With the Hot Stove remaining on a low heat on the eve of December, the new sexy in this market is lefthanded hitting center field candidates.
St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak is looking for a centerfielder, and there are a few guys out there who could make the outfield look better. While the keyboard gangsters fire up their dreamy scenarios for Mike Trout, I'll try to keep my feet on the ground while I sip some hot coffee on a cold afternoon.
Now, we are talking true upgrade. No stop gap. Let's let go of the idea that wondering when Harrison Bader will be ready to take over center field should play a factor in the hunt. Does Carlos Gomez really give you an upgrade over Randal Grichuk? No. Is it worth the trouble? Probably not. MLB Trade Rumors recently wrote about a trade between the Miami Marlins and Cards for Marcel Ozuna. While impressive, Ozuna is erratic and may be more trouble than charm. So let's look at five ideas for Mozeliak to set to high heat next month.
Adam Eaton/27/Chicago White Sox
Eaton gave the White Sox a 6.2 WAR in 2016, and that included a .362 on base percentage and 52 extra base hits. While his defensive WAR was 1.8, that positive stat read was aided by great play in right field. After playing 145 games in center field in 2015 and costing his team runs, Eaton played 121 games in right field in 2016 and was better. He's 27 years old, and entering the third year of a five year/23 million dollar deal.
His offensive upside is the juice, but he wouldn't be an defensive upgrade over Grichuk in center, so he'd be best useful in left field. In 980 innings in RF in 2016, Eaton's UZR(ultimate zone rating) was 23.1, which is fantastic. In 1,280 innings in cetner field in 2015, Eaton's UZR was -10.2. He'd make a great leftfielder in the Cards outfield because you don't move Stephen Piscotty.
The White Sox can use some pitching, especially if they intend on trading Chris Sale while he's a hot commodity. This is where the Cards come up short. Michael Wacha is a damaged good at the moment, and 30 year old Jaime Garcia won't add much flavor. I don't know if the Cards have the bones to pull off a trade, but Eaton is a great option.
Charlie Blackmon/30/Colorado Rockies
The Rockies bearded one is coming off his best season, so he is the cream of the trade crop. He hit better away from Coors. He showed improvement in center field. He's just over 30 years old and under control. His centerfield defense doesn't improve over Grichuk, but moving away from Coors will help his defense. You have a guy with speed, extra base hit pop, .300 average ability, and in his prime. He's not a gold glover and won't win one in St. Louis. If the Cards need defensive upgrades. Blackmon isn't it.
Like Eaton, Blackmon will cost chips that the Cards don't have unless they utter the words "Reyes" and "Martinez". You can hate it, but it's true. The Rockies have every reason to trade Blackmon while also having the easy power to retain him and contend for the West in 2017-18. He will cost, and while he's a fine talent, do the Cards have the chips to pull it off? No. Should they bend over backwards for him? No. Blackmon will never be as good away from Coors as he is inside it 81 games a year.
Kevin Kiermaier/26/Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay centerfielder can flat out play the field. You don't gather WAR of 3.6, 7.3, and 5.5 over the last three years with an OPS that barely reaches .790. Kiermaier's UZR of 30.1 in 2015 is insane, and he's collected back to back gold gloves. He broke a pair of bones in his hand last year, and missed 57 games after playing 151 games in 2015.
He's 26 years old, and just hit the arbitration eligible phase of his career with free agency lurking in 2021. Team control and a huge defensive upgrade in center field is what Kiermaier gets you. The Cards and Rays have circled each other on the trade market for years, so the front offices are familiar with each other's rosters.
Does that make a trade possible? I feel like I'm recycling a tired phrase, but the Cards farm system is MLB ready talent dry right now. The Cards could dangle Jack Flaherty and/or Austin Gomber, but they will need a couple of years to be ready. Mozeliak could throw in a project like Wacha and Garcia with a bat, but I'm not sure if the TB GM would still be on the line. Kiermaier is the kind of player the Cards need. He's like Lorenzo Cain, only younger and even better defensively.
Dexter Fowler/31/Chicago Cubs
I feel like I know Fowler due to the number of mentions and times I've looked his name up this winter. Fowler is a free agent who will cost his new team a draft pick in next year's draft. Is the song worth the spin on the record player? Fowler has improved from dreadful to okay in center field outside of Coors Field and his on base percentage is a huge plus, but he will command a 4-5 year deal. Is a 35 year old Fowler attractive? Mozeliak has rarely handed a player a long term deal without testing the goods for a season. Fowler settled on a one year deal last winter after the Baltimore Orioles multi-year offer fell through. He won't settle on a 1-2 year deal this time. While he's got pop and can reach base, the cost of Fowler will make him overpaid and hazardous within 2-3 seasons. Did I mention his defense isn't anything special?
Christian Yelich/24/Miami Marlins
Why would Miami, as crazy as they are with young talent, trade a 24 year old phenom coming off his best season and under a comfy steal of a seven year contract running until 2022? They wouldn't. In Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, Miami has a pair of first rate players to build a franchise around, and the Marlins have been close the past three seasons. Without Jose Fernandez, Miami will be smart to retain Yelich and build.
He's a gold glove winner and owner of a silver slugger award last year with his 21 home runs, 38 doubles, and .483 slugging percentage. His OPS+ is 121 over his four seasons in Miami and he will only get better as he ages. The Cards have as much of a shot at snagging Yelich as they do at getting The Cubs to hand over one of Kris Bryant's legs. He's like Eaton with an even better bat. However, Yelich isn't really a centerfielder. He plays more often and better in left. So there is that. He's also not going anywhere.
Care for scraps? Curtis Granderson may have been intriguing years ago, but not as a 35 year old outfielder in quick decline. Let him drift in New York.
How about Jon Jay? The former Cardinal owns a lifetime .287 average and .352 on base percentage, but wasn't good in the field. He won't cost a a lot in term or AAV, but he won't improve the Cards in center field. He's a low hanging fruit and not a bad or particularly good one.
Colby Rasmus? While Tony La Russa has left town, I don't think the Cards would spring for Rasmus' services nor do I think the now veteran(still weird) outfielder make a big push to return to a place that only caused him turmoil. He's also just not that good in the National League. Also, his 2016 season wasn't good.
That's it folks. Those are the five best options out there as well as some other unattractive ideas. I probably missed somebody. A plea to make Mike Trout hit left-handed? A dying wish to put Bryce Harper in center field? Putting in a call to ask Jim Edmonds to come back? All of them.
What would I do? Forget the likelihood of it happening and players required, I'd take Kevin Kiermaier. Sure, his bat doesn't scare people but he has the one virtue that the Cardinals need and that's elite center field defense. He may not be the sexy steak that Cardinals fans adore, but he may be the one they need. The Cards have big bats in Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, Piscotty, and Grichuk.
They don't have a great centerfielder. Kiermaier can crank triples, make the Cardinals outfield elite, and help a team that gave back too many runs to the opposition in 2016. People complain that Jason Heyward's light bat didn't help them in 2015. Well, his defense won and saved games. Out of the left-handed options on the market and knowing what the Cards lacked last year, Kiermaier is my pick.
Who is yours? Tell me why here or find me on Twitter/Facebook.