Checking In on The Ones That Got Away

A major source of fan consternation this season has been the success that players the Cardinals have traded away are having for other teams. While this topic could be stretched to cover as far back as the trades of Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, the focus in 2019 always directs back to the 3 players moved at the 2018 trade dealine: Luke Voit, Oscar Mercado, and Tommy Pham.

This morning I scrolled across this tweet from FOX2’s Andy Banker (@andybankertv):

Let me first of all state that I disagree with Andy’s implication that Pham is having a bad year, he is not. He also suffered a hand injury in late July. Mostly this was food for thought which led me to take a closer look at all three of 2018’s cast-offs.

Before we start: While I may be giving my opinions, my main purpose here is to provide information.

Without dwelling on a boring introduction, let’s just jump in.

Luke Voit

Traded to New York Yankees for reliever’s Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos.

Voit has been a straight-up slugger since arriving in New York. Understandably, that frustrates Cardinals fans, because he never got a real look in St. Louis despite an extremely productive minor league career that made him deserving of a look. I get that. I also think the Yankees are doing something extremely right in their offensive strategy. Voit immediately became a bona fide slugger, DJ LaMahieu has 18 HRs this year after reaching double-digits just twice in a 7 year career at Coors Field, and guys like Gio Urshela are setting the world on fire.

Voit went down with injury at the end of July and there aren’t too many holes in his numbers. The biggest issue was his 23.3% K% of Apr/May jumping to 33.3% in June/July. But he continued to walk and hit despite that spike.

The thing to look at with Voit is the return in the trade. Chasen Shreve was less-than-impressive in in his 2 months with the team in 2018 and he would end up being designated for assignment twice in 2019, pitching in just 3 major league games. This trade seemed pretty one-sided for a long time.

But that was before the Cardinals finally gave Giovanny Gallegos a chance. Gallegos has been a stud, posting a 1.96 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 2.50 SIERA, 37.3% K%, and 5.4% BB% in 55 innings pitched.

He got a very short look in spring training and didn’t join the big league team until April 11th, approximately 2 weeks into the year. Voit hit the IL about 2 weeks ago, meaning both players have spent roughly the same amount of time in the big leagues this season.

Voit, as an everyday 1B/DH, has a 1.6 fWAR.

Gallegos, mostly as a middle reliever, has a 1.5 fWAR.

So while the trade was very one-sided for the final months of 2018, it’s basically even — from a value standpoint.

Gallegos is no fluke, and I believe that he has eased — along with Paul Goldschmidt starting to resemble himself — the consternation over losing Voit. I see less angst over this trade than I did early on this season.

Oscar Mercado

Traded to Cleveland Indians for minor league OFs Jhon Torres and Conner Capel.

Mercado was traded because the Cardinals were trying to turn redundancies at higher levels into potential at the lower levels. The Cardinals have been bad about hanging onto prospects too long and allowing their value to crater. This was a rare case of the Cardinals actually moving a prospect at the right time. The question revolves around whether he was the right prospect to trade.

Part of the fan issue with the Mercado deal is that they have yet to see anything from the return. The other part is Mercado playing well with Cleveland while the Cardinals outfield struggled.

I don’t think anyone should lose sleep over Mercado.

After a solid start to his big league career — 118 wRC+, .837 OPS, .355 wOBA in his first 167 plate appearance.

Looked good.

In his last 148 plate appearances he has: 67 wRC+, .662 OPS, and .279 wOBA.

This isn’t an outlandish regression for a rookie, but it furthers the point that he isn’t playing like a stud.

The profile of Mercado is a player with speed, a touch of power, and the ability to play a good CF (or any OF position).

That is the basic profile of: Harrison Bader (more strikeouts, less contact), Lane Thomas (more power), and Randy Arozarena (pretty much the same offensive profile).

This is why Mercado got moved in the first place, because the Cardinals had 4 similar, right-handed hitting OFs.

While Mercado’s May/June numbers would have looked nice in St. Louis, those numbers could have just as easily come from Thomas or Arozarena — neither of which was getting big league at-bats. So its moot.

Seeing what Mercado has done for the last 6-7 weeks, this trade doesn’t upset me at all. Going forward, Thomas or Randy — maybe even Bader — have a good chance to be as good or better than Mercado.

The issue has always been the Cardinals giving Thomas and Randy a chance to prove it.

Tommy Pham

Traded to Tampa Bay Rays for LHP Genesis Cabrera, OF Justin Williams and RHP Roel Ramirez.

So I’ve finally circled back to Pham, the subject of the Andy Banker tweet that started this post.

I would have no issue with having Tommy back on this team. However, as Andy points out, his last 2 1/2 months haven’t been as impressive. As noted earlier, he did suffer a hand injury at the end of July.

His overall season numbers are still good — .266/.365/.440, 118 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR, and a strikeout rate under 20% (19.2) for the first time in his career.

However this is how his season splits up:

Mar/April/May: 244 PA’s, .300/.414/.483, 142 wRC+, .381 wOBA, 17.6% K%, 15.6% BB%

June/July/Aug: 241 PA’s, .233/.315/.400, 93 wRC+, .308 wOBA, 20.7% K%, 10% BB%

For reference, the following Cardinals — with at least 80 PA’s — have a higher wRC+ since June 1st:

Marcell Ozuna – 121
Paul Goldschmidt – 109
Kolten Wong – 109
Tyler O’Neill – 104
Dexter Fowler – 97

Incredibly, Fowler has been a slightly better hitter over the last 2 1/2 months.

Now, before I get derailed, this does not mean that the last 2 months of Pham are what he is going forward. But they do underscore that he is still capable of long cold-spells. He is also capable of MVP-level hot streaks that very few Cardinals hitters would have the ability to match.

Like I said, I wouldn’t mind having Pham on this Cardinals team.

The bigger issue was moving Pham when his value was at it’s absolute lowest and getting an underwhelming return.

Genesis Cabrera has raw stuff, but we saw first-hand that he hasn’t put it all together. It remains to be seen if he will. Justin Williams had promise in the Rays system, struggled to finish the year at Memphis, broke his hand while punching a TV in the offseason, and then struggled at AA upon returning. The brightside is that Williams has raked in 45 PA’s upon returning to AAA, sporting a .405/.511/.622 line. That will regress, but we’ll see if the talent finally clicks. Roel Ramirez was a depth arm.

So all-in-all, the return hasn’t been great, so far, and that’s adds to the frustration of Pham producing in Tampa.

Wrap-Up

Earlier this season, all three of these trades could be classified as losses or mistakes. However, through player ascension (Gallegos) and player regression (Mercado/Pham) they don’t look as awful today.

Now, we won’t be able to make a final verdict on any of these moves for 2-3 years, honestly. We have to allow the traded players to show their new norm, and we have to allow the returns to fully flesh out.

Of the three, the Pham deal still holds the most potential to look bad 2-3 years down the road — a lot hinges on one of Cabrera or Williams turning into a legitimate major league player — but I don’t think the Voit or Mercado trades will be long-term losses.

But that is just my take. Look over the numbers for yourself, assess the performances, and form your own opinion.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks to Fangraphs for the numbers.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cardinals9171.562 -
Brewers8973.5492.0
Cubs8478.5197.0
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Pirates6993.42622.0

Last updated: 09/30/2019

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