The Cardinals have been pretty big players in the market this winter – both in setting the market and in responding to it. The key moves have been signing free agents Brett Cecil and Dexter Fowler along with trading away Jaime Garcia.
By signing Cecil to the deal they did – 4 years, $30.5M – they set the market for relievers. Cecil, a solid reliever, is getting a little more than $7M per season; that means the more high leverage guys will get twice that. And that’s pretty much how it’s been. The Giants set a short-term record for a contract to a reliever by giving Mark Melancon 4 years and $62M (or an average annual value of $15.5M). That deal was beat by the Yankees when they signed Aroldis Chapman for 5 years and $86M (AAV of $17.2M).
Back to Cecil, I think it’s an OK deal. They probably paid more than most fans would like, but he’s been worth about $7.5M per season according to Fangraphs. Lefty relief was an area of weakness coming into the off-season and the team addressed it.
The Garcia move came next, and the Cardinals might have been a little premature in making it. They received minor leaguers John Gant, Chris Ellis, and Luke Dykstra. None are elite prospects and more depth pieces. Since the flurry of moves at the Winter Meetings, I’ve wondered if the Cards jumped the gun. Could the Cardinals gotten a better deal? Possibly, but I don’t expect it would have been much better. The minor leaguers they’ve got will slot in at the back of the system rankings; MLB ranks Ellis at 24 and Gant at 27.
Garcia was a polarizing figure with the Cardinals. He showed flashes of brilliance with a lot of frustration mixed in. It appeared he was set to rejoin the rotation for 2017 before this deal with the Braves came to be. It’s the best thing for him and the team to part ways.
Rounding out the deals is the most recent; Dexter Fowler signed with the team for 4 years and $82.5M. He also received a no trade clause. Fowler wasn’t my ideal choice; I was in the Adam Eaton camp. The biggest issue I didn’t like about signing Fowler was the loss of the first round draft pick and that bonus pool money. After the trade market went crazy and the Nationals gave up 3 of their top 10 prospects (including the best pitching prospect in the game), it was obvious a trade wouldn’t happen for the Cardinals that didn’t involve Alex Reyes. The Eaton deal pretty much drove up the prices of Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, and A.J. Pollack (if he’s even available).
Fowler gives the Cardinals a lot of value. You now have a switch hitter that gets on base out of the leadoff spot. Matt Carpenter was a good leadoff hitter, but he’s better suited for the middle of the lineup. Having Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, and Carpenter at the top of the lineup is a pretty good way to start a game.
Defensively, he’ll push Randal Grichuk over to left field and, overall, improve the outfield defense. Grichuk rated as a great defender, and Fowler might not be better; Grichuk did struggle with his routes to the ball and that will be less of an issue in left.
As for former Cardinals, the only deal of note has been Matt Holliday signing with the Yankees (1 year, $13M); he’ll see some time in the outfield and at first, but he’ll primarily be a designated hitter. It’ll be interesting to see how long he can hold on without playing in the field every day.
Last note, the Cardinal took a chance by not protecting infield prospect Allen Cordoba prior to the Rule V draft; he’s never played above short season ball and would be a long shot to make a 25-man roster. That didn’t stop the Padres from taking him with the third pick. Baseball America said Cordoba was the most talented player selected in the draft, but also the least likely to stick with a team.
When a player is selected in the Rule V draft, they have to spend the entire season on the 25-man roster, or they have to be returned to their original team. If Cordoba doesn’t stick with the Padres, the Cardinals can get him back. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.