We have no idea if or what a 2020 season would look like, but let’s look down the road a bit. MLB Trade Rumors is doing an expansion draft project set after the coming season because, hey, we’ve all got plenty of time and not a lot of content. They solicited opinions about who should be kept and, for reference, here’s the post relating to the Cardinals.
Their approach makes sense, including removing the free agents and protecting those with no-trade clauses. However, that also leaves for a pretty small bit of decision making, because that protected 11 players out of a maximum of 15. In case you didn’t click through, they were starting with, in alphabetical order, Dylan Carlson (assuming that he’ll make his debut and be on the 40-man sometime in 2020), Matt Carpenter (no-trade clause), Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, Dexter Fowler (NT), Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Paul Goldschmidt (NT), Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, and Kolten Wong (assuming the Cards pick up his 2021 option).
Hard to argue with any of that, especially since you have to figure no-trade clauses work as insurance, because you can’t send said player to another team without his consent. (Otherwise, there’d be no doubt the Cards would put Fowler and, perhaps, Carpenter out there to see if someone would take those contracts.) With Wong, you wonder if they could game the system a bit by agreeing to sign him to a new deal after the expansion draft if they didn’t pick up the option and got another spot to protect someone, but that’s probably a lot of risk for not much reward. So let’s assume we only have those four spots.
Who else are you keeping? I’d think Andrew Knizner has to be one of them. For one, you don’t give up a catching prospect for nothing and two, if you don’t resign Yadier Molina (and this exercise assumes they don’t sign him to an extension, which given how much of a pay cut he’ll need to take, the rules wouldn’t let you), you are definitely going to need a catcher. As much angst as Carlos Martinez has given the fan base, his contract is still not a burden and, again, letting a potential ace go with nothing to show for it is crazy talk.
That leaves two spots. Jordan Hicks would be (in this scenario) healthy and would easily be snapped up by an expansion team. I think you probably keep him. That last spot is a doozy, though. Do you keep Tyler O’Neill? That’d probably depend on how he looks in 2020 with more full-time play. If O’Neill doesn’t look great, maybe you go with Lane Thomas. Or do you want to protect one of the young arms of Ryan Helsley or Genesis Cabrera?
As it is right now, boy, I think I’d keep Helsley and see which of those guys you lose. In an expansion draft, usually after a team loses a player, it can protect X amount more and if you lose O’Neill, you could then protect Thomas and Cabrera before another loss.
That means leaving guys like Harrison Bader, John Brebbia, and possibly most notably Alex Reyes available for selection as well. As much as you’d hate to see Reyes go, it’s hard to see them keeping him over anyone for that last spot, isn’t it?
But let’s change the parameters a little bit. Let’s say this happens not after 2020, but after 2021. That’s a bit more interesting, isn’t it? Carpenter’s option doesn’t vest (at least not with the 2020 we’re going to see) and Fowler’s contract would be up as well. Even if Yadi did sign an extension, it might be up. Or it could have been that two year deal–would you protect Yadi then and hope an expansion team wouldn’t take a guy with instant name recognition? Or do you protect him knowing he’s probably, at most, giving you one more year of value?
Carlos Martinez would be getting into his option (and more expensive) years. If he’s struggled much in ’20 or ’21, would you see if someone would take on that $17.5 million? Or do you not exercise it and it’s a moot point? Or do you recognize the talent and keep him on there no matter, reasoning that $17.5 million isn’t that bad? (Of course, it’s not bad before a global pandemic. We’ll see what it looks like in the post-COVID market.)
Probably Nolan Gorman gets on that protected list by then as well as Zach Thompson and Matthew Liberatore. Let’s remove Carp and Fowler and say they go year-to-year with Yadi so they don’t have to protect him. You’d drop Helsley for one of these three and be set, right? Unless Ivan Herrera is knocking on the door, meaning Knizner might be moved or could be withering on the vine. Herrera could take Knizner’s place if he’s traded, but I don’t think either would actually be in the draft. And I guess Wong could be a free agent by then, but I think they’ll probably extend him at some point.
So what would your expansion protection look like?