When the St. Louis Cardinals finally made a long-anticipated trade with the Miami Marlins a few weeks ago, they landed Marcell Ozuna.
But, after Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the New York Yankees, it was reportedly Christian Yelich who the Cardinals coveted as Plan B in the South Florida fire sale. At the time, it was believed that Yelich was unavailable in trade. He’s owed about $45 million through 2021, making the fine all-around player extremely affordable by major league baseball standards. Yelich was supposed to be a building block for Derek Jeter’s vision of the Fish.
So might the picky Redbirds, who have been unable to find a deal for a second middle of the order hitter who suits them, circle back around to Miami to see if they could get the player they wanted in the first place? I’m sure the Birds would love to have Yelich’s bat. Baseball reference projects that Yelich will bat .290 in the upcoming season with a .369 on base percentage, 17 home runs and 33 doubles. His stick would fit well into the St. Louis lineup, filling the third slot in the order in front of Ozuna in the cleanup slot.
But where would Yelich fit in the field? He’d be the best defensive outfielder on the St. Louis roster. But Ozuna is already penciled in for left field, Tommy Pham is in the lineup in center and Dexter Fowler, in the second year of his five-year contract, is set for right. Cardinals fans might have a meltdown over the suggestion, but Pham would have to be the guy to go to make room. As much as Redbirds rooters have fallen in love with Pham, it might be a swap worth considering. Pham is cheap as can be after getting a late start in the majors, but is his 2017 season the new normal? Or is it a statistical fluke?
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Pham hit .306 with a .411 on base percentage and 23 homers last year. But Baseball Reference doesn’t seem entirely sold. It projects he’ll bat .278 with a .373 on base percentage and 20 homers in 2018. Those are very solid numbers. But what if that guess is optimistic and Pham, who never played more than 78 games in a major league season before last year, reverts to his pre 2017 form?
The other problem with a potential Yelich acquisition is the cost. The Cardinals gave away a couple of top prospects to get two years of control over Ozuna, flame-throwing pitcher Sandy Alcantara and speedy outfielder Mags Sierra. What would the price be for Yelich who is cheaper (on an annual basis) and under control for twice as long? Essentially, the Birds would be bidding against themselves to try to top the offer they paid for Ozuna.
It’s a shame Miami couldn’t decide if it wanted to part with Yelich when the Redbirds were shopping. He would have been an excellent fit in St. Louis a month ago. He’s still the same guy. But now St. Louis has a different roster and a different pool of prospects to deal from. While President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak claims that he’s satisfied with the state of the Cardinals pitching right now, I’m even more worried about the hurlers than the hitters.
This off-season could be redeemed with a pickup of Yelich to finalize the batting order and the signing of a couple of pitchers to add some stability to the rotation and a closer at the back of the bullpen. But with the Cardinals sitting in neutral as the month of December comes to an end, it’s hard to imagine their suddenly going to get things back into gear and make that many major moves in January.