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

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Josh Donaldson to St. Louis: Yes or No?

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

Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas

About a month ago, when the sadness of a broken season was still freshly marinating in my mind, I put out a fairly halfhearted list of some steps the Cardinals front office could take to put out an improved product in 2016. As I sort of mentioned, it was a pretty halfhearted and safe list and since then I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. So here’s a new, improved, and much bolder list of Cardinals offseason improvement ideas.

When I put together that list about a month ago, the 2016 rotation looked pretty set in stone. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, with Alex Reyes, Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney waiting in the wings.

Well, since then Lance Lynn has undergone Tommy John surgery, Reyes has been suspended for a positive marijuana test – the unfairness of which I’ll get into later – and the overall health record of the rotation looks pretty shaky.

Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

Wainwright will be 34 on opening day and coming off a serious Achilles tear, Martinez will be coming off a shoulder strain, Wacha looked like a shell of himself in the 2nd half of the 2015 season coming off his serious shoulder injury in 2014, and Garcia’s injury track record is quite alarming.

On top of all that, Reyes won’t be a big league factor until the middle of May, Gonzales is coming off injuries, Cooney’s coming off an appendectomy that robbed him of the last two months of his season, and Lyons is a guy that really shouldn’t be relied upon as a consistent major league starter at this point.

In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, the Redbird rotation is in some serious flux right now. So that’s where this list starts.

Revised Step 1: Go Get a Mid-Tier Starter or Two

Would it be cool if the Cardinals landed David Price or Zack Greinke? Of course, but should they be willing to potentially spend upwards of $200 million on a pitcher? The Cardinals are in a bit of a rut, but not that kind of a rut. But this SP market is really deep – like really deep – and the Cardinals should be making serious runs at a lot of guys in the middle of this market.

Three names really jump out at me here; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Leake, and Scott Kazmir. Each are quality, middle of the rotation guys who can be had for relatively low coin.

Iwakuma is coming off an injury plagued year, but placed 3rd in AL Cy Young voting just two years ago and has a no-hitter to his name.

Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today
Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today

He could reasonably be had for somewhere around $9 or $10 million on a 1 year, prove-it deal. Although, he comes with the most risk, as he has the qualifying offer mantra attached to him, so the Cardinals would have to give up a 1st round pick for potentially just a year of Iwakuma’s services.

Kazmir’s 2015 season numbers don’t really impress you – a 3.98 FIP and 130 ERA+ in 183 IP – but take a look deeper and see that he posted a 3.16 FIP and 160 ERA+ during his time in Oakland, and was an all-star in both 2014 and 2015.

Oakland is a notorious pitcher’s park, and St. Louis is becoming the same type of mold. Houston is a notorious hitter’s park, and Kazmir understandably struggled. Bring him to St. Louis on a 2 year deal and he could thrive just like he did in Oakland. Also, Kazmir would not cost the Cardinals a 1st round compensation pick like Iwakuma would, but will likely be more expensive.

Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A's in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune
Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A’s in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune

Mike Leake really shouldn’t need much of an introduction among the members of the BFIB, as he has consistently shut the Cardinals down throughout his career with Cincinnati.

Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

He’s an innings eater who fields his position exceptionally, can swing the bat a little bit and be a quality back of the rotation arm. Like Kazmir, there’s no compensation pick attached to his hip, and, considering the numbers, Leake should be able to be had for somewhere in the neighborhood of what Bartolo Colón got from the Mets two offseasons ago – 2 years for $20 mil.

These three were just names that jumped out at me, but the Cardinals should be very actively mining the middle of the starting pitcher market for quality arms to replace Lance Lynn and bridge the gap until guys like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty are ready to take on big league roles.

Should the Mozeliak hat be thrown in the circles of David Price and Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto? Sure, but the Cardinals can’t get caught up in bidding wars with the Dodgers or Cubs just because they now have “payroll muscle” to flex.

Revised Step 2: Clear Up First Base for Piscotty

First base is clearly the Cardinals’ biggest everyday positional issue with too many mouths to feed and not enough playing time to go around adequately. So who gets the majority of the at-bats and who doesn’t?

Well, I’ve got a rather creative solution that I can guarantee you’ll be hearing about for the first time.

As I stated in that big bold sentence up there, the Cardinals need to clear the way for Stephen Piscotty to take over as the everyday 1st basemen in 2016. He was their best offensive player in 2015 – yeah, all of 2015, not just the 2nd half, but the whole season – and the Cardinals need to make room for his bat to be in the lineup every day.

So how do they do that with Matt Adams still sitting there as a very viable option? We’re going to deal Adams somewhere, and I have a very specific destination in mind.

Baltimore.

Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images
Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images

Why Baltimore? Well, let’s think about it together. Who was Baltimore’s first baseman in 2015? Chris Davis.

Davis is coming off a monstrous year, will command an equally monstrous paycheck – one that the Cardinals need to avoid throwing their hat in on – and with Matt Wieters accepting his qualifying offer – which will put him on the books for $15.8 million – and Darren O’Day on their minds, the Orioles chances of keeping Davis are becoming increasingly slim by the day.

In come the Cardinals with the offer of Adams, still a quality first baseman, especially in the American League where O’s manager Buck Showalter can rest his legs but still keep him in the lineup with the DH option.

Adams could have a lot of value to Baltimore, and potentially yield a return of either a solid pitching prospect – a la Mike Wright – or a solid bullpen haul – Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, or, if God is on our side, Zach Britton.

This could potentially fix two issues. 1st base is now Piscotty’s, and the bullpen is strengthened.

Boom. Mic drop

Revised Step 3: SIGN JASON HEYWARD

This isn’t revised at all, but I’m putting it in here because it just can’t be said enough. Pay the man. Pay him whatever you need to pay him. Offer to re-name the stadium after him, offer him all your shares of Apple, offer him a lifetime supply of Imo’s, offer to build him a house in Frontenac; whatever you have to offer him, do it.

This seems harsh and untrue, but if Jason Heyward is in a different uniform on opening day 2016 playing on a salary under $200 million the Cardinals will have failed the offseason. Heyward is the top priority and nothing should get done before signing him. Plain and simple.

Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can't get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can’t get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?

So there it is, all shiny and new and improved. Ryan’s Cardinals offseason blueprint 2.0. I hope it’s as exciting to you as it is to me. But my work really means nothing, John Mozeliak holds all the cards in his hand and he needs to deal them out and push his chips to the middle of the table.

Go make it happen, Mo.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

 

Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas