With all due respect to the J.B. Woodman, the following statement shouldn’t be especially controversial: The Cardinals gave away Aledmys Diaz.
Don’t bother trying to dive deep into the peripherals to find a reason the Cardinals snagged this particular return in their trade of Diaz to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night. Sure, Woodman was a second round pick as recently as 2016, but his production at the Class-A level has done little to inspire confidence. Not to mention, depth in the outfield remains a giant logjam for St. Louis. This move was less about Woodman—it’s probably appropriate to say it wasn’t at all about Woodman—and more about the Cardinals taking a shot at designating a better fit for Diaz.
Over the years, the Cardinals have executed this same maneuver with other players. Following the 2012 season, the Cardinals traded Skip Schumaker to the Dodgers for a human named Jake Lemmerman. Schumaker’s value was meager in 2012; with little playing time to offer and a $1.5 million salary to address in 2013, the Cardinals shipped him off without regard for the return. Lemmerman never amounted to anything, but Schumaker wasn’t very good in his opportunities for Los Angeles, either. Not a big deal.
More recently, St. Louis repeated this pattern with their trade of Matt Adams to Atlanta. Having committed to Matt Carpenter as the team’s first baseman, the Cardinals had rendered Adams’ role redundant. The Braves needed a first baseman, and Adams deserved better than to ride pine all summer. Adams went to Atlanta, the Cardinals saved a few bucks, and received Class-A infielder Juan Yepez in return. Adams thrived in 2017, but has since been non-tendered by the Braves, a sign that his value wasn’t very high in the first place. So, okay, you can live with that one, too.
Then comes the Diaz trade. After bursting onto the scene as an All-Star in his rookie season in 2016, Diaz turned into a pumpkin last year in St. Louis. His walk rate evaporated, his defense sputtered, and his power dipped. Diaz spent a good chunk of the summer in Class-AAA Memphis before returning in September willing to play multiple positions to get another chance.
In the end, the Cardinals determined the chance that Diaz returns to 2016 form offensively wasn’t worth storing his mediocre defense and higher-than-usual salary for a pre-arbitration eligible player on the roster. By moving him, the Cardinals save some cash, and rather than non-tendering Diaz, get to send him to a place where he might get to play, all while receiving a low-upside lottery in lieu of nothing. Seems reasonable enough, even if Woodman—like Lemmerman and presumably Yepez—is never heard from again.
So while the sky certainly isn’t falling as a result of this move, it is curious that the Cardinals would bail on Diaz so quickly after enjoying the pinnacle of his capabilities just two seasons ago. Diaz’s .300/.369/.510 batting line in 2016 put his name in the same breath as Corey Seager and Trevor Story. That the Cardinals feel comfortable dumping him speaks strongly to their trust that Paul DeJong’s emergence in 2017—unlike Diaz’s the year prior—was no fluke.
As Diaz was moved, every other player on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster was tendered a contract. Though trades or free agent signings could certainly alter the layout of the roster prior to spring training, Greg Garcia appears to have a role as a utility infielder on next year’s team as of now. Like Diaz, Garcia’s performance last year dipped far below his 2016 production. Did the approximate million-dollar difference in their projected salaries give an edge to Garcia for a roster spot over Diaz? If so, is that the right move for the Cardinals, considering Diaz’s offensive ceiling? There are probably arguments to be made on either side.
It’s possible there is so much more to the Cardinals’ plans for the winter that this conversation becomes moot by the time March rolls around. Perhaps Garcia is cast aside, too, in favor of a utility infielder with more punch at the plate.
Regardless of how the roster shapes up—and though the writing had been on the wall for some time—the end to the Cardinals career for Aledmys Diaz is a sad turn considering the hope and promise he provided for St. Louis fans in his memorable first impression not too long ago.