Piscotty activated from the DL

The Cardinals activated outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the disabled list today and optioned outfielder Harrison Bader to Memphis.

Piscotty returns to the team after exiting the first game back after the All Star Break with a right groin strain. He went 3-for-15 with two doubles in five rehab games with Single-A Peoria.

The former top-100 prospect has struggled to find his footing this season, his second full season with the club. He is hitting just .236/.348/.371 with 6 home runs this season. His 95 wRC+ is 20 points lower than the 115 wRC+ he put up last season in his first full season in the big leagues.

He had a relatively successful June, hitting .258/.377/.452, and it seemed like he might be turning the corner. However, in the 10 games before he hit the DL, he slashed a paltry .171/.216/.200.

In the corresponding move, Harrison Bader will return to Memphis where he is putting together a solid season. In six games for the big league club, Bader hit .286/.348/.381 with a 95 wRC+ and scored the game winning, walk off run in his debut.

Column: The status quo reigns in St. Louis

“We have a busy July coming,” said John Mozeliak said a month ago when discussing the timing of the Cardinals’ promotion of himself to President of Baseball Operations and his assistant GM Michael Girsch to General Manager. Through the month he remained optimistic that the Cardinals would be making deals as the deadline loomed. And the deadline came and went and the Cardinals did not make a move. Not even a sniff of anything on deadline day. The closest they got to a trade today was when USA Today’s Bob Nightengale put Dexter Fowler’s name in a tweet instead of Dustin Fowler.

While other contenders made deals to shore up their clubs, the Cardinals, at 52-53 and 4.5 games out of the NL Central, chose to stand pat and ride it out. As Mozeliak put it, “As today unfolded unfortunately we weren’t able to get anything across the finish line.”

Yet another wasted opportunity for this club to choose a direction. Instead, they will maintain the status quo, as I suggested they would a week ago. They were too close to become sellers and too far away to be serious buyers. By all accounts this is a club that hasn’t shown they deserve to be invested in.

I get it.

But if the team won’t tell you which way to go, you have to look at the big picture and decide. The Cardinals could have chosen to make a push in Lance Lynn’s final year on his current contract because you don’t know what the rookie you replace him with next year is going to be able to put together. Alternatively, the Cardinals could have seen the group of highly talented prospects coming through the minors, the tip of the spear we’re seeing this year, and doubled down on that group by selling the valuable pieces we have that won’t be around then.

But they didn’t.

When I look at what it would probably cost to get a guy like Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, I understand why a team would be reluctant to spend the talent required to bring him in. But what the Cardinals were once really good was finding value in low hanging fruit in free agency and the trade markets. And there were several members of that club out there and available that the organization chose to pass on. Guys like shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and reliever Joe Smith who were both traded this season for proverbial pennies when we talk about prospect costs and would have improved the team. It wouldn’t have closed the gap on paper, but they would represent steps in the right direction.

But they didn’t.

Instead the organization apparently decided that holding onto their prospects and not exceeding their “model” was more important to them than improving the team’s odds of winning the field either now or in the future. The model got them here. And the franchise that has plenty of both money and prospects couldn’t be bothered to part with either.

But it’s more than just adding players. The Cardinals have a real problem with too many players in their outfield.

They have two guys in Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty signed long-term. They have Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez all playing well on the big league roster. You have Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra who have shown flashes in their first opportunities in the big leagues. You have Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena in the high levels of the minors on the top prospects list. And then they added Tyler O’Neill, yet another high level outfielder, a week ago.

All in all ten players on that list for three starting spots. That doesn’t work. Those guys can be dealt, preferably before their stock falls, for real players who can help this team win games.

At every turn over the last several years this organization has told us, from the top to the bottom, that they want to win. They tell us they have money to spend and intend to be aggressive in free agency, only to lose out because they weren’t aggressive at all. They tell us they expect to be busy on the trade markets, only to lose out because they weren’t comfortable with the price the market made.

When it comes time for Bill DeWitt Jr’s Cardinals to put their money where their mouth is, they choke.

And I say that because the more I watch this team, the more I’m convinced that it’s not John Mozeliak or Michael Girsch or anyone in leadership positions in the front office that can’t make the decision to part with prospects, it’s the owner. So it’s not going to change unless he does.

Somewhere between Walt Jocketty’s “Sell all the prospects to help the Major League club” and the “Keep all the prospects and build from within” is a strategy that creates a stable and consistent winner.

I feel like that is the strategy that the organization wanted to use when they let Jocketty go and made Mozeliak the team’s GM ten years ago. And yet here we are 10 years later and they’ve swung a complete 180 in the other direction.

Two years ago the Cardinals were coming off a 100 game season and facing their first real challenge in a decade with both the Cubs and the Pirates built to contend over multiple years. They talked tough about free agency and struck out looking.

Two years later they are listing, a game under .500, in third place and lacking both an identity and a star player.

As Mozeliak once said, “St. Louis is a tough place… There’s high expectations and winning is demanded.”

We demand winning, Mr. DeWitt.

It’s time to do what it takes.

Five things about the Rockies Series

The Cardinals completed their first sweep of since June 9-11 when they swept the Philadelphia Phillies at home. They won the past two nights in small part due to the young guys they’ve brought up providing a nice spark of energy. The Cardinals now find themselves 3.5 games behind the Cubs and now back in third place. They have not been this close to first since play wrapped up on July 3rd.

Bader’s Mad Dash

For his first Major League hit on Tuesday night, Harrison Bader ripped a double to left field and raced around the bases. He was bunted over to third by Greg Garcia and then chipped home by Jedd Gyorko. Bader’s dash home was clocked at nearly 30 feet per second according to FOX Sports Midwest last night and that’s Billy Hamilton territory according to Statcast’ Sprint Speeds leaderboard. I see now why the Cardinals think he can play center field.

But that wasn’t the only dash he had to make. On Wednesday he legged out two infield hits. Overall he went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and a strikeout and put together a more complete game than I’ve seen from a Cardinals prospect in quite some time. For example, it took Paul DeJong 50 plate appearances to take his first walk.

The cavalry showed up

Wednesday night’s 10-5 victory marked the sixth time this season that Carlos Martinez has allowed 4 or more earned runs, but the first time that the Cardinals managed to win the game. When he allows 3 or fewer, the Cardinals are 9-6.

It’s the young guys that are driving this team right now. Paul DeJong hits a home run in the first inning to tie the game back up after the Rockies got to Martinez in the top of the first.  Tommy Pham goes 2-for-2 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored. Randal Grichuk goes 4-for-5. Harrison Bader goes 3-for-4. Kolten Wong goes 0-for-3, but walked twice, scored twice and drove in a run.

There are so many glimmers of what this team could be. They are a very different team with a very different energy with the group of guys they had last night. You almost don’t want Dexter Fowler or Stephen Piscotty to come off the disabled list for fear of messing it up.

Youth movement

One thing I’ve mentioned a lot is the energy this Cardinals’ team is playing with right now and much of that carried on by the younger players. Guys like Paul DeJong, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham who are all tied for the team lead with 14 home runs despite none of them having spent the entire season with the big league club. Pham and Grichuk have both missed a month and DeJong has been up about two months at this point. Those three combined to hit four home runs in the series.

I consider the “young” guys to include those short on MLB experience and perhaps guys who just aren’t established players yet. Guys like DeJong, Pham, Grichuk, Bader, and Wong. In that Colorado series, those five guys hit .436 with 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 11 RBI, and 12 runs scored. Of the 24 runs that the Cardinals scored, 19 of them were scored or driven in by one of those five players.

Molina still bats fifth

I pointed this out on Twitter the other day, that Yadier Molina had the worst OPS of any player in that day’s Cardinals’ lineup. But wait, it gets worse. After being pushed to dig for more advanced stats I discovered that Molina has been the Cardinals’ worst hitter this season by wRC+ and wOBA of all their position players. Only Carson Kelly has been worse, and he has just 6 plate appearances this season and has been up a week.

Oh, yeah

Seung-hwan Oh made an appearance last night, throwing a perfect 9th with two strikeouts. That makes his second perfect appearance in a row as he looks to get back on track. He’s probably not ready to be thrown back into the fire yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Cardinals call up Harrison Bader

The St. Louis Cardinals placed outfielder Dexter Fowler on the 10 day disabled list with a left forearm strain and purchased the contract of outfielder Harrison Bader from the Memphis Redbirds.

Fowler takes his second stint on the disabled list this season, the previous coming for a right heel spur issue. In the three weeks he’s been back with the big league club he hit .224/.321/.306 with just two extra base hits in 14 games. Before his previous DL stint he appeared to be hitting his stride, having hit .286/.390/.600 with 6 home runs in 21 games in June before his injury.

Bader, 23, is a former third round pick of the Cardinals and is rated as their #6 prospect by MLB.com. This season in Memphis he has hit .297/.354/.517 with 19 home runs in 97 games. He will wear #48 with the Cardinals and is in tonight’s lineup, playing center field and batting seventh.

He is one of the leading players on the Memphis team that is crushing the Pacific Coast League this season, despite losing Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong, Luke Voit, and more recently Carson Kelly to the big league club.

In Memphis, Bader has a 23.6% strikeout rate and 6.0% walk rate to go along with a 10.0% extra base hit rate. That compares favorably to DeJong who had a 24.2% strikeout rate, 4.7% walk rate, and 11.5% extra base hit rate.

The Cardinals wouldn’t have brought Bader to the big leagues to start his clock unless they were sure that he would get an extended opportunity to play. We have seen them use Magneuris Sierra in shorter stints this season. So it’s possible that they expect Fowler and Stephen Piscotty to miss more time than the minimum 10 days with their injuries.

Column: It’s time to finish the job

The Cardinals lost yet another winnable series this weekend, this time against the Chicago Cubs who have now entered a tie for first place in the division. The Cardinals have gone 4-6 since on a 10 game road trip since the All Star Break. Winning just four games despite leading in 9 of the 10 games.

Through the road trip, they have demonstrated every conceivable way you can lose a game. Sloppy play, defensive miscues, lack of fundamentals, bullpen struggles, bad luck, and on and on.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these games were winnable.

The sloppy play, poor defense, and lack of fundamentals has been a constant issue over the past couple seasons. When we discuss them, I always think back to a UCB Podcast episode last summer where Kevin Reynolds asked me how many games I felt the Cardinals had given away to that point in the season. I suggested you could make the case that the number was in the double digits.

At the time that would have put the Cardinals neck-and-neck with the Cubs for first place in the division and that would have completely changed the narrative for the season. But even when the season came to a close, all it would have taken was for them to have held onto two of those games to secure a Wild Card spot.

The bottom line is that the Cardinals beat themselves last season. This wasn’t a situation where the team was just outmatched in every aspect of the game on the field. They just kept finding ways to beat themselves. With failures in the fundamentals of the game that the franchise has historically been lauded for.

The front office noticed it and everyone from Bill DeWitt Jr on down gave us the standard lip service about cleaning up the play on the field over the winter. Mike Matheny spoke at Winter Warm Up about how they were going to focus on it in Spring Training. The organization went as far to create a new position, Quality Control Coach, to help the team sort through the issues.

But six months later and those same issues are still costing this team victories on a regular basis.

The latest example came last week when Trevor Rosenthal failed to cover on a ball hit towards first base. By the time he realized what had happened and reacted to it, it was too late and Jose Reyes beat the play out and the Mets scored to win the game in a walk off.

I suggested that everyone should be on the field the next morning for pitcher’s fielding practice. If they want to play like Little Leaguers, they can be treated like Little Leaguers.

Back on June 9th, the Cardinals made some changes on the coaching staff, headlined by the reassignment of third base coach Chris Maloney. Since then, the Cardinals are 21-19 and still find themselves exactly where they were 40 games ago. In fourth place, 4.5 games out. And that’s with five wins against the Phillies and there are no games against them remaining.

It’s been a quarter of a season since those changes were made and the rest of the NL Central has given the Cardinals every opportunity make a move in the division, but their own sloppy play has prevented that from happening. It’s time to finish the job that John Mozeliak began on June 9th.

Let’s look at the facts in evidence. The Cardinals have struggled with sloppy play and bad fundamentals over the past two years, but this has really just been a culmination of the degradation in it over the last several years. As Jose Ortiz suggested when he wrote about it, note that “The Cardinal Way” was lost on Mike Matheny’s watch.

With the priority that Matheny told us that he was going to make improving fundamentals this spring and the complete lack of improvement that has been made in that direction suggests one of two things.

First, Matheny hasn’t actually tried to correct the issue. This could be for multiple reasons ranging from he doesn’t see it as an issue or he doesn’t know how.

Second, he has made an effort to correct it and the players haven’t. Those reasons would be that the message is either not sticking with them or they are willfully ignoring it.

Either is a sign of trouble in an organization. Both are indications that it’s time to move on and put a new voice in the manager’s office.

I’ve spoken a few times over the past couple years of how it seems that communication is one of Matheny’s biggest issues. Not just, “Hey, you good to go today?” but actually communicating his approach and philosophy to players so that they don’t just understand it, but buy in.

We saw that with Randal Grichuk last winter who was not told that the organization wanted to replace him in center field. We saw that this spring when he said that Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko were going to start the season out in a platoon after the organization had told Wong he was going to start.

And back at Winter Warm Up, Matheny spoke about solving some of those fundamental problems and aggressiveness on the base paths and he spoke about the difficulty of getting players to buy into his message. That was a big red flag to me. It felt like he was throwing his team under the bus.

The Cardinals may wait until the end of the season and let Matheny go as John Mozeliak has talked about not liking to fire guys in the middle of the season. He’s talked about how players don’t like to feel like they got someone fired.

But this team still has a chance. It’s time to finish the job and send that warning shot at the clubhouse. They need to feel like they got someone fired. Matheny has been given his opportunity to turn this club around and they are as bad as ever.

Mozeliak talked this weekend about being unhappy with the attitude and culture around the club. The quickest fix for that is to remove the guy who is paid to set that tone.

Cardinals trade Gonzales for Mariners’ prospect O’Neill

The St. Louis Cardinals have traded left handed pitcher Marco Gonzales to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill today.

Gonzales, 25, missed last season after Tommy John surgery and has a 2.90 ERA in 11 starts for Triple-A Memphis this season. He made a spot start for the big league club this season, allowed 5 earned runs in 3.1 innings. The former first round pick owns a career 5.53 ERA in 40.2 innings at the big league level over 7 starts and 3 relief appearances.

O’Neill, 22, is currently hitting .244/.328/.479 with 19 HR in 93 games for Triple-A Tacoma this season. He hit 56 home runs over his previous two seasons in Double-A and High-A ball. A former third-round pick, he is rated as the Mariners’ #2 prospect according to MLB.com.

Before the 2017 season he was a consensus top-100 prospect, coming in 36th at MLB.com, 38th at Baseball America and 53rd with Baseball Prospectus. He fell off the midseason lists as he struggled early in the season, batting just .218/.287/.381 with 6 home runs through June 15th. In a little over a month since, he is hitting .303/.406/.697 with 13 home runs.

If you’d asked me a week ago what this club needed, I’d have answered with a power hitting corner outfielder who likes to strike out. Okay not really, butsome have compared him to Grichuk, unjustly I think. Yes, so far this season O’Neill has struck out 27.3% of the time. But his numbers also show that he knows how to walk too, walking 11.1% of the time. Compare that to Randal Grichuk‘s best season in AAA which revealed a 5.9% walk rate.

The Cardinals do have a glut of outfielders. The big league club has Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty signed long term, Tommy Pham hitting up a storm, and then Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra, Adolis Garcia, Randy Arozarena, and Oscar Mercado coming along in the minors. Now add O’Neill to the mix as the best of them and you have to wonder if a move is coming.

Another indicator of a potential trade coming is that the move of Gonzales didn’t just add O’Neill, it opened up a spot on the 40 man roster which now stands at 39.

The move of Gonzales also opens up a spot on the 40 man roster which now stands at 39. That could also serve as an indicator that another trade to deal out of that outfield prospect depth is on deck with a space now open without requiring a 40 man player be sent out in the same move.

Cardinals call up Carson Kelly as Grichuk and Duke are activated

The St. Louis Cardinals have called called up catcher Carson Kelly and activated outfielder Randal Grichuk and left handed reliever Zach Duke off the disabled list. To make room for them, the Cardinals optioned right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala to Memphis, outfielder Magneuris Sierra to Springfield, and designated catcher Eric Fryer for assignment.

Kelly, 23, was hitting .283/.375/.459 with 10 home runs in 68 games with Memphis this season after going homerless in 32 games with Memphis last season. Kelly appeared in 10 games last season for the big league Cardinals and hit .153/.214/.231. It seemed that his promotion may be coming when Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak indicated that his opportunity was coming.

The former gold glove catcher has been viewed as Yadier Molina‘s heir apparent behind the plate, but just how the two will co-exist on the roster is still yet to be determined. When discussing Kelly, Mozeliak indicated that the two would share time. Fryer, Molina’s backup prior to today, had started 15 of the team’s 95 games behind the plate. That would leave Molina on a pace to start 136, the second most in a season in his career.

How much time they split likely will fall back on how well Molina is playing. He finished off June with a 16 game hitting streak, but so far in July is hitting just .259/.293/.370. Those should be achievable numbers for Kelly.

The Cardinals also recalled Zach Duke who they received in a trade last July from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Charlie Tilson. Duke pitched well to finish out the year, posting a 1.93 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 28 appearances, but had to undergo Tommy John surgery after the season. The club held onto him and he returned to the mound earlier this month. He has thrown 9 scoreless innings and allowed just 4 hits and 1 walk in 9 rehab appearances.

Randal Grichuk is also back with the club and will be starting tonight. Grichuk has struggled to find his groove this season, hitting just .215/.270/.408 with 9 home runs in 61 games. After a nearly month-long stint in the minors, Grichuk returned in late June and batted .196/.250/.500 with 5 home runs in 15 games until he was placed on the disabled list after returning to the club after the All Star break.

Going down will be outfielder Magneuris Sierra, much to the disappointment of fans who enjoy his style. Sierra has gotten good results, batting .365/.400/.365 through his 13 career games over now three cups of coffee in the big leagues, however he still lacks the polish necessary. All 19 of his hits have been singles as he will need to develop more gap power to become a player that can be worth playing for his bat and not just his glove. At 21 though, he has time on his side. He will return to Springfield where he is batting .293/.326/.403 this season.

Also down is right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala, which I think is a shame. In 21 innings of work this season, Tuivailala has a 2.14 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His WHIP ranks third in the bullpen behind John Brebbia (0.77) and Matthew Bowman (1.07). Regardless, Tuivailala could not break into more important innings, going nearly two weeks between his last two outings. Since his last recall, Tuivaila had allowed just 1 earned run over 10 innings of work for a 0.90 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

And the club may say goodbye to Eric Fryer who has been designated for assignment. Fryer joined the last last season as a catcher for Memphis, but was pushed to the big leagues after injury to Brayan Pena. He would be designated for assignment last summer by the Cardinals as well, being picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His first game with Pittsburgh was against the Cardinals where he went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI and the Twitter hashtag #FryersRemorse was born.

After they released Pena over the winter, the club signed Fryer to serve as Molina’s backup this season. He has started 15 games and appeared in 19 others, batting .155/.277/.197 for the Cardinals.

Rumor check: Lance Lynn

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted out the same article that suggested the Cardinals were players for Brad Brach with the note that the Royals were “aggressively pursuing” starting pitching, including Lance Lynn. It should be noted that Lance Lynn’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the article, but he made the link and so the rumor mill began.

The Cardinals have reportedly told teams it may both buy and sell over the next couple weeks as it tries to reposition it’s club to compete. That may include selling some pending free agents who they do not expect to bring back. That list includes Lance Lynn.

Lynn is 30 years old and has posted an 8-6 record with a 3.40 ERA in 19 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2016 season. Lynn has struggled with the long ball at times this season, which is not unexpected for a pitcher returning from TJ. After a rough June, Lynn has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings over his last two starts.

Lynn had set himself up for free agency this winter with his previous deal that bought out only his arbitration years, though seemed to change his tune this spring when he suggested he hoped the Cardinals would entertain extension talks after the All Star break.

I suggested back in may that Lynn could command 5 years, $125 million in the free agent market. I also suggested that the Cardinals couldn’t afford to let him walk out the door. Never underestimate the value of the pitcher you can pencil in to provide you 200 quality innings, regardless of the prospects you have coming up behind. I love the idea of Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn anchoring this rotation for the next five years.

Because of those contract needs, he is a slam dunk to be given a qualifying offer by the Cardinals if he finishes out the season with the club. That provides a floor for the type of return St. Louis would want to see from any Lynn trade.

The Royals are in third-place, three games out in their division and two games out of the American League Wild Card race and they’re looking at starting pitching options. They also have a number of their key players hitting free agency like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain.

If the Royals are intent on acquiring Lynn and taking a shot now because they see their window closing at the end of the year, they aren’t going to trade him for Major League talent. So don’t expect to get a Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer in return.

That means prospects. Their biggest problem here may be the lack of a top-100 prospect. And looking at their top prospects list, I don’t see much here that gets me excited. So me and the prospect list makers seem to be on the same page.

But the Royals are looking at significant holes in their roster next season and one would assume that they’d like to keep all the young talent they have to help fill those holes as cost effectively as possible.

In his chat though Derrick Goold suggested that the Astros are a better fit for Lynn because they have more prospects and they also may be willing to extend him before free agency. I’m sure Jeff Luhnow having drafted Lynn may help too.

For the Cardinals, this move would signal selling to me because regardless of Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, or Jack Flaherty, I have a hard time seeing this team being competitive in October without Lynn in the rotation.

So I think that the Cardinals are laying ground work for buying and selling right now. If they can’t find the deals they need to improve the team they have they way they like, they may try to move on some of these sales to help set this team up going forward. Either would make me happy.

But as far as this particular Lynn to the Royals deal, I don’t really buy it.

Rumor check: Brad Brach

USA Today suggested this morning that the Cardinals would be a match with the Orioles for reliever Brad Brach, suggesting that Tyler Lyons would be enough to grab the Orioles’ fill-in closer.

Brach, 31, has a 2.75 ERA in 39 appearances for the Orioles this season. He is 15 for 19 in save opportunities since assuming closing duties after the injury to Zach Britton in April.

Over the previous two seasons as a setup reliever for the Orioles, Brach posted a 2.39 ERA over 133 appearances. He is making $3.05 million this year and has one final year of arbitration eligibility ahead of him before becoming a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

It is the trade season and relief help is always highly coveted and it’s likely that teams like the Red Sox, the Nationals, and any number of other contending teams have already checked in on Brach. And as history has shown us, are likely willing to go further for him than the Cardinals are.

The Cardinals most desperate immediate need is someone who could come in and step into the closer’s role in St. Louis to solidify the bullpen. Brach would provide that answer both this year and next for a team in need of one.

USA Today suggests that the Cardinals could acquire Brach for left handed pitcher Tyler Lyons who would go immediately into their MLB-worst starting rotation. That would be really selling low on Brach, in my opinion.

The Athletics just got two of the Nationals’ top-20 prospects for a pair of relievers who make more money and haven’t been as effective as Brach over the past few years. Granted Sean Doolittle has plenty of years remaining on his contract, but I think the Orioles would want one of the Cardinals’ top-20 prospects to make the trade happen, and I’d assume a pitching prospect. Luke Weaver might be too high up the prospect list for the Cardinals to stomach parting with, but an Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, or Jake Woodford might fit the bill.

I’ve always been high on Lyons’ ability as a setup-type reliever, but I also wonder what the result would be if you just used Lyons in the role you’d use Brach in. Could he step into the closer’s role?

Rumor check: Christian Yelich & Marcell Ozuna

According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Cardinals have interest in the Marlins’ outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna and the Marlins have sent a top executive to scout Cardinals’ pitching prospect Dakota Hudson‘s last start.

There’s been a lot of love for Christian Yelich among my Twitter follows over the past year and change, and after his 2016 season I sort of understand why. However, his numbers have once again slowed this season showing him more likely to be a .290/.360/.410 hitter than the guy who hit 21 home runs last year and put up a 130 wRC+.

He is a solid player, but I basically see him as a left handed Stephen Piscotty. And I’m constantly being reminded that Piscotty is not the kind of hitter this club needs. He is more of what these Cardinals already have. A doubles hitter who can put up a good OBP.

I don’t get too excited about him and think that the majority of the excitement around him is the hope that he can repeat 2016 and he has 4 years, $44.5 million remaining on his current contract. That could go to 5 years, $58.25 million if his $15 million option for 2022 were to get picked up.

Of the two Marlins outfielders listed, I prefer Marcell Ozuna. If you’ve been around since November, Ozuna headlined a list of five players I felt the Cardinals should be interested over the winter. Reports are that they did check in on him over the winter, but obviously that went nowhere. Or perhaps just laying the groundwork for a future trade.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Ozuna has had a career start tot he season. He is batting .317/.375/.563 with 23 home runs in 90 games for the Marlins. All four numbers would stand as career highs. So to acquire him now would seem to be buying high. However, over the past 30 days his numbers have slowed a bit, down to .286/.327/.510 with 6 home runs, which may have an effect on his trade value.

Over the previous three seasons, Ozuna is averaging .265/.316/.433 with 25 doubles, 4 triples, and 19 home runs per season. He has now hit 23 home runs in three of the last four seasons.

Some of the complaints I see about Ozuna is that he is essentially Randal Grichuk. I disagree. He is what we wish Randal Grichuk could be. He walks more, strikes out less, makes more contact, and hits for a better average than Grichuk. And he’s done this over the course of now his fourth full season in the big leagues. Meanwhile Grichuk has yet to spend a full season with the big league club since debuting four seasons ago.

Ozuna’s contract situation is not as appealing as Yelich’s, as he has two more seasons of arbitration remaining before free agency. He’s also represented by Scott Boras, so it is safe to assume that Ozuna will hit free agency after the 2019 season.

Ozuna over Yelich to me is an easy choice because the Cardinals have guys who are supposed to get on base. What they lack is a hitter with some thump who can drive those guys in. Ozuna would give them that while Yelich remains a question mark.

In return it looks like the Marlins are interested in Dakota Hudson. Hudson, 22, was drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft by the Cardinals. He put himself on the map last year posting a 0.68 ERA over 13 innings between Palm Beach and the Gulf Coast League. MLB.com rated him the Cardinals’ 9th best prospect entering the season.

He has a 2.77 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Springfield this season.

On the surface, Yelich seems to be the kind of player that the Cardinals would find more appealing. High OBP, has flashed some power and has plenty of team control remaining. However, Ozuna provides more power and may be closer to the kind of player they need.

They’ve also checked in on Ozuna before, as this kind of parallels what they did with Matt Holliday, having checked in on him at multiple points before finally pulling the trigger to acquire him in 2009.

My feel would be that the Marlins would be more likely to deal Ozuna than Yelich since Yelich’s stock is likely to be down a little bit right now. He is also on a team friendly contract for an organization that needs inexpensive players. Meanwhile there is less guarantee for Ozuna, who they may feel the need to trade now while he has maximum value.

For that reason I buy this rumor. Obviously it depends on what else goes to Miami with Hudson, but if the Cardinals could fill one of their needs without giving up one of their top shelf prospects, even if Hudson is on his way to joining that list, I don’t know how you say no.