As part of a chat with readers this week, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals have some interest in free agent first baseman Colin Moran. The 29-year-old hit the open market just before the lockout after the Pirates designated him for assignment in late November upon re-signing Yoshi Tsutsugo.
That served as akin to a non-tender, as Moran had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $4MM salary via arbitration. It seems unlikely he’ll land that amount in free agency. That’s particularly true in a post-lockout environment that might be unkind to free agents of Moran’s ilk, as it’s widely expected that there’ll be a hectic transactions spree as teams have a tight window to sort out their rosters before the start of the regular season.
Moran played almost exclusively at first base last season. The Cards obviously have Paul Goldschmidt locked in there, but it’s almost certain the next collective bargaining agreement will add a designated hitter to the National League. Most AL clubs have preferred to rotate bat-first regulars through the position to serve as quasi-rest days rather than devoting everyday DH duty to one player. Certain hitters (i.e. Nelson Cruz and Shohei Ohtani) have been so impactful offensively they’ve proven exceptions to that trend, although it’s likelier the Cards would eye Moran as a possible corner infield/DH rotation option than as an everyday player there.
Over the past four seasons, Moran has typically proven a capable but unexceptional hitter. He’s a .267/.329/.418 performer for his career, and he’s coming off a .258/.334/.390 mark over 359 plate appearances with the Bucs. That’s roughly a league average showing once one accounts for the extremely pitcher-friendly nature of PNC Park (by measure of wRC+) but it’s not the kind of impact offense teams would desire from an everyday DH.
While Moran played first last year, he does have plenty of prior experience at third base. Public metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average panned his work at the hot corner, but a signing team could still view him as an emergency option at the position. Nolan Arenado is set to play third on a near everyday basis in St. Louis, but the front office could target Moran as a bat-first lefty complement to Arenado and Goldschmidt in the corner infield.
The Cardinals DH mix is understandably unsettled, with young players like Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez and perhaps top prospect Nolan Gorman set to factor into that mix. St. Louis also added bat-first utilityman Brendan Donovan to the 40-man roster to keep him from selection in the Rule 5 draft. Donovan is coming off an impressive high minors showing and could get an MLB look this year as well. There’s a chance one of those internal options proves worthy of regular playing time, but there’s enough uncertainty that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cardinals pursue an affordable veteran bat like Moran once transactions resume. Old friend Brad Miller fits a similar bill on paper, but Goold adds that the Cards haven’t pursued him this winter.