Should the St. Louis Cardinals make a trade for Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock?
Postseason baseball continues on, but the St. Louis Cardinals are already looking ahead in preparation for the 2017 season after missing the playoffs. So, why not talk some hot stove and potential trade targets?
Here’s a name — A.J. Pollock. See how I just threw that out there? Boy, how easy is it for fans and writers to simply throw names and trade scenarios out there?
It’s all we can do at this point in the off-season and until winter meetings start and there is actual facts and reports to be made, it’s always fun to speculate and dream about what moves Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak might make or those we hope he might make. Heck, the dreaming is often more enjoyable than what the Cardinals GM actually does in reality, and that’s the fun of it. So, off we go.
Why trade for Arizona Diamondbacks’ center fielder A.J. Pollock?
Well, for starters he fits what Mozeliak is looking to do this off-season and then some. It’s been well reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Mozeliak intends to search for an upgrade defensively in center field this offseason:
"“What can we do to upgrade in center vs. keeping Grichuk there?” Mozeliak said when asked to name the offseason’s biggest domino. “And if we don’t find a good solution, we keep Grichuk there and put someone else in left field. For us, it will be exploring what the trade and free-agent market looks like before we make that determination.”"
I believe this is a great idea. Randal Grichuk certainly had his defensive woes in center field last season, but Grichuk has won a gold glove in center field in the minors before and isn’t terrible at the position. If the Cardinals were to acquire an exceptional center fielder, moving Grichuk to left field would give them an above average defender at all three outfield positions.
If you haven’t heard of Pollock, then you likely didn’t follow baseball much in 2015. Pollock had a breakout, All-Star season in 2015. Here are the numbers:
Those are impressive numbers that yielded a 6.5 fWAR. Dare I say, Mike Trout-lite stats. And we haven’t even gotten to Pollock’s defense yet.
In 2016, Cardinal center fielders accumulated a -6.2 Ultimate Zone Rating. If you don’t know much about UZR, then check out FanGraphs full explanation of the stat here. Essentially, UZR puts a run value to defense and helps us quantify the effectiveness of a fielder. All you really need to know is that negative numbers are very bad and positive numbers are good.
The Cardinals -6.2 UZR for center fielders last season ranked 7th lowest in all of baseball and was the 4th lowest in the National League. In case you were wondering, the Pittsburgh Pirates posted the worst center field UZR last season with -21.2, which is unfathomable. So, at least the Cardinals weren’t quite that bad.
Enter A.J. Pollock. Why should the Cardinals covet the 28-year old? Besides the fact that he can hit for power, average, get on base and steal a ton of bases, Pollock’s defense is great.
In 2015, Pollock posted a 6.5 UZR with 14 defensive runs saved proving that he can be the total package. Pollock could be what Cardinals fans (probably unrealistically) longed for Jason Heyward to be — a significant threat both in the field and at the plate.
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There is just one problem — Pollock is incredibly injury-prone. The Diamondbacks center fielder missed almost all of the 2016 season after fracturing his elbow on a head first slide during spring training. Pollock wrote about his surgery and how the rehab process was going back in August for ESPN. His write-up is encouraging, but at time’s it seems as if his elbow is made of glass. To his credit, Pollock did attempt to come back at the end of this season playing 12 games before, you guessed it, another injury. This time a groin issue sidelined the center fielder for good. Hey, at least it wasn’t his elbow again.
Not to mention, in 2014 Pollock played in only 75 games after being hit by a pitch from Johnny Cueto that fractured his hand and required surgery. The 2014 injury, of course, was more a bit of bad luck than anything. But the elbow issues are concerning.
If Mozeliak were going to trade for Pollock this off-season, his injury history would certainly be seriously considered as a reason not to do it. The Diamondbacks will likely want a big package for Pollock even after he missed virtually all of 2016 with the elbow injury.
What’s worse, Pollock is only under contract until 2017 and becomes arbitration-eligible after next season. So, if the Cardinals pulled the trigger on a trade they would likely have to hope to sign the center fielder to a long term deal relatively soon as he will become a free agent in 2018. We saw how that played out with Heyward last winter.
This Cardinals franchise is rich in history with a great fan base and most players love playing in St. Louis, but that is by no means a guarantee that a player traded will stay in the Gateway City.
Pollock turns 29 this December. He is still in his prime and has shown that he can be a MVP-caliber player when healthy. But that is the big “if” that Mozeliak will have to consider.
A healthy Pollock joining the Cardinals is exciting at first thought but, if this move is made and Pollock continues to experience an injury-riddled career in his time in St. Louis, it could be one of the worst trades Mozeliak has ever made. These things can go both ways, though. Pollock could very well have a fantastic career wearing the Birds on the Bat, too.
All told, I don’t see Mozeliak making this trade and don’t believe that he should. Pollock’s injury history is simply too hard to ignore and shipping prospects and Major League-ready talent for a guy who has had one fully healthy season in his 5-year career would not be a wise decision.
Whatever Mozeliak decides this offseason, the time to make a big splash is now if this Cardinals team is going to be able to keep up with their rival Chicago Cubs in years to come. Thanks for reading.