According to baseball writer Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Cardinals have renewed interest in acquiring third baseman Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals.
It would be a move to shore up the middle of the St. Louis lineup which, until very recently, was struggling to score runs. The idea would be, Rosenthal supposes, to move hot-swinging Matt Carpenter to either second of first base.
Option one moves Kolten Wong's .196 batting average out of the lineup. Option two results in a solid infield defense, but displaces Jose Martinez, who has seven errors at first base along with his .875 OPS.
Martinez (.301/.370..493 as of Friday's loss to Atlanta) has been by far the Cardinals' most consistent hitter, so it's hard to imagine he'd be part of a midseason trade. He could, instead, be moved back to the outfield to spell either Dexter Fowler or Tommy Pham, who lost their swings months ago.
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But why Moustakas? Why now?
Moustakas was one of those presumed high-priced free agents who languished on the offseason market until the Royals decided to bring him back for $5.5 million two weeks into spring training. The contract includes a mutual option for 2019 at $15 million with a $1 million buyout.
Among their other pursuits, the Cardinals entertained the idea of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and were reportedly persistent with trade offers to Toronto for third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has spent much of the first half on the disabled list. The Cardinals showed no interest in Moustakas, at least not that we know of.
On the plus side, Moustakas shouldn't command much in return, certainly not one of the Cardinals' highly-regarded young pitchers. Such would be the price (and then some) for Baltimore third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado, who will be the hot commodity by the time general managers meet in Las Vegas for the next winter meetings.
The left-handed hitting Moustakas also would bring some balance to the Cardinals' lineup, which currently can send only Carpenter, Wong, Fowler and Greg Garcia to that side of the plate.
But does Moustakas make the Cardinals markedly better?
Carpenter hasn't been as bad defensively at third base as is widely presumed. He has just five errors in 52 starts and, among players with at least 400 innings at third base, ranks 10th in defensive runs saves at seven. That's surprisingly good.
Moustakas has committed seven errors with four defensive runs saved — a little better than average — in more than 500 innings.
Offensively, he's coming off a 2017 in which he posted a .272 average with career highs in both home runs (38), RBIs (85), and slugging percentage (.521). But after a red-hot April, Moustakas has been trending downward. In June he's hitting .190 with three home runs, 258 on-base percentage and an OPS of .591.
Depending on what it costs in return, bringing in Moustakas has some appeal.
Wong has shown only meager improvement, batting .232 this month, though his defense has been stellar. He's making just $4 million this year, but will be owed $30 million through 2021. A straight up trade for Moustakas doesn't seem likely.
Rosenthal postulates, however, that any deal would almost certainly be the first among other steps toward "reconfiguring their currently disjointed mix." That could mean moving Martinez, who is under club control through 2022, for a much higher return, especially to an American League club looking for a designated hitter.
Rosenthal also suggests that the Cardinals would willingly move Carlos Martinez, who frustrates them with his lack of focus and inconsistent performance. Considering the injuries to the rotation (Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and another lost season for Alex Reyes), plus the added strain of covering for a disappointing bullpen, that doesn't seem wise.
Perhaps a deal could also be a vehicle for moving Fowler along with cash to cover part of his remaining three years under contract?
All of this, of course, is speculation. There is still more than a month remaining before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. That's plenty of time for a hot streak or another injury to influence the Cardinals' point of view.
So stay tuned.