As always, you can join our writers to chat weekly: Tuesdays at 2pm CST with Steve Adams; Wednesdays at 6:30pm CST with Jason Martinez; and Thursdays at 2pm CST with yours truly.
On to the Q&A:
When the Cardinals go shopping this winter for a big bat, a closer and any other big ticket item, will there be legitimate answers via free agency? — Brandon B.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for St. Louis, isn’t it? As Brandon rightly points out in his email, the club has quite an interesting group of young pitchers and also quite a few outfielders that seemingly warrant strong consideration for the MLB club. That said, I don’t expect many Cards fans feel like the club can just sit back and trust in the rising new talent — even if several of the youngsters have given cause for optimism.
It does seem like there’ll be some payroll space to work with, especially after the decision to ship out Mike Leake. I am not sure whether the team will tender Lance Lynn a qualifying offer, but regardless, I think the likelier scenario is that he enters the open market. Losing Trevor Rosenthal hurts, of course, but from the team’s perspective it is easier to take since the club won’t have to pay his 2018 salary and find a replacement. As things stand, the Cards have around $107MM on the books for next year, with arb salaries for Michael Wacha, Randal Grichuk and Tyler Lyons likely to add a manageable amount more. St. Louis opened with over $140MM on the books in each of the past two campaigns, so ought to be able to pursue a couple of impactful veterans via free agency or trade.
That brings us, finally, to the core of your question: are there options worth pursuing? I think the answer is clearly “yes”: while there really aren’t any youthful mega-stars available in free agency, there will be quite a few quality players on the market. Want a slugging first baseman? Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Carlos Santana, and Eric Hosmer are all available, along with some other notable names. How about a corner outfielder? J.D. Martinez and, perhaps, Justin Upton lead the charge. Wade Davis and Greg Holland are the biggest names on the relief market. There are a variety of other talented players out there, including some infielders and notable starters.
Really, what it all comes down to is: what will the Cards prioritize? They could target a big-ticket player and then deal away excess players from there, or look to shop depth first and then go after the open market. Either way, it’s not obvious from the outside just where the team should look to improve, given that there’s already at least one (often more than one) plausible option at every spot around the diamond and in the rotation.
Is this season’s amazingly active August trade deadline going to become the norm? — Tim S.
It was a heck of a month, to be sure. And I think there were some one-off circumstances that drove it. On the American League side, with so many teams stuck in the middle, there wasn’t a ton of interest in moving assets in either direction. In the N.L., you had an opposite extreme, with the best teams holding such wide advantages that the relatively few chasing clubs didn’t have strong incentives to go wild.
In some regards, then, it just took a while longer for things to shake out, with many teams on both the buying and selling side being willing to exercise some patience. That was made possible, too, by the fact that there were some expensive, short-term veteran types that made for pretty easy August trade pieces: Jay Bruce, Tyler Clippard, Curtis Granderson, Rajai Davis, Duda, Grandal, etc. It’s not often we see quite that many players in that situation that are available and playing well.
So … weird year. On the other hand, there are some broader factors worth considering, too. Most generally, as I discussed a long while back on the now-defunct podcast, we’ve seen a steady shattering of molds in recent years. Whether due to the flush financial situation around the game or the new breed of front-office personnel, typical forms of transactions — in timing and structure — don’t really hold as much relevance. More money also means more flexibility, whether to hold onto expensive players (in hopes of a turnaround or to wait for a bigger return) or to go ahead and add salary later in the summer. The Mike Leake trade really seems exemplary of some of those factors. The new CBA could have impacted things as well: it reduced the importance of the qualifying offer (lowering the barrier to trading certain quality/non-superstar veteran rentals of the sort that we saw moved in August) and increased the need to acquire international signing money (which played a role in a few August deals).
I do think we should continue to expect the unexpected moving forward. Heck, the fact that teams were able to pull off so many notable deals this August may function to show it’s a viable path in the future. (Of course, the more players are held for the August trade market, the more likelihood we’ll see intermeddling arbitrage-seekers like the Phillies exercising their rights on the waiver wire.)
The Pirates seems to be at a crossroads. Do they try to compete in 2018 or is their next true window hoping Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller, Jameson Taillon, et al. can peak together in 2-3 years? — Paul K.
I get that it’s tough to be patient when expectations are high, but I honestly think some Pirates followers are a bit too eager to abandon ship. Those players that Paul mentions? They’re here now (or will be soon). The organization has other quality youngsters, too — don’t discount the importance of having affordable rotation depth — and doesn’t have any terrible contracts on the books.
That last point is critical. Every deal hasn’t been a great one, and it’s plenty arguable that the organization has been too restrained in going the extra mile financially, but boy have they avoided any disaster scenarios. All of the team’s commitments to veterans are relatively low in cost and were made to players that are still productive members of the roster.
So, I think it’s fair to say they have mostly kept the window open — even if they didn’t manage to take advantage in the past two seasons — and that it should stay open for a while longer. That’s not to say, though, that the team won’t consider some bold action this winter designed to keep the window open longer and to compete in 2018. In fact, I could certainly imagine the Bucs shopping both Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole while also still looking for ways to improve the roster in the near term — though I also think it is likelier than anyone expected that Cutch enters the final season of his contract still in Pittsburgh.
Bottom line: payroll limitations are a fact of life for the franchise, as currently constituted. That is just plain going to come with some frustrations, especially as other recently rising teams have allowed their budgets to grow quite a bit as their play improves. But given those constraints, the roster is in remarkably good shape and can still produce a winner.
Haai MLBTR! Question from the Netherlands here! Do you think the Giants could have an outside shot at landing Profar to play left field? — Bas M.
At first, I thought “haai” was a cool Dutch greeting, but online translation guides suggest to me that it means “shark.” Which honestly just made me even more inclined to answer this question from the other side of the Atlantic. Thanks, Bas, for reading!
I have mentioned Profar a few times in recent chats. And he just came up on the site since the Rangers decided not to promote him in September — which, as I foolishly failed to notice at first, will keep him from reaching four full years of MLB service by season’s end. That means that any teams trading for him can control him for three more seasons at what ought to be pretty cheap rates. Since it’s arbitration eligibility, too, they are non-committed years, so it’s all upside.
Of course, with the Rangers declining to put Profar on the roster this month, it seems pretty clear they’ll look to trade him. He just hasn’t found a role there, they are all set at the positions he might play, and he’ll be out of options. The stage seems set for Texas to put their former top prospect on the block and choose the best offer that’s available.
Now, opposing teams aren’t going to go crazy in their offers. Profar has never hit much and has over 700 MLB plate appearances already. Plus, his major shoulder issues will remain something of a concern. All that said, this is a guy who is still just 24 years of age — younger than, say, Aaron Judge — and was not long ago considered a top-shelf prospect. He also carries a .287/.383/.428 slash with seven home runs and 43 walks against 33 strikeouts in 383 Triple-A plate appearances this year, so it’s not like the skills are totally gone.
Profar will have some appeal, though he’s not going to command the return he would have back when he was on the cover of Baseball America’s prospect handbook. But I don’t think it’s going to be in the outfield. There’s just no evidence that he’s going to be enough of an offensive force to merit significant playing time in left. While he could see action there in a utility capacity, the chief interest from other clubs will be in utilizing Profar in the middle infield.
It’s possible, I guess, to see the Giants having some interest in Profar as a utilityman/third baseman in the mold of Eduardo Nunez, though I expect San Francisco will be on the hunt for bigger bats. More likely suitors, in my view, would be (in alphabetical order, not by likelihood) the Blue Jays, Padres, Royals, and White Sox, with a few other clubs — the Rays, Marlins, Tigers, and Pirates, perhaps — also being hypothetical possibilities depending upon how they end up acting with regard to other players.