As the World Series ends and the window for offseason trades officially opens, few teams are in position to dominate a market like the Cardinals are the outfield market.
Six of the Cardinals’ top 14 prospects are outfielders, and all have experience and success at Double-A or higher. Above them in the majors is a logjam of Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham and, to a degree, Jose Martinez.
After missing the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08, the Cardinals have notable areas for improvement—namely adding power (17th in SLG, 18th in HR in 2017), enhancing the left side of the infield, bringing in a veteran starter so they aren’t wholly reliant on youngsters Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty to round out the rotation, or supplementing the bullpen with Seung-Hwan Oh hitting free agency and Trevor Rosenthal out most, if not all, of 2018 while he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Whether the price is proven big leaguers or prospects, the Cardinals have the outfield currency to meet a multitude of trade requests. And they have a need to make a move or two as well, if only to avoid a traffic jam at Triple-A and in the majors. The team currently has seven outfielders on its 40-man roster and will soon need to add Tyler O’Neill and Oscar Mercado (a pair of 2013 draftees who will be Rule 5 eligible if they are not added).
Here is a look at each of Cardinals outfield options, and the merits of keeping or moving each.
*All ages Opening Day 2018.
Case for keeping: Fowler battled injuries but still performed in the first season of his five-year, $82.5 million contract. He had 22 doubles, nine triples, a career-high 18 home runs and 64 RBIs despite missing 44 games, and his .851 OPS was good for a 122 OPS+, the second-highest mark of his career.
Case for moving: Fowler’s defense in center field has declined considerably, and his health record—he’s missed at least 35 games in four of the last five seasons—doesn’t figure to get better as he moves deeper into his 30’s. Those facts combined with his contract, however, means the odds of another team taking him on are very, very slim.
Case for keeping: Pham was the Cardinals’ best offensive player last season, is an excellent defender in both left and center field, is a homegrown fan favorite and, oh yeah, is making near the minimum salary and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2019.
Case for moving: Pham will be 30 on Opening Day, and his breakthrough season was so far beyond anything he has ever produced, it is possible he comes crashing back to Earth. Still, his level of performance at his meager salary means, in all likelihood, he’s not going anywhere.
Case for keeping: Piscotty is locked up long-term on a team-friendly contract that will take him through 2022 (with a 2023 team option). Though he struggled in 2017, a lot of it can be attributed to injuries, beginning when he was hit by a ball three times on a trip around the bases at the start of the season. Separate disabled list stints for hamstring and groin injuries followed, preventing Piscotty from ever really getting into a groove.
Case for moving: Injuries or not, Piscotty’s production has dropped every year he’s been in the majors, with his OPS+ falling from 130 to 113 to 88. Considering his friendly contract, a team inspired by Piscotty’s past production and banking on a healthy bounceback could very well send back a valuable player in return.
Case for keeping: Athletic outfielders in their mid-20s with legitimate power who can play all three positions well aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and the Cardinals have one making near the minimum salary in Grichuk.
Case for moving: Grichuk has been in the majors the better part of three years and shown no signs of improvement controlling the strike zone. His demotion to high Class A last year was the low point, and his strikeout and walk rates were actually worse after he returned to the majors (29.8% K-rate and 6.6% BB-rate before, 30.2% and 5.4% after.) He is also about to become more expensive as he reaches arbitration for the first time this offseason.
Case for keeping: Not many players provide a .309/.378/.519 slash line for a minimum salary, and that’s what Martinez did for the Cardinals in 2017. He can play left field, right field and first base, and mashes lefties as an excellent platoon partner.
Case for moving: Martinez is a liability defensively in the outfield and isn’t great at first base either. It doesn’t figure to get better as he moves into his 30s next year, especially for someone so physically large (6-foot-6, 215 pounds).
Case for keeping: The Cardinals lack power in their farm system, and O’Neill provides it in spades. A muscular masher with 87 home runs the last three seasons and true plus-plus power potential, O’Neill is the Cardinals best-in house hope to add needed juice to their offense.
Case for moving: The jury remains out on if O’Neill will hit enough for his power to play against big league pitching. He gets into prolonged slumps when his swing path gets too steep uphill and he has a nasty penchant for chasing sliders. He shows the ability to lay off bad pitches and be a good hitter in spurts, but evaluators are still not fully convicted on him.
Case for keeping: Finding 21-year-olds who can jump straight from high Class A to the majors and hit .367 in their first stint (and hit enough in subsequent callups to finish with a .317 average) as Sierra did is rare. Finding those guys who also absolutely fly, play top-notch defense in center field and have advanced athletic instincts is even more so.
Case for moving: Sierra’s lack of power makes him a fourth outfielder in the eyes of many evaluators. Further, he doesn’t project as a plus hitter who draws a ton of walks (see: .269 AVG and .313 OBP in Double-A). Considering his lack of power, the additional lack of a potentially high on-base percentage makes it difficult to project him as a first-division regular, although his defensive value gives him a high floor.
Case for keeping: A good athlete who hit his way up the minors and can play all three outfield spots is very valuable to have. Bader has a long track record of success, and most impressively showed he could handle center field in his first ML stint in 2017.
Case for moving: Bader lacks the plus tool of O’Neill’s power or Sierra’s speed and defense, while facing similar hittability questions. He employs an ambush approach and is extremely aggressive, which major league pitchers exploited with ease the more the scouting report on him got around. Without significant adjustments, Bader may not hit enough to warrant playing every day and doesn’t have the carrying tool to fall back on.
Case for keeping: Garcia has arguably the highest offensive upside of all the Cardinals minor league outfielders with big power potential, good pitch recognition despite his free-swinging nature, and a demonstrated ability to drive the ball gap-to-gap with authority. He also has the best outfield arm in the organization—an accurate, plus-plus weapon—and is ready to contribute immediately.
Case for moving: Garcia is the oldest of the minor league outfield group, and the amount of swing-and-miss in his game has caused him problems in the past in Cuba and Japan. He toes the line between being properly aggressive and overly so, with the risk he could fall too far into the latter category against big league pitching.
Case for keeping: A decorated Cuban signing only a year ago, Arozarena quickly reached Double-A and already shows above-average run times, strong on-base skills, the athleticism to play all three outfield spots and good instincts for the game.
Case for moving: Arozarena is largely regarded as a potentially solid player but not a great one. He spent more time in left field than center because others in the system are better, and his future offensive profile is generally seen as good—on base with a lot of doubles and some stolen bases—but not prolific, whereas some others in the system (O’Neill, Garcia) are further up the ladder and seen as having more impact potential.
Case for keeping: Mercado is the best defensive outfielder in the system, even ahead of Sierra, and has finally started to come along offensively. His center field defense, plus speed and baserunning instincts, and general athleticism are all extremely attractive qualities for a National League club.
Case for moving: Even though Mercado’s bat has improved, evaluators still see him as a fringy-to-below-average hitter with major improvements needed in his plate discipline, pitch recognition and ability to use the whole field. With his offensive shortcomings, there isn’t much belief among evaluators Mercado will be more than a fourth or fifth outfielder.