Talking trades in Major League Baseball isn't easy and requires a couple Ibuprofen and a few grains of salt. The idea of wondering what targets are sitting on St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak's ledger this winter isn't a hard one to fathom, but not an easy one to push towards reality.
Mozeliak's biggest trade in recent memory during the offseason was Jon Jay to the San Diego Padres for Jedd Gyorko. A low key move that greatly benefited the Cardinals. With the free agent market looking drier than usual, I present a pair of trade candidates for the Cards and fans to think about.
Disclaimer: Please don't harass me for these two guys being unattainable. Nobody knows. It's impossible to know exactly what Mozeliak is thinking, strategizing about, or preparing his associates for. My role as a sports journalist is to present ideas and break them down with an opinion at the end.
Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Each play center field, and that is the area where the Cards are in need, as everyone and their cousins have found out this month. Let's take a look at these two players.
Pros: The bearded 30 year old is coming off his best season by far. He set career highs in home runs(29), RBI(82), runs scored(111), hits(187), doubles(35), batting average(.324), on base percentage(.381), and slugging percentage(.552). His OPS+ was 129. He hit better away from the bat friendly Coors Field than ever before in his six year career. He's a leadoff hitter with pop and hasn't shown age yet. He was a decent 2.2 WAR player before last season boosted him up to 4.4. He's the hottest trade target on the market and that's without good defense in center...
Cons: That's right. Blackmon's defense in centerfield isn't great, and didn't save the Rockies any runs. His -10.4 Ultimate Zone Rating doesn't help the Cardinals centerfield conundrum on defense one bit. However, there is a catch. Dexter Fowler became a better outfielder once he stopped playing at Coors Field 81 times a year. With the Cubs, his defense isn't that great away from Wrigley, but it's better overall than it was in Colorado. What happens if Blackmon goes back to being dependent on Coors in 2017 and is exposed with another team in 2017? He had one great season away from Coors. Was 2016 an outlier? Overall, his career numbers are a .287 average, 107 OPS+, and 20 home runs. Can he do 2016 again? Can he be consistently effective away from Coors?
For the sake of conversation, I'll add a section and discuss the possibilities.
Realistic Catch: The Rockies have little reason to trade Blackmon. His stock is high, but the team has control over him for another two seasons. He is cheap and low liability to them and they aren't that far off from contending. With the second wildcard, they were in it until September in 2016. Blackmon may be more value to them than the players received. If they do trade him, the asking price will be more than the Cards can bear.
Pros: The man can flat out play center field. His UZR(which covers arm, range, and error tendency) the past four years was 12.8, 10.1, 14.8, and 7.7 according to Fangraphs. Cain saves you runs and can move out there. He would give the Cards a huge face lift defensively, especially if he was flanked by Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Cain can also hit, with his lifetime .287 average and his yearly average of 33 doubles and five triples. He can steal a bag and run the bases well. He is an exciting talent who isn't too old(31 in April) to produce a highlight reel season in Busch Stadium. Cain was a game changer on defense during the Royals' World Series run in 2015. He offers something the Cards need and then some. He's an exciting talent.
Cons: He doesn't have a lot of pop. 42 career home runs. A lifetime slug of .416 and 104 OPS+ isn't that sexy. He is also coming off a season where he only played in 103 games due to a wrist injury that may not be completely healed. He has never played over 140 games in a season. His 2015 season was a Rembrandt, but can he duplicate that? There are doubts.
Realistic Catch: Yes and no. Unlike Blackmon, he is coming off an injury plagued season and hasn't stayed as healthy as Blackmon. His price wouldn't be as high as Blackmon at the moment. Unlike the Rockies outfielder, Cain isn't arbitration controlled. He is on a two year, 17.5 million dollar contract that runs through 2017. The Royals aren't a playoff lock next year, but they will want pitching prospects in return for a talent like Cain as well as an MLB ready player.
Neither player will cost you a draft pick and that's a plus. Each player hits .287 in their career, turn 31 next year, and have near the same service time. The Rockies didn't buy up Blackmon's arbitration years wisely, and that gives them more control to go with the guy's breakout season. Blackmon offers more consistent pop but Cain's WAR and overall value is legit if carrying an injury risk.
My pick: Cain. Blackmon is a fine player and can hit, but his defense doesn't improve the Cards much in the outfield. A place they need MORE help and elite talent. While he doesn't have the power of Blackmon, Cain has shown a rock solid offensive flair and saves you runs in the field. His price tag for players will be lower than Blackmon and overall, his effect on the Cards is stronger. Cain is what the Cards need. You wouldn't have to extend him right away and the Cards like that flexibility. They like to trade for players(Holliday, Heyward), and take a look at them before signing them long term. Each player would be a great grab. I like Cain better.
Who do you like? Comment at me here or on Twitter. Thanks for reading.