The St. Louis Cardinals would be wise to flip Lars Nootbaar to the Toronto Blue Jays for a catcher.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a gaping hole at catcher for the first time in nearly two decades after Yadier Molina’s retirement, and the Toronto Blue Jays possess a glut of talent behind the plate. The Cardinals have been linked to Blue Jays backstops Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen, and if St. Louis elects to take the trade route, Lars Nootbaar should be a piece to go back to Toronto.
The Blue Jays increased their need for an outfielder when they dealt Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners, and they have stated that they’d like a left-handed outfield bat, which Nootbaar fits. The Cardinals would still have outfielders to compensate for the loss of Nootbaar, and dealing him could encourage the team to promote Jordan Walker at the beginning of the season, which would be an excellent decision for CBA reasons.
Nootbaar showed strong peripherals last season; if you look at Baseball Savant, his percentile rankings ooze red. There’s no doubt that the Blue Jays are aware of this, and even though Nootbaar didn’t translate these underlying numbers to counting stats all season, he has definite room to grow.
Free agent catcher Willson Contreras could tantalize the Cardinals, and signing a free agent would allow the Cardinals to hold on to Nootbaar or whomever they would have sent to Toronto. But signing Contreras would limit other moves the team could make. We know that the Cardinals’ payroll isn’t as high as the team suggested a few weeks ago, so a Contreras signing might prevent the Cardinals from pursuing a bullpen arm or shortstop.
A swap of Nootbaar and likely a couple other players would be a dagger for many Cardinals fans, as Nootbaar won his way into many fans’ hearts last year. But his wide appeal could be another attribute the Cardinals use to their advantage: It would be hard for a team to say no to a player who sells tickets thanks to his hard-nosed play and, yes, his easily meme-able name.
Dylan Carlson is an outfielder the Cardinals could also consider sending to Toronto, but his departure seems less probable. Although he is a switch hitter, he was far weaker from the left side last season, which is the side the Blue Jays are desiring production from. Carlson is just 24, and despite his lack of production last season, he still has a high ceiling.
John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch will no doubt feel the pressure of fans who want to keep Nootbaar, but if he is a player the Blue Jays want as a piece for Kirk or Jansen, the Cardinals should pull the trigger. Nootbaar would be nice to have and watch develop, but the Cardinals have to fill a need, and letting go of Nootbaar appears to be the best way the team can accomplish that.