The St. Louis Cardinals could use a versatile fourth outfielder, and Max Kepler might fit the bill.
Outfield depth and versatility are necessities in today's game, and after the St. Louis Cardinals declined to renew Corey Dickerson's contract, they were left with scant reserve outfield options. Now, after the Minnesota Twins signed Joey Gallo on Dec. 16, it appears veteran Max Kepler will be on the move. If the Cardinals can acquire him cheaply, he might be worth a look.
Kepler, who will turn 30 in February, would be an upgrade from Dickerson, especially in the field. While Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar are expected to be the Cardinals' starting outfielders in 2023, Kepler has the experience and ability to play left field and right field at a high level, and he can also play center field if the situation calls for it.
Whether Kepler can improve upon his last few seasons at the plate is a more pressing matter. A left-handed batter, Kepler has a lifetime average of only .213 against fellow southpaws, although a .239 career average against righties won't knock people's socks off. A platoon role with Carlson, while not an ideal scenario, could be needed if Carlson continues to look lost against right-handers.
Kepler's breakout season in 2019, when he hit .252 with 36 home runs and finished 20th in American League MVP voting, looks more like an aberration with each passing year. It's also important to remember that 2019 was a season where offense was historically high.
While the last few years haven't been pretty for Kepler, the recently instituted mitigation of the defensive shift could portend brighter days. Opponents shifted more often on Kepler than on nearly any other player for most of Kepler's career, and he should be able to transform some of those old outs into hits with the new rules in place.
This would seem to be a low-risk move for the Cardinals, as Kepler's value is minimal. The Twins' farm system is among the worst in the league, so a low- to mid-level prospect or two, which the Cardinals have in spades, should be enough to get a deal done.
Kepler isn't a sexy option, but his defensive aptitude and the possibility of him rebounding a bit to hit enough to be a bench option while keeping the seat warm for the inevitable debut of mega-prospect Jordan Walker could tempt the Cardinals to give his tires a kick.