When the Cardinals aren’t clearly the best team in baseball, the BFiB quickly regress into a petulant child resolutely demanding the return of a favorite toy they’ve accidentally tossed through a second story window. Much like that child can only focus on the assured destruction of that toy due to the incomprehensibility of object constancy, the BFiB hive mind narrows the possibilities with predictable haste. The only solutions are to trade for a superstar, promote a small sample size All-Star from the minors, or designate someone (anyone) for assignment.
Lately, the focus has turned to shortstop Aledmys Diaz who has struggled in pretty much all phases of the game this year. Because the Cardinals obviously have the talent to dominate the division and storm into the playoffs, every under-performing player may be sacrificed to the baseball gods for instant gratification. That’s how it works, right? No need to wait on Diaz when Elvis Andrus or Andrelton Simmons can be had.
The cost of upgrading from an average player to an above average player is typically high, whether accomplished via trade or free agent signing. The relative cost of going from above average to great? Prohibitively expensive. Even if the Angels were willing to move Simmons, consider what it cost them to obtain him in the first place. They gave up Erick Aybar who was coming off of a 2.3 bWAR season, cash considerations, and one of their top pitching prospects in Sean Newcomb. Newcomb is just 4 games into his big league career, but he appears to be the middle-of-the-rotation guy or better that he’s been projected to be for years.
Simmons has turned himself into a league average hitter while still playing defense at the highest level. He’s owed just $39M for 2018-2020 with no opt-out clause. Oh, he’s also still just 27. The Angels are one game out of the wild card. Even if the Angels could be enticed, it would most certainly cost some big league talent, because they are in it right now and have Trout’s return looming. The Angels paid a lot for Simmons, and his stock is on the rise. Forget Simba v2.
If you buy into the idea that Andrus is growing into his power (I do), then he looks like a 4+ bWAR guy for several years to come. The primary problem is that he may just represent a 1 1/2 year rental, because he can opt out of an extremely team friendly contract after 2018. He has an opt-out for 2019, but he won’t make it that far. At anything close to his current level, he’ll likely get an extension or free agent deal for twice his current deal’s AAV, and he’ll get locked into a longer term that carries him beyond his age 34 season that is covered in his current deal. Also, the Rangers are just 2 games out of the wild card, so they appear to be less likely to sell than most right now.
Both players represent short term upgrades over Diaz, and perhaps they represent long term upgrades as well. They both represent much more significant investments which should consequently change the calculus involved in evaluating the value of such upgrades. Do you take Andrus for 1 1/2 seasons or Simmons for 3 1/2 over Diaz who is under team control through 2021? Probably on Andrus and definitely on Simmons. Do you do so when you consider the salary implications and talent required to obtain either?
I would hope not. Since the beginning of 2016, Diaz ranks 16th in fWAR among shortstops with 500 innings or more at the position. Perhaps more importantly, he ranks 8th in wRC+ at 111 over that time. Granted, most of that comes from his incredibly successful 2016 campaign, but consider two not unreasonable possibilities. Maybe 2016 represents his ceiling, and maybe 2017 represents the floor. That puts his true talent level somewhere in the middle, and that would make him an above average hitter at SS with an average glove. He’s also just 26 and still has some room to develop as well.
If he washes out, then they can always go out and vastly overpay for a SS later.
BOLD PREDICTION: Diaz returns with slightly better zone discipline on pitches low and away, and he’ll win back the starting job by August.
LESS BOLD PREDICTION: DeJong regresses in the next couple of weeks, and Diaz won’t have to really win back anything.