As the 2015 MLB offseason begins to heat up, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals could find themselves as potential trade partners.
By Gregg Cambareri
The next few weeks should be a lot of fun. The MLB winter meetings kickoff next week in Nashville, so expect major free agent signings to be announced, trade talks to heat up, and the rumor mill to be as active as ever.
Mets fans have been patiently waiting for Sandy Alderson and company to make their first significant move off the offseason. While they have been connected to names like Zobrist, Parra, Fowler, O’day, Soria, and others, (close to what feels like a million times already), no dominoes have fallen yet. That is, at least on the positional player/bullpen side of free agency. The pitching market is about explode after David Price’s historic signing with Boston earlier on Tuesday.
SEE ALSO: David Price’s contract is a major risk.
Sure, the Mets could sign one of the names mentioned above, but they could also explore the trade market. We have seen countless speculations proposing their young arms in exchange for impact bats (primarily with the Chicago Cubs). One team not often mentioned in association trading with the Mets? The Cubs arch-nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yes, you read that correctly. Why St. Louis? The Cardinals last year ranked in the top ten in most major statistical categories for pitchers. So why would they have interest in acquiring another arm? Well, John Lackey is likely to depart in free agency, Lance Lynn will miss all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Carlos Martinez is recovering from shoulder surgery. Yikes.
The Cardinals already have $102 million committed to next year’s payroll (not counting arbitration eligible players). They play in a fairly small market, but usually maintain a payroll in the top half of the league. Last year’s opening day $132 million was 11th in baseball, impressive for the market in which they play. They are in the process of acquiring a new TV deal which should add significant revenue, so they figure to be major players in this year’s free agent market. However, resigning outfielder Jason Hayward and adding a first baseman are high on their list of priorities. They could spend on a mid tier free agent pitcher like Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, etc., but will have to decide which position makes the most sense to upgrade.
How do the Mets factor in this equation? Well, we all know they have several young, cost controllable, high ceiling arms, that would be of interest to almost any team. The Cardinals on the other hand, have a surplus of outfielders that could make sense for the Mets.
If I’m the Mets, I’m going to strongly consider a potential Zack Wheeler or Steven Matz trade to St. Louis for outfielder Randal Grichuk. I know, no one wants to part with any of the young aces, and all for good reason. However, you have to consider the kind of player Grichuk is. Last season, he played in 103 games, which isn’t the greatest sample size in the world, but the former first round pick did not disappoint. He slashed .276, slugged .548, and posted an OPS of .877. He homered 17 times, drove in 47 runs, and recorded a 3.2 WAR. Not bad for 103 games.
Grichuk is also only 24 years old and isn’t even eligible for arbitration until 2018. More importantly, he played 42 games in center field last year, grading out as a solid defender. The Mets could platoon him with Juan Lagares, be it unlikely considering they’re both right handed. The Mets could also trade Lagares, whose still young enough (26), is just entering a friendly 4 years/$23 million dollar extension, and getting healthy after a disappointing and injury hampered 2015. Lagares is only one year removed from an impressive 5.5 WAR in 2014, so he should receive plenty of interest if the Mets were to go that route and make Grichuk the full time centerfielder. Parting with Wheeler or Matz would be tough, but returning a player of Grichik’s quality is too intriguing not to consider.
The Mets could engage St. Louis in a trade for outfielder Tommy Pham. While he doesn’t have the upside that Grichuk does, he could be an excellent platoon partner for Lagares. He is right handed, but the Mets could use him regardless. Two right handed hitting center fielders who could compete with each other for one spot is not necessarily a bad problem to have.
Pham is already 27, but isn’t arbitration eligible until 2018, so he fits the Mets budget savvy approach. He played in only 53 games last year, but posted an impressive .268/.347/.477/.824 slash line. He can handle all 3 outfield positions, and grades out positively as a defender.
It’s tough to say who the Mets would trade to acquire a player like Pham. My guess is that a package involving Jon Niese and sending cash to offset some of his 2016 salary garners some interest. Either team could also balance out the deal with prospects if they felt it necessary. This trade doesn’t have the blockbuster value that a potential Wheeler/Matz for Grichuk does, but it makes sense for both sides.
The Red Birds could just go the free agent route and bypass any trade with the Mets. However, if they choose to resign Heyward, they could be forced to trade from their outfield depth to bolster the rotation. If the opportunity presents itself, the Mets should listen.
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