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An alternative option in center field: Randal Grichuk

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Could I interest you in some Thanksgiving Cardinal?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of winning the National League MVP Award, Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton name continues to swirl around the rumor mill as the Winter Meetings wrapped up last week. Among those rumored to be in hot pursuit of his services are the St. Louis Cardinals, whose desire to reel in an impact bat in the outfield has been well-documented. The Cards have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to MLB-ready or near-ready outfielders, and it’s about to become problematic with one of their top prospects, outfielder Harrison Bader, ready for everyday duty but blocked by the veteran combination of Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty. It was recently announced that the Cardinals intend to move Fowler, whose -18 DRS was second to last among all center fielders in 2017, to a corner outfield spot for 2018, which could mean moving breakout star Tommy Pham to center, or handing the reigns to Bader if he sets the world on fire this spring. Regardless of which route they choose to go, it appears St. Louis will need to unload 1-2 outfielders this offseason, even if they don’t deal for Stanton.

The Cardinals have made no secret of their desire to upgrade their bullpen for 2018, and it just so happens that the Mariners--even after jettisoning Emilio Pagan and Thyago Vieira--have some relief arms to spare, and a pressing need for a major league-caliber outfielder. Enter Randal Grichuk.

Grichuk was previously involved in a Dipoto trade in 2013, when he was sent to St. Louis with Peter Bourjos for David Freese and Fernando Salas; the only player without major league experience. He was infamously drafted (completely arbitrarily) one spot ahead of Mike Trout, and by the time this trade came around was putting up average numbers in AA. The 26-year-old has had a streaky career in St. Louis, with minor league demotions and an inability to lock down a starting spot in the outfield, but during that time has also held the second-highest average exit velocity (90.8 MPH) of all Cardinals with a minimum 400 PAs.

Grichuk has a pretty unique skill set for a center fielder, in that he’s essentially a low walk, high strikeout guy. This profile typically applies to big lumbering first basemen and corner outfielders, but he’s actually an above-average defender at the position. Most of the former first-rounder’s playing time in 2017 came in right field due to the addition of “center fielder” Dexter Fowler. In 2016 however, when he saw nearly 1,000 innings in center field, his 7 DRS was actually higher than Trout’s--and in ~300 less innings--and wasn’t a far cry from 2017 Jarrod Dyson’s mark of 10 he posted as a center fielder, although that was in just under 800 innings. In fact, Grichuk and Dyson have offered up pretty similar value to their respective teams over the last few seasons.

All things being equal, Dyson would still be the ideal choice here, but when you factor in Grichuk’s age, cost, and controllable years left, you could easily make the case for him over Dyson. Grichuk is almost exactly seven years younger than Dyson, isn’t coming off of a sports hernia surgery, and is not eligible for free agency until 2021. This offseason, he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time, and is projected to make ~$3M in next season, whereas most outlets have Dyson making anywhere from two to three times that in 2018 and 2019.

If the Cardinals are willing to roll the dice on a 1.8 fWAR reliever--better than any of their relievers used in 2017, by the way--who somehow managed to post his best career fWAR and worst career xFIP in the same season, Nick Vincent may be enough to pry away the right-handed slugger who has said he doesn't necessarily see himself fitting into the Cardinals 2018 plans.

A significant potential hang-up on any such deal could be Vincent’s wacky peripherals in 2017. His 64.2 innings pitched was second to only Edwin Diaz among Mariners relievers, and was his personal career high. As such, it would be easy to point to his alarming decreased strikeout rate--his K/9, which had never dipped under 8.6 in any season, dropped from 9.7 to 7.0--and assume overuse was the culprit, but his monthly splits say that’s not the case.

Fangraphs

Vincent did have an abysmal month of September, which very likely could have been attributed to fatigue, but he had a rough May just just 12 innings into the season, and he never had a single month with a K/9 at or better than his season-long rate from 2016.

After riding him for over 120 innings in the past two seasons, it’s looking like it might be a good time to jump off the Nick Vincent bandwagon and ship him to a reliever-starved team if it can net a plug-and-play big league center fielder.