The Cardinals outfield has been a messy place in recent years. There are a lot of names, but not a lot of production. We don’t need to rehash it.
As it stands, Dylan Carlson, Dexter Fowler, and Harrison Bader would project as the starting 3. Behind them are O’Neill, Thomas, and Dean. Frankly, I’m still high on O’Neill but am not as dug in on him as I was a year ago. The Cardinals could improve the lineup quite a bit by adding a bat that pushes Bader into a 4th OF roll and/or into a timeshare with Fowler. Luckily left-handed hitting outfielders is the place where team need and market availability intersect. They have options if they want to explore them.
Notable names on the market are: George Springer, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber, David Dahl, Robbie Grossman, and Jurickson Profar. Of these, all but Springer are LH or switch hitters. Springer will be too costly, period. Brantley is easily the best fit as an all-around player, if they were willing to pay a mid-tier salary for him. The negative with him is that will be entering his age 34 season and post-prime contracts haven’t been kind to the Cardinals lately.
I could honestly go through and make a case for everyone, but I want to focus on a guy that has gotten a lot of attention over the last few days, Eddie Rosario.
Going to Market
Reportedly, the Twins attempted to trade Rosario and found no takers. They then placed him on outright waivers, which would have allowed the claiming team to have him for nothing — other than the obligation to pay him an arbitration determined salary.
He went unclaimed. That potential salary was the hang-up.
Estimates put Rosario’s arbitration salary around $9.5M. What the Twins proved is that not a single team was willing to pay that price for Rosario next season, all deciding that he could be had for less on the open market, if they wanted to pursue him.
The Twins then non-tendered him, making him a free agent.
Cutting Through The Hype
From the minute the news broke that the Twins had placed Rosario on waivers, there was hype around him from Cardinals fans and media, alike. The surface level fit made sense; a left-handed hitting outfielder with power who cannot demand a high salary. If his salary falls somewhere in the area of $7M, then I think he is right at the level the Cardinals would be willing to pay. And, at 29 years old, age is not an issue.
So I looked over his numbers and thought…meh. He’s a nice player, but kind of at the bare minimum requirements to be a fit for the Cardinals situation. Could they do better?
But can they do it at the same price point?
That is harder to answer, so I thought I would look a closer at his numbers and see where they fall relative to the Cardinals.
If you look at Rosario’s career numbers, you see the first 2 seasons being unimpressive. Then starting with 2017, you’d see that he settles in and has been consistently the same player for 4 years now. For that reason, I’m going to work off of his 2017-20 numbers — the player who he actually is — rather than the career numbers that are altered by lackluster freshman and sophomore campaigns.
From 2017-20, Rosario has averaged:
.281 BA / .317 OBP / .493 SLG / 111 wRC+ / .339 wOBA / 16.5% K% / 5.3% BB%
He has post HR totals of 27, 24, 32, and 13*. (A rate of 16 AB/HR, which was better than his 32 HR season)
His number are legit and solid.
Theory of Relativity
While he doesn’t walk much, he also doesn’t strikeout a lot, especially not for a modern power hitter. That 16.5% K% is what jumped off the page for me, besides the 55-60 extra-base hits he posts every year.
As a power bat, Rosario’s fit in the lineup would come in the 4th or 5th spot behind Paul Goldschmidt. The idea of lineup protection can be debated, but it is no debate that the middle of the Cardinals lineup, specifically the hitters behind Goldschmidt, have struggled mightily to produce at a high level over the last few seasons.
Here is the combined line of Cardinals 4th and 5th spot hitters for 2019-20:
.242 BA / .321 OBP / .428 SLG / 99 wRC+ / .319 wOBA / 23.7% K% / 9.6% BB%
Other than a slight edge in OBP and a much higher walk rate, Rosario is been better, across the board, than the Cardinals 4/5 hitters have been during the last 2 seasons.
Now, let’s peel that back a little more.
Let’s reduce this to the players actually on the roster and viable options to be the 2021 4th or 5th hitters, or simply in the lineup. These men are: Carpenter, O’Neill, Fowler, DeJong, Carlson, Edman, and Bader. I won’t include Moline because a) he’s a free agent and b) I will not endorse him hitting 4th or 5th. Obviously Goldschmidt is being assumed as the 3 hitter in all instances.
When batting 4th or 5th over the last 2 seasons, these good folks have combined for this line:
.225 BA / .307 OBP / .392 SLG / 88 wRC+ / .302 wOBA / 29.7% K% / 9.5% BB%
Overall (in any spot in the lineup) these guys have posted:
.234 BA / .323 OBP / .405 SLG / 95 wRC+ / .314 wOBA / 25.4% K% / 10.1% BB%
Other than a nice walk rate, this cast has been pretty ugly everywhere they’ve hit, but they have been especially anemic when hitting in heart of the lineup. The 4 or 5 spots, by matter of circumstance alone, should be among the most productive in a lineup. They have not been for the Cardinals
Too often, especially in 2020, we’ve seen teams pitch around Goldschmidt and successfully attack the strikeout prone hitters behind him. There are few thing more frustrating than having multiple runners and 1 out, only to see the 4th and 5th hitters strikeout to end the threat. (CAN I GET A SAC FLY!?!?!?)
The Cardinals would be well served to place Rosario and a K% that is 9-13% better (depending on which of my number splicings you prefer) than what the in-house candidates have done the last 2 seasons. Despite the minimal number of walks, I think they would be well served with a more contact oriented player — that also has top-end power — behind Goldschmidt.
And let’s talk about doing damage and being productive where it counts.
Over the last 2 years, this is what Rosario has done with RISP:
.343 BA / .390 OBP / .546 SLG / 141 wRC+ / .382 wOBA / 11% K% / 8.9% K%
Now, granted RISP numbers can be strange. In 2017-18 he posted an 84 wRC+ and a much more pedestrian .444 SLG, along with a 19.4% K% in RISP situations.
Relating back to the in-house guys, they have combined to post a 91 wRC+, .349 SLG, and 24.3% K% in RISP situations.
Even the examples that are bad for Rosario look solid up against the Cardinals current guys. A SLG that is nearly 100 points higher is significant. That’s damage.
The in-house options have been…bad. Really bad. They are, like, ‘Pizza by Alfredo’ bad.
Yes, Eddie Rosario would be a fit for the Cardinals. That was kind of a given. But he is a little better of a fit than I first thought. Maybe it is just the product of looking at actual production vs what the Cardinals have done, but I like the fit. I like the lower strikeout rate in the middle of the lineup.
I wanted to see it Rosario is worth the buzz. Relative to what the Cardinals have, he absolutely is.
Now, the Cardinals could improve the lineup by acquiring one of a handful of free agents. They could aim higher. They also need to acquire more than one hitter. That’s a conversation for a different day. For the moment, I won’t complain if they are to set their sights on Rosario.