The story. The aim here was to open up the fourth outfielder spot off the bench while adding an arm to a questionable St. Louis bullpen.
The numbers. Randal Grichuk, 26, hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs in 122 games with the Cardinals last year. It was his second straight 20+ home run season, making him one of 67 players in Major League Baseball with back-to-back 20 home run seasons. His 11.3% extra base hit rate was 21st of the 216 players who had at least 400 plate appearances last season. He was arbitration eligible for the first time this season, settling on a $2.6 million salary.
Dominic Leone, 26, posted a 2.56 ERA over 65 appearances and 70.1 innings for the Blue Jays last season. Among Blue Jays relievers with more than 20 innings pitched, Leone’s 6.5 H/9 and 10.4 K/9 ranked third. Just 22% of inherited base runners scored on Leone last season, fourth best in the American League among relievers who inherited at least 50. He was arbitration eligible for the first time this season, settling on a $1.085 million salary. He is a “Super Two” so he has three years of team control remaining.
Connor Greene, 22, posted a 5.29 ERA over 25 starts and 132.2 innings for Double-A New Hampshire. In 42 starts in Double-A, Greene has a 4.89 ERA over 226.1 innings. Scouting reports indicate that he has a high-90s fastball though seemingly like all pitchers with a great fastball, he struggles with control, walking 5.6 per nine innings last season. But the strikeouts have not really come for Greene’s fastball, posting just a 6.8 K/9 in his minor league career. He was rated the #100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus before the 2016 season.
The impact. 8/10. This is one of those baseball trades that makes a great deal of sense to both sides immediately, but not without it’s own set of question marks. The Blue Jays had a number of solid relievers last season and were in desperate need for offensive pieces to help that lineup that they intend to contend with in 2018. Enter the Cardinals who had an extra starting outfielder and needed bullpen help.
In Grichuk the Blue Jays will add one of the league’s best extra base hitters. In each of the past two seasons Grichuk reached 20 home runs without being a qualified hitter. Playing every day in the AL East where he can play 81 games in the Rogers Centre and then a handful of others in Camden Yards, I’ve said before that I think Grichuk is a 40 HR player if he plays everyday in the AL East. It seems like he could get that opportunity now. He needs to take that next step in his development, but its not beyond the realm of possibility.
For the Cardinals, this trade reveals that their approach to the 2018 bullpen seems to be throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Dominic Leone is coming off a great season, but can the Blue Jays’ seventh inning man turn into a late inning guy? And for Greene, a move to the bullpen could be just what the doctor ordered to resurrect his career, but even still at 22 time is on his side.
The question for the Cardinals following this trade is where they expect to see Leone slotting in at this point. Is he the closer? Is he the eighth inning guy? Do they like Luke Gregerson over Leone?
Leone was dominant last season and had a good rookie campaign in 2014 with Seattle, but in between he struggled mightily with his command, posting a 7+ ERA in 2015 and 2016 combined. At 26 and entering his fifth season since debuting in the big leagues he’s also on his fourth big league club. That’s more typical of the resume of a reliever that’s about to wash out rather than one who is poised to be a late inning option for a team intending to contend for a division.