It's always nice to have a backup plan, especially in baseball. Injuries plague even the most reliable players, and each year presents a unique possibility for regression. It is even more helpful when the backup options on a team can play multiple positions well. That was the case in 2023 for both Cardinal utilitymen Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan.
Both players have the ability to play in the outfield and the infield, and both players have been league-average batters or better for their careers. Edman logged 479 at-bats last year, and Donovan logged 327 at-bats. Edman's triple slash line was .248/.307/.399 with 13 home runs and 27 stolen bases for an OPS+ of 91. For his career, he has a slash line of .265/.319/.408 with an OPS+ of 100.
Brendan Donovan had a slash line of .284/.365/.422 with 11 home runs and 5 stolen bases for an OPS+ of 115 in 2023. For his career, he has a slash line of .283/.381/.398 for an OPS+ of 120. Donovan developed some power last year at a sacrifice for his ability to get on base at a high clip.
There are a few separating items for these players; Donovan is the better offensive player while Edman is the better baserunner and defensive player. Edman's stolen base total is significantly higher, and he even has the potential to steal more bases than that. He ranks in the 88th percentile in sprint speed. Donovan has a higher on-base ceiling, but their power outputs are comparable.
On the defensive side of the ball, Brendan Donovan can play both positions up the middle of the infield, he can play both corner outfield spots, and he can play at both corners in the infield. Edman can play at shortstop, second base, center field, or either corner outfield spot. Edman is a plus defender at all the positions he has played, and Donovan is a neutral player at all positions except first base (-4 OAA in 92 innings) and second base (-1 OAA in 262 innings). Edman's defensive versatility is much preferred.
From a contractual standpoint, Tommy Edman has two years left of arbitration and is a free agent in 2026. Brendan Donovan has one more year before being arbitration eligible. Donovan holds a slight edge in age (26 years old vs. 28 years old) and in team control.
It is possible that both players stay in St. Louis for the foreseeable future. Donovan can play multiple positions as a utility player while Edman roams center field. The positional viability of these players depends on the trades that John Mozeliak makes this offseason. If Dylan Carlson or Tyler O'Neill is dealt, Edman has a clear spot in the outfield. If Nolan Gorman is traded, Brendan Donovan figures to be the team's starting second baseman. While it is possible both of these players can exist on the same team and play well, is it ideal to keep them both?
In my opinion, trading away one of these players alone for a pitcher or as a part of a package is preferred. Brendan Donovan probably has more value on the open market due to his extra two years of control and his offensive profile. Personally, I would rather keep Edman. Should Masyn Winn struggle again next year in the majors, Tommy Edman is the nextbest shortstop St. Louis has. Edman is probably the team's best defensive center fielder as well despite his below-average arm. While Dylan Carlson or Lars Nootbaar could play center field, neither has a natural position there.
Brendan Donovan by himself could net a top-3 of the rotation arm for the Cardinals in 2023. Edman provides a lot of value in St. Louis. It will be tough to see a grind-it-out player like Donovan be traded, and it could come back to haunt the Cardinals, but his value on the open market makes him the preferred trade candidate. They can both exist on the Cardinals, but some moves beyond these two will have to be made for that to be a viable strategy.
Which player would you prefer to have on the team next year? Do you think both players can find enough time on the field? Debate away!