The St. Louis Cardinals are facing a dilemma. What are they going to do with their highly rated prospect, catcher Carson Kelly. The decision is not obvious or easy.
On March 18, the Cardinals optioned six players to minor league camp, including Carson Kelly, the long considered heir apparent to the multi gold glove winner Yadier Molina. This represented a shift in the Cardinals thinking from last season.
President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, said last season he felt Kelly had nothing more left to prove in the minors after he promoted Kelly to the major league club. This had been a shift from Mozeliak’s earlier position that young prospects don’t gain anything by being called up to the major league team to just sit on the bench.
This continuing shift in Mozeliak’s position on Carson Kelly, demonstrates the dilemma of the St. Louis Cardinals. Should the Cardinals trade Kelly or keep in him as Yadier Molina’s heir apparent.
The Cardinals must consider the following when considering Carson Kelly’s future:
– The 35-year-old Molina signedthrough the 2020 season and is still playing at a high level. He also has expressed little desire to see his playing time reduced. In fact, the multiple gold-glove winner played 133 games at the catcher position in 2017. Nevertheless, although Molina is still playing at All Star level, he will turn 36 in July. The question becomes, how many games a year will he be able to continue to play? Also, who would the Cardinals turn to if Molina went down for a significant period to an injury?
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-The 23-year-old Kelly has shown in AAA Memphis his ability with the glove and the bat. His slash line in 100 games at Memphis is .283/.375/.459/.834 with a fielding percentage of .993. Kelly, a minor league gold-glover, is considered one of the top two catching prospects in baseball.
– But in 2017 when Kelly was called up to the major league club, he only hit .174 in 75 plate appearances and had no home runs. Although he had a .994 fielding percentage, Kelly saw little playing time. During this year’s spring training, Kelly only hit .100 in 35 plate appearances and showed some regression defensively.
To further complicate the issue, Francisco Pena has performed better with his bat and glove. Pena has hit .250 during the spring and is now the lead candidate to back up Molina going into the season.
– Finally, what happens after 2020 when Molina retires.
This leaves the St. Louis Cardinals with their dilemma of “To Trade or not to Trade” Carson Kelly.
The Cardinals are still calling Kelly the “heir apparent” to Molina. Although Kelly will be starting the year in AAA Memphis, he would be called up to replace Molina in the event of an injury to the veteran catcher.
Nevertheless, it appears only in the event of an injury, will Carson Kelly see any significant playing time in the next three years. Kelly would likely be stalled in AAA Memphis until the retirement of Molina in 2020.
As a result, some fans, media, bloggers, etc., have called for the St. Louis Cardinals to trade Kelly for needed help in the starting rotation, the bullpen, or even for another bat.
If Carson Kelly is traded, this would leave Francisco Pena as Yadier Molina’s primary backup. Prospect Andrew Knizner would then be the likely new heir apparent. Although Knizner has hit well in the minors, he not as gifted defensively as Kelly. Only in AA in 2017, he would likely be another 2-3 years away from the major league. However, with Molina’s contract extended until 2020, this would give Knizner time to develop.
If the St. Louis Cardinals plan to trade Carson Kelly, they should allow him time to start producing offensively again in AAA to increase his trade value. This would make sense especially if the Cardinals needed to trade to stay in contention.
The decision on Carson Kelly is imminent. Yadier Molina is not going anywhere and will finish his career in St. Louis. Also, the St, Louis Cardinals push for the playoffs in 2018 will likely require them to add a key piece during the season. Kelly would make appealing bait in a mid-season trade.
To trade or not to trade is the question.