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The Cardinals' Trade Value Series

If you’re a reader of Fangraphs, you know that every year around this time they put out their Trade Value series – a ranking from 50 to 1 of the players around the game with the greatest trade value. Well, considering the fact that the Cards at this moment are just 1 game above .500, 7.5 games behind the Cubs and 5 games behind the Brewers, with about a 25% chance of making the playoffs, I thought it would be interesting to do the same thing for the Cardinals. The team, of course, just replaced its manager and there have been suggestions that the team may pursue a pretty aggressive roster overhaul.

With the non-waiver trade deadline just a couple weeks away, it’s entirely plausible that the team might begin this process this season. On the other hand, it’s difficult to overhaul your roster in the middle of the season, especially if the team is still chasing a playoff berth – even if that team is dangling tenuously on the edge of the playoff chase. It’s just easier to replace regular players when you have the ability to replace them with free agents and when more teams might be interested.

So, to be clear, this is a guesstimate of the ordinal ranking of the trade value of the top 12 players in the Cardinals’ organization. I’ll post the honorable mentions and numbers 12 – 7 today and then numbers 6 through 1 will be posted tomorrow. Each player’s trade value considers all factors – how good each player is, his projected performance, his historical performance, his age, and of course, his contract status. Younger players with lots of team control who make the major league minimum have a definite leg up over older, more expensive players. On the other hand, older players often have a track record that would enable teams to put those players immediately into a lineup or rotation. So while a player’s potential matters, so does what they can do today. And, let’s be honest, present value trumps future value. A 3 win player today, all things being equal, is better than a guy who’ll produce 3 wins 3 years from now.

So let’s get to it. For our “honorable mentions,” and I’m using that term loosely, I’ll include players who could potentially be traded this July because they could provide some value to a team in the pennant chase but, for whatever reason, won’t bring back much of a return for the team. The Cardinals might be able to get something a little interesting for one of these guys, but they’re not going to be the foundation for any real roster overhaul.

Honorable Mentions:

I know what you’re thinking…Greg (censored) Holland! I know. If traded, he brings back an org guy but I could see some team being willing to trade for him just to see if he can provide any help whatsoever. He’ll likely pass through waivers so he could be traded in August but everyone in contention needs relievers who have a prayer of helping. He’s a free agent at the end of the season so he could definitely go.

Norris is probably the most likely to be traded. He’s been decent for his career and quite good so far this season so he’ll surely interest someone. As a guy with a mixed track record, however, he’s not bringing back much of a haul.

I could see Wacha being traded if he was healthy. He’s a free agent after next season and if he had been pitching well despite the team’s middling performance, he could have ended up on this list.

Just missed the cut:

Molina’s good enough to be on the list, but aging and relatively expensive. Wong has become an elite defensive 2B and his hitting has started to come around, but he’s still locked up at a contract that’s not that favorable. Let’s be honest…he’s not even clearly an everyday player at this point. He needs to really put it together consistently. O’Neill is an interesting guy and has had some moments at the major league level but still struggles to make contact. He’s been a top-100 prospect but also, just a year ago was traded for Marco Gonzalez…before we knew he was good. Reyes would definitely be on this list if he had pitched more than 4 major league innings in the last 2 years but he’s going to have to prove he’s healthy to really get that trade value back.

And now, to numbers 12 through 7…

#12Harrison Bader – rWAR: 2.5; fWAR: 1.4

Bader’s a pretty interesting guy. He seems to have elite speed and elite defense that will give him the ability to play center field for a long time. Even if his hitting never really comes around, his ability to carve out a pretty good career as a regular or semi-regular gives him a fairly high floor. Billy Hamilton has already carved out a pretty good career and he’s never really developed the ability to hit. Bader, on the other hand, has a lot of power and, if he can do a better job with his pitch selection, he could end up being a 20 HR, 20 SB guy with elite defense. Oh, and by the way, he’ll have 5 years of team control after 2018 and makes the major league minimum. He’s been basically a league average hitter so far this season and is still on a 2.5 – 4 WAR pace, depending on how you view his defense. Still, the concerns about pitch selection are real. He hasn’t even really established himself as a starter on a team that really hasn’t gotten much production from its outfielders. For him to show he’s an every day CF on a really good team, he’s got to figure that out.

#11Jedd Gyorko – rWAR: 0.9; fWAR: 0.7

Gyorko’s obviously older and more expensive than Bader and hasn’t played as well so far this season, but he’s been a really good player for the Cards the past 2 years and could be really interesting to other teams. He makes $9 million this season, $13 million next season, and has a team option for $13 million for 2020. Even though his salary is somewhat high, infielders who can play at least 3 positions and hit for power (he has 57 HR’s in the last 2.5 seasons) are really hard to find. This is a guy you could plug in at 2B or 3B if you have a hole or use as a right-handed, power-hitting Ben Zobrist type and shuffle around. Lots of teams have 2-3 win outfielders. Not many have 2-3 win utility infielders.

#10Luke Weaver – rWAR: 0.0; fWAR: 1.5

Clearly, Baseball-reference and fangraphs have a different view of how good Weaver has been so far this season. The difference revolves around the fact that Weaver has pitched much better than his ERA gives him credit for. He’s basically a rookie with a 22% K rate and an 8% BB rate whose ERA has been affected by a low strand rate. After this season, he’ll have 5 years of team control and currently receives the league minimum salary. You think teams wouldn’t pay a pretty penny for a guy like that who’s on a 2.5 fWAR pace? Young pitching is in extremely high demand (more on that tomorrow) and Weaver, despite struggling some so far this season, could get a pretty good return if the Cards decided to trade him.

#9Marcell Ozuna – rWAR: -0.8; fWAR: 0.6

It’s profoundly disappointing that Ozuna isn’t in the top 3 or 4 on this list. The Cardinals traded quite a lot to get him and, if they put him on the market right now, they’d probably get back 50% of what they paid. He’s been mediocre in the field and pretty bad at the plate. He’s a free agent after next season and is certain to go to free agency. Still, this is a guy with basically a year and a half of team control who was a 142 wRC+ guy just last season. About 7 months ago, he was traded for 3 pretty good prospects. If the Cards did decide to cut bait on Ozuna, you’d have to think that several teams would line up to trade for him expecting regression to the mean. He’s clearly a much better hitter than he’s shown so far in 2018 and it’s reasonable to think he’ll be much better next season as he approaches free agency. The Cardinals got him to be their middle of the order hitter and you’d have to believe other teams see him as that sort of guy as well, even though he hasn’t performed like one so far. He would be a great buy-low guy for a lot of teams.

#8Miles Mikolas – rWAR: 2.8; fWAR: 2.6

Mikolas is set to earn about $7.5 million in 2018 and has already been worth $18 - $20 million more than that so far in 2018. Pitching is highly valued at the trade deadline and, as a guy with a low salary and probably a 3 – 4 WAR projection for 2019, he would be in high demand if the Cards decided to put him on the market. On the other hand, his MLB track record of being good consists of about 3 ½ months and he will be a free agent after the 2019 season. If the Cards become convinced they’re not competitors in 2018 and if Wacha returns soon, it might be worth seeing what kind of return the team can get for Mikolas. But the small amount of team control will definitely limit that return.

#7Jose Martinez – rWAR: 0.7; fWAR: 1.2

In a year and a half in a Cardinals’ uniform, Martinez has proven to be a borderline elite major league hitter. Last year, his wRC+ was 135. So far this season, it’s 130. That’s 26th among all hitters in the game. Think that’s a fluke? I don’t. His xwOBA is .402, 18th in the game, ahead of Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt, to name just 2. This guy can really, legitimately hit the ball. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Martinez’s defense is, to be charitable, pretty awful. He’s been terrible so far this season at 1B (not his fault, IMO, since he’d never played the position before) and has never been a very good outfielder. It’s pretty clear to most, I think, that he’s really a DH. In addition, he’s already 29 so despite earning the major league minimum and having 4 years of team control left, if the Cardinals decided to trade him he’s pretty much restricted to an American League team. Though he can really hit, teams just aren’t going to pay a premium for a guy who really can’t play the field. Granted, an AL team could trade for him and have him DH most of the time and give him a little duty in the corner OF and at 1B but it still narrows his market considerably. When I began this exercise, I really expected Martinez to be a top 4 or 5 guy but I just can’t see his market being much better than this.

To me, the Cardinals have a real decision to make vis-à-vis Martinez. If it’s not already obvious, I’m a huge fan. But at the same time, the team has given him half a season to show that he can play the field and it hasn’t gone well. He’s been the team’s 2nd best hitter over the course of the 1st half of the season but he’s either tied for 9th or 10th on the team in WAR right now simply because of his defensive deficiencies. I think the team really has 2 options with Martinez. The 1st is to play him nearly every day for the rest of the season regardless of the consequences to give him a chance to improve defensively to the point where the team would be justified keeping him on next season. If he can’t become even adequate defensively, then trade him in the offseason. The other option is to trade him prior to the July 31 deadline. He’ll have some value. The team will have turned an asset they picked up as a minor league free agent and will be able to turn him into something of value. They can definitely sell high here and probably should if they’re convinced he’ll never be anything more than a DH.

Tomorrow, the rest of the trade value series.

Thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the great Martinez pic.

Thanks to baseball-reference, fangraphs, and baseball savant for the help and thanks to all for reading.


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