On a Tuesday afternoon where it seemed the like the St. Louis Cardinals were going to quietly let the deadline pass them by without doing anything to shore up the team, they didn’t. The Cardinals announced that they acquired RHP Edward Mujica for minor league 3B Zack Cox.
My knee-jerk reaction to the trade was “Is that all they could get for Cox?” After all, I saw a Mujica who had a 4.38 ERA in nearly 40 innings this season.
However, when I dug into Mujica’s numbers further, I found a pitcher that has me thinking this could really be the trade that solidifies that bullpen and helps stabilize this team going forward. Something to realize is that the new Marlins Ballpark in Miami is quite the hitter’s park. According to Baseball References’ Park Factor, Marlins Ballpark scores a 106 for hitters and a 107 for pitchers this year. Over 100 favors the hitter. Meanwhile, Mujica will move into a Busch Stadium that has multi-year Park Factors of 99 for hitters and 98 for pitchers. A far more neutral stadium. That should help greatly.
When you look at Mujica, he hardly walks anyone too. I believe I saw someone mention in a tweet that over the last 3 seasons, Mujica is third in innings pitched for relievers and has allowed the fourth fewest walks. Combine that with a low WHIP, 1.154 this season (which would be third best in the St. Louis bullpen behind Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs, 0.957 and 1.097 respectively), and we should see a pitcher closer to his 2009-2011 form where he posted a 3.53 ERA and a 1.099 ERA.
The only black mark I see on Mujica is the number of home runs he’s allowed this season. He’s allowed 1.4 HR/9 this season and that increase from 2011 accounts for his increase in H/9. So if he can bring that down, he should become even more effective. And I think we can’t discount the possibility that the Cardinals’ coaching staff see something in Mujica they can work on to improve him.
As far as giving up Zack Cox, I think you really need to consider what we gave up. He was a first round draft pick whose stock was rapidly declining. He was a Baseball America Top-100 player the last two years. But he was #62 before the 2011 season and fell to #88 before this one. With his season at Memphis this year, where he’s posted a slash line of .254/.294/.421, he was likely to drop off the list completely next year. His numbers even tailed off after his promotion to Springfield last year.
Since he was drafted we’ve learned that he can’t play an average third base defensively, in fact, if you take his fielding percentage, he would be the worst defending qualified third baseman in the major leagues this year. He was second to last last year and the guy he beat out, Mark Reynolds, was moved to first base midway through the season because of his defense. He appeared unwilling to want to change position, despite it being assumed since he was drafted that he would have to switch to second base. Now the Cardinals have drafted Kolten Wong who looks to be in Memphis next year.
Ultimately, Cox was surpassed on the organizational depth chart. He has David Freese and Matt Carpenter ahead of him. We also drafted a couple promising third basemen in this year’s draft. If he was going to move to second base, he should have done it this year so that he had a chance to stay ahead of Wong on the organizational depth chart. Instead, Wong would have caught and passed him in the offseason. He won’t end up in the outfield with Matt Holliday signed long-term and then Jon Jay, Oscar Taveras, and Allen Craig looking for playing time out there too.
Cox may still ultimately develop into a useful major leaguer for the Marlins. But right now he appears to be like Brett Wallace, a hitter without a position. The big question too for Cox is whether he has the power bat to play a corner.
I think we were dealing with an organization that saw Cox’s value slipping and didn’t want to risk it falling much further. And in return, Mujica, though not a sexy name, should be better than he was with Miami and he give us another solid arm in a bullpen that seems to be starting to come together.
Consider for a minute where the Cardinals are if Motte and Boggs keep doing what they’ve done. Add in Fernando Salas who has held hitters to a slash line of .177/.286/.278 for a 2.78 ERA since his return from the minors. As well as a Brian Fuentes who seems, so far, to be enjoying his new role with the Cardinals. Then if Mujica comes out, we have a reliable set of pitchers in our bullpen and enough to handle consecutive days.
I think that can spell playoffs.
The side thought is now who will be optioned to make room for Mujica. I think it’ll be Trevor Rosenthal that gets the option off the 25 man roster back to the minors, which is a little disappointing considering how good Rosenthal has been (that one pitch withstanding). He was rushed to the majors well ahead of schedule, so he’ll go back for a month and return in August, most likely. However, there is an outside shot that it could be Barrett Browning seeing as we currently have three LHPs in the bullpen. On the 40 man, Mujica will replace Cox so there is no need to designate anyone for assignment.