UPDATE - 11/15/17: Jon Morosi (below) is reporting that the Cardinals are looking to the Rays to find their next closer. Here’s a full write up of what the Rays may look for in a deal with the Cardinals, who have a plethora of right-hand outfielders.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE - 11/6/17:
The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to be active on the trade market and one area they could target is right handed hitting outfielders. Outside of Steven Souza Jr. the Rays don’t have any realistic MLB options in the next few years.
The St. Louis Cardinals have an abundance of outfielders and are likely to trade away an outfielder or two. Cardinals are also looking to add an impact bat that likely plays in the outfield only creating a larger log jam.
At the major league level they have Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Jose Martinez. Let’s break each of them down.
Last off-season they signed the 31 year old, switch hitting, OBP machine to a 5/$82.5MM deal. Fowler is coming off a .264/.363/.488 and 121 wRC+ season. He’s the least likely of the Cardinals outfielders to be on the move. He’s the most consistent performer and is making a good chunk of change.
If the Cardinals were looking to move Fowler the Rays wouldn’t be interested more for financial reasons than an issue with acquiring the player. Fowler has 4/$58MM remaining on his deal and has a full no trade clause.
Tommy Pham enjoyed a breakout season in 2017. The 29 year old right handed hitting outfielder put up 5.9 fWAR behind a .306/.411/.520 line and 148 wRC+. Pham has shown the ability to play center field at a major league average level defensively.
Pham’s breakout season came out of nowhere. Prior to the 2017 season he had 358 major league plate appearances with a .245/.333/.455 line and 114 wRC+ over the 2014-16 seasons.
Pham has keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition. He is legally blind and has the ability to play major league baseball. That is pretty incredible. He is able to manage with contact lenses.
Pham has one more league minimum season before being eligible for arbitration in 2019. The value you see in Pham depends heavily on how much you believe in his 2017 breakout.
Just before the season began Piscotty signed a 6/$33.5MM long-term extension. The 26 year old right handed hitting outfielder hit .282/.348/.467 and 121 wRC+ over 905 plate appearances entering 2017. He has been an above average defensive corner outfielder.
In 2017 Piscotty struggled at the plate. He hit .235/.342/367 and a 92 wRC+. He still got on base at a very good clip. His strikeout rate stayed relatively unchanged and his walks rate spiked. However his BA and ISO dropped by almost .050.
Piscotty is owed 5/$30.5MM. He will make $1MM in 2018. In 2019-2022 he will make $7MM, $7MM, $7.25MM, and $7.25MM. He has a 2023 team option for $15MM ($1MM buyout). The Rays can easily fit his 2018 salary. The flat nature of his 2019-22 salary levels makes him a reasonable target if you believe he bounces back to his pre-2017 levels offensively.
Randal Grichuk is a low OBP, power right handed bat. In 1,386 plate appearances he has hit .249/.297/.488 and has a 108 wRC+. He’s hit 66 homers. If given 600+ plate appearances 30-35 homers seems like a reasonable outcome.
Offensively he reminds me a lot of Mark Trumbo. Defensively he does not. Grichuk has split almost 3,000 innnings in the outfield in center and the corners. Grichuk has been worth 15 DRS and 3.6 UZR in 1,289.1 innings in CF. In the corners he’s put up 5 DRS and 10.9 UZR in 1,558 innings.
This winter Grichuk is arbitration-eligible for his first time and is projected to make $2.8MM. He’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season. The Rays don’t need his CF defense on a daily basis, but he could give Kevin Kiermaier the occasional off day and fill in should Kiermaier hit the disabled list once again.
$2.8MM is a reasonable price to replace the role that Colby Rasmus was expected to fill last year with the bonus of giving the Rays another right handed bat.
The 29 year old right handed outfielder/first baseman put up an unexpected .309/.379/.518 and 135 wRC+. He hit 14 homers in 307 plate appearances.
Martinez wasn’t good defensively in the outfield with -6 DRS and -4.3 UZR in 280.1 innings split between left and right field. In 259.0 innings at 1B he put up -1 DRS and 0.8 UZR. These are incredibly small samples, but he’s likely not palatable as an OF in any extended run.
Martinez has 1.027 years of service time. This gives him two more years at league minimum and wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season. The Rays wouldn’t likely see him as a legitimate OF option, but could be seen as a 1B/DH target with occasional playing time in the OF.
Minor League Options
The options available to the Cardinals in the upper minors is an additional reason why they will likely trade one or more of their current MLB outfielders.
Tyler O’Neill (#5), Magneuris Sierra (#7), and Harrison Bader (#8) all land in the recently released Baseball America Cardinals Top 10 list for 2018. Sierra and Bader got their first cups of coffee in 2017. O’Neil hit 31 homers split between the Mariners and Cardinals AAA affiliates in 2017. Sierra is a speedy left handed bat that isn’t as redundant as the other options.
The Cardinals also have two Cuban outfielders not that much farther behind. Jose Aldonis Garcia is a 24 year old right handed hitting outfielder that ended the 2017 season in AAA in his first season stateside after signing a $2.5MM bonus in February. The Cardinals signed 22 year old right handed hitting outfielder Randy Arozarena with a $1.25MM bonus last summer and ended his first season stateside in AA.
The two organizations match in terms of needs. The Cardinals have too many right handed outfielders and are facing their own 40 man roster crunch. The Rays could use a right handed outfielder considering the closest one in the farm might just be Garrett Whitley who just spent the whole year in Bowling Green and is at best two to three years from being MLB ready.
The Cardinals are looking for an impact bat and relievers, so unless the Rays deal Alex Colome there might not be a perfect match, but the Rays should at least call and see what it would take to get a deal done for a controllable outfielder.