Let me preface all of this by saying: I have seen nothing to link the St. Louis Cardinals to free agent Josh Bell.
In fact, in Derrick Goold’s most recent chat on STLToday he said this in response to a fan asking about Bell:
Have not heard him come up in connection to the Cardinals outside of the usual they’ll check in, yadda, yadda, yadda. That could be a hole in my reporting, that could be that he’s not as versatile in the field as they want to first try to find. That is part of this. Mozeliak mentioned that he liked how Arenado and Goldschmidt got a break, and that sure Donovan is a part of that and can move around a bunch, but finding a DH who could play a position would be helpful.
But alas, I think he is worth discussing.
The Cardinals have stated their desire for:
- Lineup protection for Goldschmidt/Arenado (middle order-type hitter)
- Lefthanded hitter with power to balance with RH power hitters.
If you go looking for players that fit this description, the list is short. This is especially true if you are looking for bankable production.
There are several interesting guys that could potentially fill this need, such as Michael Conforto, Joey Gallo, Matt Carpenter, possibly Cody Bellinger. Someone like Austin Meadows could be targeted in a trade. Matt Carpenter made a stunning comeback, but his home/road splits give me pause. And it would be a disaster if the Cardinals were to bring him back and have it not go well. Bellinger, if not retained by the Dodgers, was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Michael Conforto hasn’t played since 2021. Joey Gallo is an extreme three-true-outcome hitter coming off a really bad season by his standards. Meadows hit 0 HRs in 145 PA’s and had a myriad of injuries/illnesses derail his season. This is the “hope for a bounceback” department.
There are other lefthanded hitters like Brandon Nimmo, Michael Brantley, and Andrew Benintendi — of which none are middle order bats. These guys might solve the leadoff hitter issue, but at what cost? Nimmo will likely get a very substantial contract. How much better are Brantley and Benintendi than Nootbaar, Carlson, Burleson, etc? Probably not enough to warrant the price.
All of these guys are interesting, but none of them are sure things.
Enter Josh Bell into my field of vision.
Disclaimer: If it seems, at any point, like I’m pounding the table for the Cardinals to sign him, I’m not. It just seems that — when pragmatically looking over the market — his age/price/production intersect really well with the Cardinals wants/needs/spending habits.
Josh Bell is not a superstar player, but he is a good hitter.
For his career, he has a slash line of .262/.351/.459 with strong BB% and K% — 11.9% and 18.1%, respectively. His career wRC+ is 116. He has averaged 23 HR’s per 600 plate appearances.
He has been a consistent, above average hitter. His .810 career OPS along with the good walk rate and low strikeout rate would make him an ideal player to follow Arenado in the middle of the lineup. He fits need #1 — the lineup protection.
As a switch hitter, he also fits needs #2 — a left-handed bat with power. Now, the Cardinals have a couple switch hitters in Carlson and Edman. We have seen these two players crush LH pitching while batting RH, but struggling vs RH pitching while batting left handed. The Cardinals certainly do not need another hitter like that.
Bell isn’t that kind of switch hitter.
Over the last 2 seasons, here are Bell’s splits:
VS LHP – .262/.362/.464, 13.8% BB%, 14% K%, 126 wRC+
VS RHP – .265/.351/.440, 11.2% BB%, 18% K%, 118 wRC+
Yes he has been better as a RH hitter (vs LHP) but is not a dramatic difference. He is very close to being the same hitter regardless of handedness.
For a point of reference, his .791 OPS vs RHP from 2021-22 would have ranked 3rd on the 2022 Cardinals, behind Goldy and Arenado. That’s a substantial addition to a lineup that has struggled against RH pitching.
Bell has the profile that the Cardinals are looking for, and is one of very few free agents with a high floor. Most, as mentioned before, would be gambles.
Reliably productive hitter? Give me as many as you can find, I say.
He is only 30 years old and not turning 31 until August. Age is not an issue.
Fangraphs estimates him getting a contract of 3 years / $39M, or $13M AAV. Spotrac has his market value at 4 years / $55M, or roughly $13.8M AAV. These numbers are reasonable in both length and annual salary for a consistent producer that can hit in the middle of the order. I will say, he’s so unique in this market that those price estimates could be far too low. But that’s all I have to go on, so…
But as I said earlier. His production/age/price seem to land within the Cardinals scope.
Now, the item that has to be address is his position. As Goold stated in the chat, Mozeliak would like a DH that can play elsewhere so that they can rotate other regulars — namely Goldschmidt and Arenado — into the DH spot to get them off their feet and keep them healthy.
Bell is a 1B. Obviously, this is no obstruction for getting Goldy time at DH. But to keep he and Arenado in the lineup while Arenado takes a turn at DH would require more creativity. Bell has some experience in the outfield, though not much. In 2021, for Washington, he played in 10 games in the OF, starting 6. He started 14 games in the OF for Pittsburgh in 2016. If you can trust him to start 10-15 games in left-field, that would hopefully be all you need to keep Arenado fresh. Am I stretching his capabilities? Maybe. But this is not a Matt Adams situation. Bell has at least done this before.
Still the Cardinals may be looking for more versatility than that. I’m not so sure that player exists, or is available at the moment. I certainly don’t see that player in free agency. Maybe they circle back to Bell when they realize that the exact player they seek isn’t there, ad so they compromise versatility for production. That is what Goold alluded to in the middle of the blurb.
To round this out — just for kicks — here’s a potential mid-May lineup:
This offseason, it is most likely the Cardinals either trade for a catcher and sign a hitter, or trade for a hitter and sign a catcher (such as Contreras or Vasquez). The better all-around catchers are those available in trade, such as Sean Murphy, Alejandro Kirk, or Danny Jansen. I can’t predict trades, so I’ll come at this from a different angle. Theorectically, the Cardinals could sign Bell for around $13M and Vasquez for $7-8M and come in around the estimated $20M spending budget that I’ve seen thrown around. So, let’s do that.
1 Carlson (vs L) / Nootbaar (vs R) – CF
2 O’Neill LF
3 Goldschmidt 1B
4 Arenado 3B
5 Bell DH
6 Walker RF
7 Gorman/Donovan 2B
8 Vasquez C
9 Edman SS
But again — and I can’t stress this enough — I have no idea what I’m talking about. For goodness sake, I just spent 1000 words talking about a player that the principal beat writer in St. Louis dismissed as not being on the radar. So take this all with a grain of salt.
Thanks for reading.
Stats from Fangraphs.