The St. Louis Cardinals have cleared their outfield logjam in dramatic fashion this offseason. The trades of Tyler O'Neill and Richie Palacios netted the team multiple pitchers, one of whom figures to pitch late in games and in high-leverage situations.
However, the team could still stand to trade more of its players to bolster the rotation or the bullpen. The San Diego Padres are one such team that can trade from its pitching corps. The Padres were supposed to be a super team last year, but they just couldn't put all of the pieces together, and on top of that, they are trying to massively cut payroll for next year.
When the Padres traded away superstar Juan Soto earlier this offseason, a glaring hole was opened up in their outfield, particularly from a left-handed perspective. Additionally, Manny Machado will likely start the season on the Injured List, forcing All-Star and MVP-candidate Ha-Seong Kim to play third base and utility man Jake Cronenworth to shift to second base. These relocations open up a spot at first base, at least to start the season. At the moment, the Padres have two non-roster invites, Oscar Mercado and Cal Mitchell, penciled in as starters in 2024.
The St. Louis Cardinals have one man in particular who can play outfield, first base, and hits left-handed: Alec Burleson. Burly didn't have the most successful introduction to the highest level of baseball last year, but he has the prospect pedigree and minor-league performance to be an interesting candidate for next year. He has also been working hard this offseason to improve his defense, something he struggled with mightily last year.
Burleson could immediately start in left field next year for San Diego, and he could provide some variability in handedness in a lineup that heavily leans right-handed. Burley won't measure up to the other mashers on the team such as Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., or Xander Bogaerts, and he certainly won't replace Juan Soto's production, but he's an upgrade over the team's current outfielders.
In exchange, the Cardinals could go a few ways. Should they package some high-end prospects with Burleson, they could land Joe Musgrove. Musgrove, thirty-one, is due $20 million each year for the next four years, and if the Padres are serious about cutting payroll, dumping his salary could go a long way. The Cardinals could also swing a deal for Yu Darvish, another expensive pitcher, albeit one who is nearly thirty-eight.
St. Louis could also ask for relievers from the Padres. Robert Suarez had a fantastic 2022 season, but he battled injuries and a suspension in 2023; San Diego also signed two relievers in Woo Suk Go and Yuki Matsui this offseason, though both could use some time to familiarize themselves with MLB hitters before being crowned the Friars' closer. Landing Suarez would be tough, but he signed a lucrative five-year, $46 million contract last year. San Diego could cut costs by dealing his contract and landing a reliever from the Cardinals in addition to Alec Burleson.
John Mozeliak could even tap into San Diego's prospect ranks. The Padres seem intent on keeping their fast-rising pitching prospect, Robby Snelling. They could be convinced to part with Jairo Iriarte, a talented but volatile right-handed pitcher who features three plus pitches.
Alec Burleson solves a lot of problems for the San Diego Padres, and a trade of the left-handed role player will clear up further roster confusion for the Cardinals next year. With the recent signing of Matt Carpenter, it doesn't make much sense to keep two lefty bats toiling on the bench next year. Alec Burleson and the San Diego Padres look to be a perfect fit for 2024 and beyond.