ST. LOUIS – Major League Baseball’s 2021 trade deadline (July 30) is still 2 months off, but it isn’t too early to start getting familiar with some of the names who could and should be on the menu for discussion. Unlike last season, when there were expanded playoffs, we’re back to only having division winners and two wild card teams qualify, so while it’s still only May, teams are going to have to come to grips with where they are in the standings sooner than later, and decide the best course of action for their franchise’s futures.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to focus on position players here.
Coming into the season, one of the biggest offensive questions facing the Cardinals was about production in the outfield. The front office cleared some hurdles to playing time in trying to figure out after several years what the team really had in its outfield.
After starting the season at the bottom of the order, Dylan Carlson has found a home in the 2 spot. Harrison Bader got a late start to the season rehabbing an arm injury but has shown strides, especially when it comes to hitting off-speed pitching, which has been an issue since his arrival in 2017. Tyler O’Neill struggled at the start of the season, striking out in half of his first 28 at-bats. He was able to reboot after a groin injury, and like Bader, was showing an ability to recognize pitches better, cutting his strikeout rate in half. But O’Neill cannot stay healthy, now recovering from a fractured finger.
Backup options like Justin Williams, Lane Thomas and Austin Dean have had good and bad moments in the field at the plate, but haven’t shown that they’re ready to step in for a string of consecutive starts if necessary, and grow the power on the bench. Who could? Here are 5 names and a wild card.
The 30-year-old right fielder for Seattle is under team control through 2022 and is arbitration-eligible after this season making just over $3 million. He’s hitting .256 with 12 home runs. The Mariners have fought through some off-season front office adversity surrounding the service time manipulation of outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic. Kelenic has now arrived, so they may want to let it ride for a while as a group before trading off pieces.
Peralta, a former Cardinals minor league pitcher turned big league left fielder, turns 34 in August and is under contract through 2022 via a 3 year, $22 million deal. Arizona is going to have a hard time keeping pace with the Padres, Dodgers and the surprising Giants. In addition to the outfield depth, Peralta would offer another left-handed bat off the bench, potentially more consistent than what Matt Carpenter has been able to provide.
Frazier turns 30 in December and is under team control through next year. He’ll be arbitration-eligible after his season. In 6 seasons, Frazier has spent most of his time at second base but has played all three outfield positions. He could spend time in left, spelling O’Neill, or at second, freeing up Edman to either take an outfield shift or to relieve Paul DeJong, depending on how the shortstop’s at-bats are playing out. Yes, you always think twice about trading inside your division. But the Pirates are perennially rebuilding, and Frazier’s combination of skills, his age and contract situation could make it a relatively easy ask on the Cardinals’ part.
We mentioned Gallo in these parts last offseason as a possible trade target. Just 27 years old, Gallo would bring the most pop to the party, with 100 career homers entering 2021. The left fielder is arbitration-eligible after this season and will be a free agent after 2022. The Rangers are in last place in the AL West. They’re playing in a new stadium in just its second season. Gallo should be the kind of player they want to build around. So why does he keep on popping up in trade talks annually?
The Angels are neck and neck with Texas for the basement in the AL West. Mike Trout is out for an extended time with a calf tear. The Angels have one of the most amazing stories in all of baseball in pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani but little else. Ironically, the Cardinals traded Dexter Fowler to the Angels, paying him to play there, to clear the way for younger outfielders here. Then Fowler was lost for the season with a knee injury. The Angels still have Justin Upton. He turns 34 in August but is still a reliable power source (8 HR), although his average is near .200. The biggest obstacle is that he’s due $28 million in 2022.
We’re including Cruz in this mix because of his bat, not because he could be a factor in the field. Cruz, who turns 41 in July, has been a DH almost exclusively in recent years, with the last year he played more than 5 games in the outfield coming in 2016. He re-signed with the Twins for $13 million in 2021, waiting until it was evident that the National League wasn’t going to have a Designated Hitter this season. He’s got 10 home runs and 24 RBI on the young season, but the Twins are in last place in the AL Central. You’d be getting Cruz to be your DH for as many as 7 Interleague games in American League parks and then as many pinch-hitting appearances as you can fit in the rest of the way. He would fill the role some Cardinal fans envisioned had Albert Pujols signed with St. Louis, but more expensively, since the team would be on the hook for a pro-rated share of the rest of Cruz’s $13 million as opposed to what is basically the Major League minimum for Pujols at $570,000. Cruz appears to have more power left in the tank, and this could be a first step toward securing him for 2022, when the DH is expected to become universal. The question a National League team has to decide is WHEN it makes sense to carry him on the roster.
As always, you need two parties willing to deal. Who wants what is always the rub, isn’t it?