Welcome to back to Trade Poll Tuesday, a weekly feature breaking down one hypothetical trade proposal that comes from YOU, the readers. Got an idea for a trade you’d like to see the Cardinals make? Let me know on Twitter @bschaeffer12, and your suggestions could be featured in the next edition of #TradePollTuesday.
This Trade Poll Tuesday is going to be a little different. In previous weeks, I tried to adhere to proposals from Cardinals fans on Twitter as closely as possible. This week, I’m combining a couple of those proposals as a framework for a brand new trade involving a few big names. This week’s trade partner: the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before I get into the proposed deal, I’d like to briefly take stock of where both the Cardinals and Rays are as organizations. You probably know where the Cardinals stand; at 46-43, St. Louis is a distant third in the NL Central, on the verge of missing the postseason for the third straight year. But in dreaming up trades, it’s important to consider not only the needs of your favorite team, but also the needs of the other team(s) with whom your team might barter.
The Rays, oddly enough, are in a very similar spot in the AL East, third place at 46-44, a mere half-game off the Cardinals’ pace. The distinction between the playoff hopes for these two clubs is the relative strength of the American League. With a winning percentage of .626, the Mariners are locked into the second wild card in the AL, yet their winning percentage is handily better than every team in the NL. So while the Cardinals stand a chance at a wild card, the Rays really don’t.
These are two teams led by strong pitching, but hampered by the limitations of their position players. For the Cardinals, it’s been inconsistent offense (20th in MLB in runs scored) and abysmal defense (30th, dead-last in fielding percentage). For the Rays, it’s simply been a weak offense (26th in runs scored).
In the big picture, with a young talent in Blake Snell (2.09 ERA to lead AL) emerging as the face of the future and six more prospects ranked in the MLB Top 100, Tampa should be in no rush to win now. Still, it’s conceivable the Rays aren’t too far away from contention as they stand.
The narrative is much different for the Cardinals. St. Louis has opened each of the last three seasons expecting to reach the playoffs, and each time, has looked downright mediocre over the course of a season. Amid coaching changes, position shuffling, outside acquisitions and myriad minor league call-ups, the Cardinals have plodded in the periphery of baseball’s contenders. With few members of the on-field staff left to fire, the Cardinals should be desperately seeking roster moves that can fix the discombobulation that has persisted in St. Louis for three seasons. The pieces of the puzzle still don’t fit.
So in this #TradePollTuesday, I’ve got a proposal for you that will sound a little off-the-wall, so I’ll do my best to explain the logic behind it. And at the end, you vote on whether it sounds like a trade that would benefit the Cardinals!
The proposal: OF Marcell Ozuna, 1B/OF/DH Jose Martinez, RHP Ryan Helsley and LHP Austin Gomber for 3B Matt Duffy and RHP Chris Archer
Hey, I told you it was loaded with names. Let’s dive into what I’m thinking, here.
Marcell Ozuna was the Cardinals’ prized acquisition of the winter, the trade John Mozeliak could hang his hat on. But has it really given St. Louis the desired impact? At 0.8 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs), Ozuna ranks 13th on the Cardinals, and 8th among their position players. The slugger simply hasn’t slugged enough, as his .524 SLG% from a year ago has dropped to .399 entering play Tuesday. The Cardinals were attracted to the 148 OPS+ he put up in 2017. This season, his OPS+ is 94, meaning he’s been a below league-average left fielder offensively.
The other hitter heading to Tampa in this proposal, Jose Martinez, has been excellent offensively. With an .840 OPS (127 OPS+), Martinez has been the second-most productive hitter on the team, behind the resurgent Matt Carpenter. The problem with Martinez has been his defense; he really doesn’t have a position he can play adequately, which has cratered his value to the Cardinals lineup.
Per Fangraphs, Jose Martinez has compiled 1.1 WAR this season, behind Tommy Pham (1.3) and Luke Weaver (1.4), and tied with Kolten Wong. He’s been a fine contributor, but his negative defensive value has significantly hampered the tremendous upside his bat provides.
If he were traded to an American League team—the Rays, perhaps—then that value proposition would shift considerably. An AL club could stick Martinez in the lineup as a DH and watch him do what he does best without any repercussions: Hit.
With Marcell Ozuna’s power potential and Jose Martinez’s current production offensively, the Rays would net two quality additions to a lineup sorely needing help. But as I said, the Cardinals need help offensively, too. So why would it make sense to trade their 2nd-best hitter and the guy they thought was going to be their best hitter?
Well, the Cardinals need to rework this puzzle until the pieces fit. On an NL roster, Martinez really doesn’t, but would do so nicely in the AL. Though he’s already almost 30 years old, his contract is that of a spry 25-year-old. Martinez will come cheap for several years, a trait the Rays have historically valued.
As for Ozuna, maybe he could fit in St. Louis, but his team control expires after 2019. If the Cardinals don’t plan on resigning the Scott Boras client, would it not make sense to move him now? He didn’t turn out to be the missing piece to catapult the Cardinals back to October; perhaps he could be a still-valuable piece in a new deal that could help reset the roster toward that end.
But to part with two solid contributors, the Cardinals would need serious value in return. Matt Duffy and Chris Archer would certainly qualify.
A former shortstop, Duffy has played third base for the Rays this season. At 27 years old, Duffy is having a career year offensively, hitting .307 with a .770 OPS and 119 OPS+. After missing 2017 following Achilles surgery, Duffy has bounced back to play a decent third base and accumulate 1.7 fWAR already this season. Duffy doesn’t hit for much power—he has just 16 doubles and 4 home runs this season—but his high average and high on-base (.361) abilities would fit nicely in the Cardinals lineup.
More importantly, he might finally help those pesky puzzle pieces slot together.
Jose Martinez wasn’t a core player the Cardinals anticipated for years during his journey through the minors; he was one they lucked into. But because he doesn’t fit defensively, a trade might be the best way to cash in on that fortuitous stroke of value.
Duffy at third (1.7 fWAR), Paul DeJong (1.7 fWAR) at short, Kolten Wong (1.1 fWAR) at second and Carpenter (2.8 fWAR) at first would seem like a comfortable and productive alignment for the Cardinals. Relative to Martinez’s WAR impact, Duffy’s addition would upgrade the infield and flesh out stable positions across the diamond. Though the departure of Ozuna would create a hole in the outfield, it’s a hole the Cardinals could fill creatively.
Firstly, this team probably needs more than one such big trade in order to fall together perfectly, and the Cardinals have the pieces to go out and improve the outfield in a separate deal before July 31st. Or they could decide to dip into the free agency pool for a splash in the offseason (it’s never been their style, but might the Cardinals be a Bryce Harper away? Ozuna hasn’t been that guy).
Even without pursuing either of those routes, the Cardinals could make do in the outfield. Harrison Bader has been one of the best outfield defenders in baseball this season, leading to an fWAR of 1.4, 5th on the team despite his part-time role. Plug him into the outfield every game until the end of September and find out what you have in him.
Also, if you would like Dexter Fowler to resemble anything other than an albatross contract, moving Ozuna would give the Cardinals the freedom to run Fowler out there every night, too. At least for the next couple weeks to test his theory that he needs more at-bats to find his swing again. Or give Tyler O’Neill another shot. Or Oscar Mercado. There are options.
All that talk about offense, and realistically, the bigger impact coming to the Cardinals in this deal might be on the pitching side. Long coveted by Cardinals fans, Chris Archer has been pretty similar to Ozuna this season. Both All-Stars in name recognition, neither has performed to their capabilities. Archer carries a 4.41 ERA and a 90 ERA+, meaning he’s been 10% below league-average this season. What’s so attractive about that?
Even amid his struggles, Archer has remained a strikeout-per-inning pitcher (79 Ks in 79.2 IP). His 3.78 FIP suggests he’s had some poor luck. A shift from AL to NL is bound to help any pitcher, especially on the team that employs Mike Maddux as its pitching coach (speaking of which, we probably haven’t given him enough credit for the successes of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and the NL’s second-best starting rotation).
Oh, and the most attractive part of Chris Archer: his contract.
Following a sub-$8 million salary for 2019, Archer’s contract contains a $9 million team option for 2020 and an $11 million team option for 2021. For an innings-eater like Archer, that’s exceptional value.
Imagine this crop of starting pitching in 2019: Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver.
The Cardinals would have room to move an arm like Flaherty or Weaver in a separate deal (or even in this deal, should the Rays demand one of them instead of the lesser prospects in today’s proposal), and still have some margin for injury. After 2019, the Cardinals might have to decide between Wacha and Mikolas, as both will be free agents following that season. At the very least, Martinez, Archer, Reyes, Flaherty, Weaver is an insane foundation for a pitching rotation, and it would be intact for at least three seasons.
To compensate the Rays for losing such value to their own rotation, the Cardinals would need to shell out some pitching, even though the Rays got the edge in the exchange of position players. That’s how attractive Archer’s contract would be.
Ryan Helsley is the Cardinals 5th-ranked prospects per MLB Pipeline, and has a 4.12 ERA in 67.2 innings between Springfield and Memphis this season. His 78 strikeouts and .197 batting average against are noteworthy. He’s been on the minor league DL since June 10th.
The Cardinals 9th-ranked prospect, Austin Gomber, is a lefty with a strong track record as a starter in the minors. He’s shown some versatility as a reliever as well, throwing 14.1 big-league innings this season with a passable 3.77 ERA out of the St. Louis bullpen.
Neither of these guys are Chris Archer, so the Rays may well want more in the way of pitching if they are to part with a starter of his caliber. However, because of the considerable outlay of position players involved (Ozuna and Martinez), we’ll stick with Helsley and Gomber for the purposes of this poll, with the knowledge that the Rays could demand one of the Cardinals more touted young pitchers for such a deal to take place in reality.
My take: It’s a little out there, but I’d do this deal for the Cardinals, and I wouldn’t rule it out even with better young pitching headed to Tampa. Archer would improve the rotation and stabilize it for the future. Duffy would be a fine way to fix the weird logjam on the infield. And it could be an interesting way to maximize the values of Martinez and Ozuna.
So does this deal sound like one you would propose to the Rays if you ran the Cardinals? Sound off by voting in the poll and replying with your thoughts!