A lot of Cards’ fans have been clamoring for the addition of another big hitter, and with good reason. Most of us expected to add Giancarlo Stanton this offseason and instead ended up with Marcell Ozuna. Now, Ozuna’s a really good player in his own right but he’s not Stanton. Stanton not only is a superstar who would’ve transformed the lineup but he’s also under contract for the next several years. Ozuna, on the other hand, only figures to be a Cardinal for the next 2.
The persistent chatter about adding another big bat to the lineup seems primarily driven by 2 things. The first is the fact that the Cardinals have missed the playoffs the last two seasons and fans have seen the team fall behind the loathsome Cubs, who won their first championship in 1008 years (not a typo). We’ve been spoiled by the team’s success and demand a return to its winning ways. The second is that Matt Carpenter has some positional versatility and there are several players on the free agent market who could fit the team’s lineup. The team could add a third baseman, turning Jedd Gyorko into the super-sub a lot of fans believe him to be, leaving Carpenter at first. Another option is to add a first baseman, moving Carp back to his original position at third base.
I’ll admit that the prospect of turning Gyorko into a Ben Zobrist-like super-sub has its allure. First, Gyorko is a strong defensively at both 2B and 3B and has the ability to fill in at SS and 1B in short stints. Considering Kolten Wong‘s relative weakness against lefties, the right-handed Gyorko is a natural platoon partner and then he could bounce around the infield, allowing Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and the new first or third baseman the days off they need to stay healthy and strong for a playoff run. It’s pretty easy to envision Gyorko getting 100+ starts at the 4 positions and 450 or so plate appearances which would make him a big step up over Greg Garcia as the utility infielder.
When there was discussion about a month ago about the prospect of the Cardinals trading for Evan Longoria (especially as part of a Chris Archer trade), it was hard not to see how much depth this would provide the infield. The problem, as lots of people on the internet were all too willing to point out, was that Longoria just wasn’t that big of an upgrade over Gyorko at third. To be sure, the team would gain quite a bit by replacing most of Garcia’s PA’s with Gyorko’s, but it wouldn’t gain much, if anything, by replacing Gyorko’s with Longoria’s.
The free agent market right now is flush with corner infielders, most notably 1B Eric Hosmer, The Cards have been linked to Hosmer as rumors have circulated that he’s received multiple 7 year, $140+million offers. Adding Hosmer would move Carp back to third and makes Gyorko the super-sub. That sounds like a lot of infield depth and would surely make the Cardinals better…but at what price?
If the Cardinals didn’t want to spend $140+ million on this experiment, they could always add a third baseman such as Todd Frazier or Mike Moustakas. Frazier and Moustakas aren’t as good Hosmer but they’re pretty good players in their own right and wouldn’t come with Hosmer’s Scott Boras-driven high price tag. Let’s begin with Hosmer.
Most of the discussion about Hosmer is about whether or not he’s worth the high price tag that Boras has attached to him. Here, Craig Edwards makes the point that $140 million isn’t really out of line (though Travis Sawchik argues that a team wouldn’t really benefit from signing Hosmer to a 7 year deal). Still, for a team sitting where the Cardinals sit on the win curve, where an additional couple of wins could really be the difference between making the playoffs and having its fans lament for another offseason how long it’s been since the Cardinals were part of that elite group, the team may not need to insist on getting a ton of surplus value from a free agent acquisition.
Hosmer, of course, isn’t a superstar but he is a pretty good player and a solid upgrade over Greg Garcia. Adding him to 1B, moving Carpenter across the diamond, and replacing Garcia with Gyorko would surely help the team and perhaps push them into the playoffs. Steamer projects Hosmer to be worth 2.6 WAR next year while ZIPS has him at a paltry 1.9. He was a 4.1 WAR player last year (though -0.1 in 2016) but that was aided by a .351 BABIP. But he’s young, maybe still improving and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he’s a 3 – 3.5 WAR player in 2018. Fangraphs presently has the Cardinals projected for 88 wins so adding another 3 puts the team in prime playoff position and puts the team right in the thick of the NL Central race.
What about Frazier or Moustakas? Moustakas is projected for around 2.5 WAR next year (2.5 from ZIPS; 2.7 from Steamer) while Frazier is projected for around 3 (3.5 from ZIPS; 2.3 from Steamer). Like Hosmer, those guys would certainly help.
The question or concern, however, isn’t so much about how any of these players produces in isolation but rather, how much do they add to a team that already has 8 solid starting position players? And, are they worth that addition? For instance, if we assume Hosmer is a 3.5 WAR player and, as one, is worth $140 million over 7 years, that doesn’t mean that he adds 3.5 WAR to the Cardinals. Gyorko, for his part, is projected as at 2.9 WAR so the addition of Hosmer, even at 3.5 WAR, only adds about half a win to the Cards’ starting infield. Now, turning Gyorko into a super-sub is an improvement over Garcia but, in doing so, also reduces his plate appearances. He wouldn’t be a 2.9 WAR player as a super-sub, so maybe 2 WAR is more likely. Because of that, he’s probably only about a 1 win upgrade over Garcia because getting him 450 PA’s reduces Carpenter’s, Wong’s, and DeJong’s as well. It’s an upgrade, to be sure, but probably only about a win and a half, not the 3.5 Boras wants the Cardinals to pay for. All that assumes, also, that the defensively challenged Carpenter would be worth as many WAR as a starting 3B as he is as a starting 1B. Personally, I’m skeptical that’s the case, as he’s a decidedly below-average 3B but a pretty good 1B but maybe the positional adjustment helps it all come out in the wash.
The point is that Hosmer, even if he’s a 3.5 WAR 1B, he’s probably only worth about 1.5 WAR to the Cardinals and, thus, not worth anywhere near $140 million to the Cards. He might be worth that much to the Royals or Padres — where he’d actually be replacing a replacement level player — but that’s not what he’d be doing with the Cardinals.
The same sort of logic applies to Frazier and Moustakas, though Carpenter remains at first base, in that they wouldn’t be replacing a replacement level player. In fact, it’s dubious whether either of them is even an improvement over Gyorko but at least Gyorko is an improvement over Garcia and adding them probably adds 1 win or so to the Cardinals’ total. Is 1 win per year, even where the Cards are on the win curve, worth a 3 year, $45-50 million contract? Questionable, at best. And one opportunity cost of adding a 3B to a multi-year contract this offseason is that it makes attempting to sign, say, Josh Donaldson to a long-term contract next offseason much more difficult. Perhaps the team should stay away from one of these guys for that reason alone.
There’s good and bad to the Cardinals’ roster as it stands today. The good is that the team is pretty solid at all the non-pitching positions. Every starting position player projects (according to ZIPS) for at least 2.1 WAR. The bad is that there really are no superstars in the mold of Stanton. Ozuna is the best the team has and he’s projecting for *only 3.7 WAR.
Because the team is so balanced, therefore, the only real way to improve the lineup is to add a genuine superstar. Hosmer, Moustakas, and Frazier just don’t fit the bill. The guy who does, of course, is Donaldson but the Blue Jays don’t appear to be all that interested in parting with him…at least, not yet.
Finally, I’d like to thank @StlCardsCards and Dave Cameron for inspiring me to get back to writing. I’ve been wanting to do it and needed a little nudge. CardsCards’ advice on Twitter and Dave’s “retirement” from Fangraphs were the inspiration I needed to get back at it. Back when I was writing at http://www.vivaelbirdos.com, I was reading fangraphs religiously trying to learn as much as I can about the game and come up with ideas to write about at VEB. I learned so much from Dave and Fangraphs and being a dedicated reader of that site for the last several years has also helped me appreciate how much I don’t know. Thanks to both of you and to everyone else for reading.