Time for a move, Cardinals? Exploring a Gorman for Bogaerts trade concept

Given Boston’s standing at the bottom of a crowded AL East this season, it makes sense for the Red Sox to get what they can for Bogaerts before he presumably departs in the off-season.
Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, center, celebrates his solo home run behind Houston Astros'...
Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, center, celebrates his solo home run behind Houston Astros' Martin Maldonado during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Boston, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)(AP)
Published: May. 14, 2022 at 9:50 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The Paul DeJong Experience in St. Louis has not been a positive ride in 2022. His struggles at the plate have led to a demotion and to rampant speculation as to what the Cardinals might do to shore up the shortstop position moving forward.

Instead of DeJong’s difficulties from the last couple of years evaporating in this ‘make-or-break’ season for the sixth-year shortstop, those troubles have instead intensified. Things reached a point where they were too substantial for the team to ignore any longer during a 2-for-19 road trip last week. The typically sure-handed shortstop made multiple errors in the field in San Francisco and continued to labor with the bat. His batting average dipped down to an incomprehensible .130 (.417 OPS), leading to the organization’s decision to option him to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday.

DeJong, who is under contract with a guaranteed salary north of $9 million for 2023, is in the minors working on his plate approach away from the prying eyes and cacophony of voices in his ear. Though the Cardinals had a shortstop problem on their hands long before triggering the move to demote DeJong, it’s an unavoidable reality now that the guy who has filled the role in a primary capacity since his arrival in 2017 is off the active roster.

How the team intends to fill the spot in the short term isn’t entirely clear. Brendan Donovan has gotten some run⁠—and looked good⁠—at short this week following the DeJong demotion. Edmundo Sosa is back from the injured list and could factor in, as well. Gold Glove second baseman Tommy Edman has begun taking pre-game grounders at shortstop in preparation for a possible transition.

Cardinals manager Oli Marmol doesn’t seem to consider that last option a preferable one. And it’s a shame because shifting Edman to the other side of the second base bag is the move that would ostensibly open up a spot for one of the Cardinals’ top-hitting prospects, who has been raking this season with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

Nolan Gorman has 13 home runs and an OPS near 1.000 this season with Memphis. He’s been getting more acclimated to playing second base after beginning his professional career over at third. When the Cardinals acquired Nolan Arenado to render the hot corner occupied for the foreseeable future in St. Louis, Gorman began his transition. Though he certainly won’t win any Gold Gloves at the position a la Edman, Gorman’s loud bat is an element from which the inconsistent St. Louis offense could benefit.

Could Edman handle the defensive rigors of a switch to short? Would Gorman’s power translate to the majors in a significant enough way to counter his high strikeout rate and justify putting Edman through the transition? These are questions without answers, for now. But the Cardinals’ hesitation to explore them has led to some conversation about another way that St. Louis might be able to fit the pieces to their puzzle more smoothly.

In a recent article for The Athletic, Former MLB-GM-turned-columnist Jim Bowden posed a hypothetical trade that would include the Cardinals sending Gorman to the Red Sox in exchange for a significant name: Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

Bowden’s proposed swap would be contingent upon Bogaerts signing a contract extension with the Cardinals. Bogaerts has several years remaining on his current deal, but given the combination of his age (29) and strong current performance (.347/397/.463 batting line) it’s likely that he will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract following the 2022 season in order to maximize his last significant bite from the free-agent apple.

Given Boston’s standing at the bottom of a crowded AL East this season, it makes sense for the Red Sox to get what they can for Bogaerts before he presumably departs in the off-season. For the Cardinals, though, there are more nuanced factors to consider than trading an unproven prospect for a bona fide offensive star. I suspect that is why the tally on the Twitter poll I posted on the subject earlier this week trended narrowly toward the ‘No’ votes, with a sample size of nearly 5,000 voting Cardinals fans.

The most obvious argument against this hypothetical trade: If the Cardinals were going to going to swing for the fences on an upgrade at shortstop, why didn’t they do it during the off-season when the free-agent market was rife with big names at the position? Instead of handing over a prized prospect to solidify shortstop, St. Louis simply could have spent some money⁠—in November, before the lockout, or in February after it. Instead, they pushed in their chips on DeJong returning to prominence. That’s a move trending more seriously toward a sunk-cost scenario with each passing day.

Now that waiting around for a bounceback campaign by DeJong has left the Cardinals at ground zero on a long-term shortstop solution, trading away an unknown for an undeniably robust shortstop bat would seem like a no-brainer in a vacuum. Prospects are nice, but World Series flags fly forever. Taking into account the additional context of what a Gorman for Bogaerts deal would represent, however, it’s not a move I could see the Cardinals making⁠—nor do I believe it should be.

The Cardinals need to increase their offensive production. Shortstop is an obvious spot for this to take place, given the incumbent at the position is playing his games for a Triple-A affiliate these days. But the notion that the team made their bed with the DeJong decision this off-season and should therefore live with it for 2022 is a compelling one. That’s not to say the Cardinals should keep running out a .130 average hitter at the spot⁠—no, sending PDJ to AAA was the right call. But a failed wager on DeJong’s productivity shouldn’t cost you a prospect of Gorman’s caliber on a whim.

If you want Bogaerts, go get him. In the off-season. After he opts out of his current deal.

The bat would certainly fit like a glove within a Cardinals lineup starved for consistency. Ignore the Cardinals’ scoring average on a per-game basis⁠—though it’s not too shabby, it’s also a total mirage. The Cardinals have scored three or fewer runs in nearly half their games this season. An occasional outburst to tidy up the average doesn’t mean the mean is a legitimate measurement of the team’s consistency as an offense. The frequency with which this team falls asleep at the plate on a given day is jarring. Can’t blame that trend on Mike Shildt anymore.

So, yeah, Bogaerts would be a godsend for the batting order. Here are his OPS totals over the past five years: .883, .939, .867, .863, .860. You want offensive consistency? You’ve got it with Bogaerts.

But if the Cardinals’ official stance on uprooting Edman from his home at second to install him at shortstop is that it would cost the team too much value from a defensive standpoint, why should we ignore that Xander Bogaerts is a poor defensive shortstop? He’s finished in the negative for Defensive Runs Saved in virtually every year of his big-league career at the position. And shortstops don’t typically improve in their defensive prowess as they cross the threshold of 30 as Bogaerts will in October.

So Bogaerts represents an upgrade at the plate at the expense of a sacrifice in the field. If that’s the chosen route, could a Gorman promotion to play a few days a week at second⁠—during which Edman would play shortstop⁠—and a few days as the designated hitter be a simpler, more cost-effective answer? Why rush to unload Gorman before ever giving him a genuine opportunity to showcase his abilities against big-league pitching? Isn’t that the precise grievance many Cardinals fans hold against John Mozeliak with regard to Randy Arozarena? Swapping Gorman for Bogaerts during the summer would essentially render a top-hitting prospect as the tax on the imprudent decision to entrust a starting role to DeJong for yet another year following multiple seasons of sub-.700 OPS production.

That doesn’t seem like a sensible path⁠—especially considering that if you want Bogaerts, you can likely get him for nothing but money a few months down the road.

But let’s talk about that aspect of it. Let alone the acquisition cost being Gorman for this particular proposal, should the Cardinals be eager to pony up a long-term contract for Bogaerts? Bowden estimated the extension in the neighborhood of eight years, $216 million. That’s a $27 million average annual value through age 37 for a shortstop who already plays uninspiring defense at age 29.

The bat plays, absolutely. But if that’s the contract, is it prudent for St. Louis for this particular player? Knowing the financial commitments the Cardinals already have on the docket⁠—Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt will be earning their fair share for years to come⁠—I can’t help but feel another massive deal that runs through a star player’s late 30s is how you open yourself up to the possibility of waking up one day like the 2013-2017 Phillies.

That’s not an indictment on Arenado or Goldschmidt⁠—given the sincerity of their work ethic and abilities, I genuinely believe both will age gracefully and be well worth the bulk of the team’s financial outlay on them. I don’t know enough about Bogaerts to predict how his game will age, but before any age-related decline occurs, I know I already don’t like him as a defender at shortstop.

Committing to a third superstar in that age bracket would not be a riskless proposition. But at the end of the day, it’s not my money. Spend away to fix shortstop in the off-season, if so inclined. It would certainly be a gesture appreciated by the loyal Cardinals fan base. But if the genesis behind a Gorman for Bogaerts trade in-season is to improve the sluggish St. Louis offense while acknowledging a dip for its defense, perhaps it would be wiser to extend to the cost-controlled Gorman a few months of opportunity to contribute toward that worthy goal. You never know, the guy with more home runs this season than any hitter in MLB might be worth a darn. If he is, and you still want to back up the Brinks truck for Bogaerts in November, even better. More capable hitters⁠—particularly against right-handed pitching⁠—are better than less.

This isn’t prospect-hoarding. It’s an acknowledgment that for this particular Jim Bowden trade concept⁠—tempting though it may be⁠—the juice isn’t quite worth the squeeze.