The rumor mill is always swirling this time of year, as MLB teams are looking to construct their clubs, and fans (like myself) are playing “armchair General Manager”.
It’s a fun thing to do because as a passionate fan, we often think we know the inner workings of what it takes to put together a championship caliber team. We try making trades via MLB The Show video games, using online trade simulators & gauging the likes of beat reporters on Twitter trying to get the inside scoop (even if we read more into their reporting just to fit our own narrative.)
Like I said, I’m guilty of it too.
For us St. Louis Cardinals fans, we “know” that President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak wants to address the need of catcher this offseason. We just don’t know the avenue he will take to accomplish it.
Obviously the Cardinals could have interest in free agent catchers Willson Contreras or Christian Vasquez. But with a qualifying offer attached to the former Cub and Vasquez seen as more of a plan B type of option, I think the front office really explores the trade market for their next backstop.
For the sake of discussion, one team that has a plethora of catching that could match up for a trade with St. Louis is the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last season the Jays had 3 viable catchers on their roster. Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen & Gabriel Moreno. Of those three, I think the 22-year top prospect Moreno will be in Toronto’s long-term plans, making one of the other two expendable for the right return.
Kirk, 24, is coming off a great 2022 season where he slashed .285/.372/.414 with 14 HR & 63 RBI. He was also named an American League All-Star and won the AL Silver Slugger at his position.
However, of his 139 games last season, Kirk caught only 78 of those while being the designated hitter in the other 51. Given those numbers it would seem he could potentially come to St. Louis in a role where he would split time with either Andrew Knizner or Ivan Herrera spelling his off days.
If this were the case, it sounds like the same scenario of signing Willson Contreras who caught 72 games for the Cubs and was their DH in 39. The difference would be the age and price tag, as Contreras is 30 years old and will likely command a possible 5-year $100M deal, while Kirk (24) would be under team control through 2026 and come at a much lesser cost.
Kirk had just 3 errors on the season and was about league average on throwing out base stealers. As far as pitch framing, his numbers had him ranked as a top five in all in baseball.
Concerns for me would be that while Kirk slashed .315/.395/.487 the first half of last season, those numbers dipped to .246/.340/.320 the second half. He’s slow on the base paths (common for catchers) but at 265lbs (listed on FanGraphs) that’s a lot of stress on the knees.
Having said that, he did end 2022 with 134 hits (19 doubles), only struck out 58 times in 541 plate appearances and the 14 HRs would make him a desirable upgrade at catcher over what St. Louis currently has in Knizner/Herrera.
A quick glance at Knizner’s 2022 numbers was a slashline of .215/.301/.300 with 4 HR, 25 RBI, 56 hits (10 doubles), and struck out 62 times in just 293 plate appearances.
Yadier Molina didn’t fare any better with his batting line of .214/.233/.302 with 5 HR, 24 RBI, 56 hits (8 doubles) and striking out 40 times in 270 plate appearances last season.
This brings us to what would it take to get this trade done between the Cardinals and Blue Jays. Toronto is said to be looking for a left-handed bat, and preferably an outfielder who can play centerfield so they can move George Springer to a corner spot. They also just traded outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for two pitchers, freeing up an outfield spot.
While the Cardinals have an outfielder in Tyler O’Neill who was born in Canada, and could play centerfield, he’s a right handed hitter that doesn’t fit that Blue Jays’ need.
Switch hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson might be the player Toronto would covet, but I can’t see John Mozeliak letting DC3 go in a trade. If the Cardinals front office feels confident that Tyler O’Neill will play to his potential and that Jordan Walker will break camp with the club, then I suppose they’d at least consider it.
That leaves Lars Nootbaar as a lefty bat that can hold down center being someone that could make sense for both sides.
Nootbaar has quickly become a fan favorite in St. Louis and saw an uptick in playing time this past season. Injuries cleared a path for Lars as he played in 108 games, slashing .228/.340/.448 with 14 HR & 40 RBI.
He showed versatility in playing each outfield position when called upon. Entering his age 25 season, there's a lot of upside in his game. He's definitely a spark plug both in the dugout & on the field, with his contagious hustle and baseball grit.
It’s not going to be a one for one deal to acquire Kirk, so the Cardinals will have to throw in a few more pieces to get a real conversation going.
Now, if the Cardinals would want to pursue Danny Jansen instead of Alejandro Kirk, the asking price would realistically drop a bit. I still see Lars Nootbaar as the trade chip going back, but I don’t think St. Louis would have to send much else if anything to get that done.
Jansen, will be 28 this season. While he’s only arb-eligible the next two seasons, that’s still a bargain for what his production value is. In 2022 he had a slash of .260/.339/.516 with 15 HR & 44 RBI. He played in only 72 games, but started at catcher in 63 of those.
His .516 slugging percentage last season led all MLB catchers that had at least 240 plate appearances. His 140 wRC+ (park and league adjusted runs created) led all Blue Jays and was tops among MLB catchers with a minimum 240 PA.
While his offense is a plus, his defense leaves a bit to be desired. Although serviceable, he ranked poorly in pitch framing as well as Fielding Runs Above Average. Take into consideration that he’s also missed a decent amount of time with injuries the past two seasons and that could be a cause for concern.
As much as the organization does value defense, I think they really consider the offensive upgrade at the position a bit more than in the past. This is the first time in nearly two decades that they haven’t had future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina behind the plate and it’s unrealistic to expect finding another.
The Cardinals have had a lot of hope that Ivan Herrera will be their catcher of the future. And with him still being 22 years of age, trading for Jansen (who’s under club control the next 2 seasons) may be a better option to bridge the gap without blocking his path. It also provides more offense from the catching position over what St. Louis has which should be a priority.
Either way you look at it, if Toronto wants to move Alejandro Kirk or Danny Jansen, St. Louis would be a fit. It would allow the Cardinals to fill a huge need behind the plate, at a team friendly cost that could help them also pursue other team needs this offseason.
What say you, Cardinals Nation? Which Blue Jays catcher do you realistically see as a fit with the club, and at what cost? Let me know in the comments and as always, thanks for reading.