The St. Louis Cardinals are still searching for their defensive upgrade in center field. However, many of the available players either cost too much or don’t quite fit what general manager John Mozeliak is looking for.
As the St. Louis Cardinals finish their preparations for the Winter Meetings, they still are in need of an outfielder. More specifically, general manager John Mozeliak is looking for a defensive, athletic center fielder that would improve the defense up the middle and allow Randal Grichuk to play left field.
Outfielders like Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond have been discussed and debated at nauseum. However, earlier this week, Frank Cusumano of KSDK.com and KFNS 90 discussed the outfield issue with ESPN.com’s Mark Saxon. During their discussion, Mark Saxon suggested that John Mozeliak may be in the trade market for someone that no one is expecting and someone that hasn’t been an established major leaguer quite yet.
Saxon even went on to compare such a move to Billy Beane‘s trade for Carlos Pena in 2002. Prior to being traded, Pena had only played in 22 major league games and had not seen much success despite being a very highly touted prospect. The Oakland A’s took a chance and traded for him making him their full-time first baseman without hesitation. Saxon suggested the Cardinals may do something similar.
With that idea in mind, very few names fit the type of player that isn’t quite MLB established but that is worthy of full-time duties despite the risk. Immediately, Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins came to mind.
Buxton is 22-years old and has been one of the highest rated outfield prospect in all of baseball. The Minnesota Twins have had him play major-league ball in 2015 and in 2016 but he has not seen much success. In 2015, Buxton batted .209/.250.,326 in 46 games with 129 at-bats. He also tacked on two home runs and six RBI while striking out 44 times and only managed two stolen bases.
In 2016, Buxton improved slightly. He slashed .225/.284/.430 in 92 games and 298 at-bats. His power showed a bit more as he produced 10 home runs but he still only managed 38 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
If the Minnesota Twins are growing impatient or frustrated with Byron Buxton’s progression, it wouldn’t be insane to think he could be traded. Surely he is still worth quite a bit considering his youth (22-years old) and because his contract control (1st-time arbitration eligible in 2019). However, the Twins are not in a position to compete any time soon and desperately need pitching, which happens to be the Cardinals organization’s strong suit.
Furthermore, Buxton fits that athletic, dynamic outfielder that is an upgrade defensively. In 2015, while in the majors, Buxton played 327 innings in CF and managed to post 4 defensive runs saved but a minus-2.3 ultimate zone rating. However, he improved his route running and range in CF coming into 2016 and posted a 3.9 UZR and 3 DRS while manning CF for 773.2 innings.
Buxton has elite speed, range, and defensive ability which seem to be the traits of priority when Mozeliak is looking at an outfielder this offseason. Yes, Buxton’s major league contributions have been less than stellar, however, his major league numbers do not match up to his minor league ability.
Through 5 seasons in the minor leagues, Buxton has a career slash line of .302/.380/.501 with 39 home runs and 182 RBI. He also flashed a great ability to steal bases, stealing 101 bags while only being caught 27 times.
So while teams chase after the high-priced free agents like Fowler and while other teams are in a position to request a king’s ransom for players like Ender Inciarte, the St. Louis Cardinals could look at someone no one is expecting. And like Mark Saxon suggested, it could be someone on the cusp of being a full-time major leaguer.
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Byron Buxton is just one name that makes perfect sense. But, it would have to depend on what the Minnesota Twins are planning. They very clearly do not have all the tools to compete in an American League Central division that hosts the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, but they do have assets worth selling off.
If the Twins do decide to begin shopping some of their players, Byron Buxton may be one they could sell high despite poor MLB production. They could be impatient or frustrated with his inability to translate to the majors but also request quite a package in return. The Cardinals are blessed with a ton of pitching that could begin the negotiation talks and what better time to do that than at the Winter Meetings.
Players like Austin Gomber, Jack Flaherty, and Luke Weaver could headline the package. While someone like Kolten Wong could be thrown in if the Twins decide to part ways with Brian Dozier and are in need of a young, controllable second baseman. Or maybe Harrison Bader becomes part of the package in order to replace Buxton as an outfielder in Minnesota’s organization.
Either way, the pieces are all there and Cusumano and Saxon’s discussion suggested someone no one has thought of to be Mozeliak’s potential target. So why not someone like Byron Buxton? The Twins haven’t gotten what they wanted out of him and are also not in a position to win soon. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have pieces they want and need for their future but could also gamble on a top prospect being thrown into the fire of starting in CF everyday in 2017.