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?
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.
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.