brandon Crawford is the only one that I would be willing to give up some top quality assets for. Not only do the Giants need to reconsider Crawford’s place on that ‘untouchable’ list, but I believe that they need to trade him.

Whether or not you agree with me is based around where you believe the Giants are positioned in relativity to winning the World Series. If you believe that San Francisco is just having a down year and needs to stay the course, you’d definitely be inclined to hang onto Crawford. But, if you believe that this is an aging team on the verge of total abyss, then Crawford must be traded.

I fall into the latter category for several reasons.

First of all, take a look at the Giants’ 10 most expensive players in terms of 2017 salary. The youngest among them is a tie between Madison Bumgarner and Matt Moore, both 28 years old. The oldest is Hunter Pence at 34 years old.

According to Bill James, the average MLB players’ prime production years range from his age-27 season through his age-31 season. Considering that all 10 of these players are closely around that age range, the Giants should be right in their prime of contention.

The Giants are on pace to lose 99 games in this prime, showing clearly that this is not a team built to win right now. But, if not built to win right now, maybe there’s still a realistic hope that the Giants are built to win in the near future…?

I wouldn’t count on it.

Christian Arroyo, the top prospect and crown jewel of the Giants’ farm system, just broke his hand in his first game back off the DL and is expected to be out for the rest of the regular season. Tyler Beede, the top pitching prospect, has struggled in his jump to Triple-A. After posting a sparkling 2.81 ERA in a hitter friendly Double-A league, Beede has slogged his way to a 5.81 ERA in 90.2 innings in a much more pitcher friendly Triple-A league.

Ty Blach, another pitching prospect, has shown flashes of brilliance at the Major League level but is struggling this season to the tune of a 4.89 FIP in 86 IP this season for the big club. Joan Gregorio, already a 25 year old Triple-A veteran, just got busted for PED’s and handed a suspension that will keep him off the field for the rest of the 2017 season.

Everything within the Giants’ farm system appears to be collapsing in an almost mirror image of the Major League team.

An aging, terrible Major League team combined with a collapsing and already thin farm system lead me to believe that the Giants’ are on the verge of the rebuilding abyss. The most recent team to experience the rebuilding abyss was the Philadelphia Phillies, who fell into the trap of trying to squeeze too much out of an aging core.

Almost 6 years later, the Phillies are still trying to emerge from the wasteland that they wandered into, and with the worst winning percentage among all MLB teams in 2017, they don’t appear to be anywhere close.

However, the Giants can still choose to go one of two directions. They can either enter into a full and accelerated rebuild, as I recommend, or they could stick to their guns and look to give the World Series one last run with this core of players before blowing it up.

And the decision hinges entirely on what the Giants decide to do with Brandon Crawford.

San Francisco has already tipped their hand by saying they intend to hold onto Crawford. Their plan, I presume, will be to maximize the value of players like Eduardo Nunez, Matt Moore, and Brandon Belt while still planning to contend immediately in 2018 with a theoretically younger team and improved farm system.

But, for the sake of this exercise, let’s take a look at what the Giants should do in both of my scenarios.

Assuming that San Francisco decides to hold onto Crawford, I believe that they shouldn’t sell, but rather buy at the deadline. The core of the Giants – Posey, Bumgarner, Pence, Crawford – are aging and unable to be counted on past 2019, I believe, which leaves the Giants 2 more years of legitimate contention in this universe.

So push all your chips to the middle of the table. Instead of selling off Nunez and Moore for future prospects, take a package like that to the Blue Jays and go land Josh Donaldson. Take Christian Arroyo and Ty Blach and go get Yoenis Cespedes from the Mets.

If you’re gonna stick with your core and make one last run, why not go all in. Why do a halfway rebuild in hopes of landing a bargain somewhere when you can go get some big time players and make a big time run. 

With the current 99 pace that they are on, it would make no sense for the Giants to buy right now. But if they’re planning to contend next year, buying is what they need to do. Cespedes and Donaldson are rentals, but they are rentals beyond this year that would immediately put the Giants in a prime position to contend in 2018.

On the contrary side, if the Giants decide to rebuild, don’t do a halfway rebuild. Selling Brandon Crawford should trigger an all out firesafe that includes only 3 untouchables; Arroyo, Bumgarner and Posey.

Nunez, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Moore, Strickland, Panik, Samardzija and anyone else with two working legs and a Giants contract should be aggressively shopped. Sell everybody, hit the re-start button, and aggressively re-build in the same way that the White Sox, Astros and Cubs all have.

What the Giants are planning to do is what i’m going to call a halfway, accelerated rebuild. They will conveniently sell all the players they don’t need in 2017 in hopes that they will be rewarded with talent that can help them win as soon as possible and well beyond.

The halfway rebuild is such a beautiful concept, but it’s not realistic and it has a track record of failing miserably.

The Anaheim Angels have been trying a halfway rebuild since the dawn of the decade and they are an absolute mess right now. A Major League team full of expensive, aging and severely underperforming stars combined with a dumpy farm system has all combined together to create what could be kindly called as a mess.

Are both of my scenarios risky? Absolutely, and the moves that I’ve proposed are also pretty reckless, but the Giants need something risky and reckless to get themselves back on track.

As a team on the verge of the rebuilding abyss, San Francisco doesn’t have the luxury of time or patience. They also don’t have the luxury of being able to be conservative. If they don’t do something radical right now, they could wander into the same wasteland that Philadelphia has been trying to get out of for 6 years and counting.

Trading Brandon Crawford is the radical thing that the Giants need right now.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Why Brandon Crawford Will Decide the Future of the Giants

Getting Real About the Trade Deadline

The month of July starts this up coming Saturday, which means that we are right at the halfway point in the MLB season. The trade deadline is 36 days away, and it’s time for everybody to get serious. There’s no more time to ‘wait things out’ or ‘see what you have’, it’s time to make a decision about buying or selling.

Now, if you go read other people’s trade deadline articles, they’ll talk about teams that need to buy, sell, or hold. Having been a fan of a team that has “held” now for umpteen straight trade deadlines, the idea of standing pat during this time period is stupid to me.

That being said, I believe that every team in Major League Baseball either needs to buy or sell, no in between. So let’s get real about things, and I’ll start with a team that I know needs to get serious about winning.

The Houston Astros.

It’s time for the Astros to stop planning for the future because the future is here. Houston is 52-25, unequivocally the best team in baseball right now, and their time has come. The prospects have arrived, and Houston’s winning window is wide open.

The thing that a lot of teams don’t seem to understand about winning windows is that they don’t stay open. In 2012, the Nationals won 98 games and then decided to sit Stephen Strasburg for the entirety of the playoffs because they figured they’d be right back there next year and wanted Strasburg healthy for that run.

Those 98 win Nationals were bounced in the first round of the playoffs and missed the playoffs the next year. World Series opportunities don’t grow on trees, and it’s time for everyone to realize that.

That being said, Houston needs to go all in. Don’t protect your top prospects like Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker and continue planning for the future. Your future is staring you in the face, and a guy like Sonny Gray or Jose Quintana is out there just waiting to be the missing piece in a World Series run.

If Houston holds onto their top prospects and doesn’t push to improve the team by trading for a young, controllable starting pitcher, they’ve failed the deadline and only have themselves to blame when their World Series run doesn’t come to fruition.

Next up is a team that a lot of people think needs to hold, but I think needs to commit to a clear direction. The New York Mets need to sell, and they need to sell hard.

I’m not talking about giving up expendable pieces like Asdrubal Cabrera or Neil Walker, get crazy. The Mets are stuck in between right now, they’re a team with a lot of potential that has yet to truly crack it after a 2015 World Series run. So, move on from the core of players that has failed you.

Take some of that starting pitching wealth and move it for future position player studs. Take advantage of Houston’s presumed desire for a young starting pitcher and offer them Steven Matz or even Jacob DeGrom for a hefty haul of position player prospects.

Commit to a direction, and make that direction ‘winning in the future.’

I’m not interested in going over a plan for every single team this trade deadline, but the point of this article is that I’m sick of MLB teams ‘standing pat’ at the deadline.

The Chicago Cubs stormed their way to a World Series title last year and appeared set up for one of the most dominant stretches of baseball in the league’s history. This year, their pitching has collapsed, Kyle Schwarber has seemingly forgot how to hit, and the team is barely floating above the .500 mark.

The Mets appeared ready to rule over the National League with an iron fist when they marched their way to the World Series in 2015. 2 years later, they can’t stay healthy and are sitting in a distant 4th place in the NL East.

Consistent winning baseball is something that takes a tricky balance of luck, circumstance, and the intentional building of a winning team. Winning can happen suddenly, and a collapse of that same winning team can happen just as quickly.

Baseball is a fickle beast, and that’s the way the game goes.

For teams that appear set up to ‘hold’ at the deadline, this is my plea to your front office to reconsider that approach. Let’s take the Milwaukee Brewers as an example.

The Brewers are a surprise leader in the NL Central thus far, and they show no signs of slowing back down to the rest of the division. Now, it seems like the most sensible thing for the Brewers to do would be to sit pat, let this year’s team play things out, and then still hold onto your prospects and then plan to win in the future.

However, take a look at the landscape of the league. The Chicago Cubs, a dynasty in the making, are having a down year. The NL Central appears as winnable as it might be for the next decade. It’s sitting there just waiting for the Brewers to take it and nobody knows how things will look in the future. The Brewers could collapse, none of their prospects could pan out, and they could have to rebuild again.

This might be their best shot to win the Central, so why not go for it?

The Rockies are in a similar situation. The Rockies haven’t had a winning season since 2007, and they have proven to be as unstable a team as any in Major League Baseball, so why not go for it while you have the team?

Same with the Diamondbacks. Arizona seemed like they had a winning team last year, and then lost AJ Pollock to a preseason elbow injury and watched their season turn into a 96 loss fiasco. So, again, while your team is in prime playoff position, why not go for it?

The goal of the game is to win the World Series. The trade deadline is a prime time to make or break that goal. Making a positive trade could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. The playoffs are a crapshoot, and once you’re in there, anything can happen.

I firmly believe that every team in position to seriously challenge for a playoff spot absolutely needs to go for it and buy at the deadline. Not stupidly buy and totally mortgage the future, but just don’t sit pat and let your current team be the one that you head into the final few months with.

And, for every team not in a playoff contending position, why sit around with the same team and just keep losing? Why not commit to building for the future and plan on winning in the next years?

The idea of it just seems so simple to me after watching years of fickle baseball. If you can win, go for it and win. If you can’t win, make moves so that you can win in the future. If you’re stuck in between, commit to a direction and make moves that fit that direction.

Just, enough of this ‘standing pat’ stuff.

MAKE MOVES.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Real About the Trade Deadline

The Michael Wacha Solution

In 2013, he was the future of the franchise. He went from ‘fast rising prospect’ to ‘late season revelation’ and ended the year as a postseason hero with possibly the brightest future of any Cardinal pitching prospect in a stacked system.

In the first half of 2014, he was dominant. Over the first 2 months of the season, he posted a 2.77 FIP with a 75-19 K/BB ratio and 1.07 WHIP in 77.1 IP. Then, a unique injury bug bit Michael Wacha and left him on the sidelines until his infamous flameout in the NLCS, which ended the Cardinals’ 2014 season with him on the mound watching Travis Ishikawa circle the bases after hitting a pennant clinching home run for the San Francisco Giants.

Ever since the injury, Wacha hasn’t been the same. There have been flashes of previous brilliance, but no real consistent stretches of 2013 Wacha. Rock bottom came last year, when Wacha’s full season ERA sat at 5.09 over 138 IP.

However, during April of 2017, Wacha showed some promise and reinvigoration. In 24 IP, he posted a 2.55 ERA with 24 K’s and 6 BB’s. But, over the last 35.1 IP, Wacha has slogged his way to a 5.88 ERA with 32 K’s and a frighteningly high 11.6 BB%.

So, what gives?

Diving into Wacha’s velocity numbers, I couldn’t find anything substantial that would point towards his recent struggles. Month to month, the velocity has held steady on each one of his 4 pitches throughout a game, so it’s not that. His heat maps are all similar, his pitch locations are all similar; I just couldn’t find anything.

With no statistic to point to as a reason for Wacha’s struggles, we just kind of have to assume one unfortunate thing. Until further notice, Michael Wacha is not cut out to be a starting pitcher; for one reason or another, whether we can quantify it or not.

That leaves the Cardinals with quite a predicament.

Wacha can clearly still be effective at the Major League level, as his great start to the season showed. However, as his recent track record has showed, that success, as a starter, is not consistent and can’t be counted on.

I can’t be the only one to think of this before, but the solution here seems simple.

The Cardinals shouldn’t just give up with Wacha and sell low on him right now (see: Matt Adams, and look how that’s turning out). Wacha also shouldn’t be sent down because he’ll just dominate the minors.

Michael Wacha should be sent to the bullpen and turned into a super reliever.

Now, I understand that transitioning from being a starter to being a reliever is difficult, no matter how simple anyone may try to make it seem. But the numbers that make me think Wacha’s transition could be simple are his splits each time he goes through a lineup.

As a starter, Wacha’s first time through the order is sparkling. This season, he sports a 1.95 ERA, 9.59 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, and a 0.95 WHIP. Further, for his career, Wacha has a 2.73 ERA with 200 K’s and 66 BB’s in 207.2 IP.

Essentially, over the course of a full season’s worth of innings pitched, Wacha has been worth 6.8 WAR according to FanSided’s WAR calculator. In case you don’t know, that is outstanding value.

The second time through the order? Yikes.

In 2017, Wacha’s second-time-through ERA balloons to 7.54, his K/9 drops to 6.08 and his walk rate also balloons up to 10.3%. Third time through the order is a similar story, (6.08 ERA, 9 K’s, 6 BB’s in 13.1 IP).

And, again, these numbers bear out over the course of his career. In 191 IP while going through the order a second time, Wacha’s ERA is a decent 3.91, but the K/9 goes down to 7.45 and the BB/9 goes up to 3.39. Third time through, his ERA balloons to 5.16 in 134.1 IP with a rather paltry 6.35 K/9.

Michael Wacha has electric stuff. He sports a 4 pitch mix with a fastball that can still touch the upper 90’s and a changeup that’s produced a career K% of 34.1%. This is a guy who definitely belongs in the Major Leagues, but as a reliever right now.

And, although limited, Wacha’s career numbers as a reliever are incredibly promising. In 16.1 career IP as a reliever, Wacha has a 12.6 K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a heartening 2.10 xFIP. Personally, I rely on these numbers a lot more than Wacha’s 7.16 ERA in those 16.1 reliever innings.

For the Cardinals, the solution here seems pretty simple. With a guy like Luke Weaver currently tearing up Triple-A, Wacha’s transition to the bullpen doesn’t have to leave the Cardinals without a 5th starter.

Further, the Cardinals need bullpen help right now. So why not discover that help internally, like GM John Mozeliak just loves to do.

All the pieces here seem to perfectly fit, and if Wacha continues to struggle as a starter, you’ll only hear me harp on this point more.

Thanks for reading.

The Michael Wacha Solution