A percentage of Cardinals fans are frothing at the mouth over the possibility of acquiring Bryan Reynolds from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The center fielder has requested a trade, and there’d be plenty of interest around the majors should the Pirates front office make him available. Reynolds hits very well, and is under contract control through 2025.
But the price for a transfer to St. Louis would be heavy and probably unrealistic, and that’s especially true if the Pirates are willing to trade Reynolds within the NL Central … the Cardinals in particular. And I doubt that Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has much if any enthusiasm for moving top prospects to the Pirates to assist the Pittsburgh rebuild and watch the STL organization’s young talent go to a division rival to compete against St. Louis for five or six seasons.
That isn’t really the biggest issue that I have with the fantasy-scenario trade for Reynolds. I would suggest that those who are hyperventilating for Reynolds take a breath and think about this: what is the Cardinals’ most vulnerable area? That of course would be starting pitching. How many times have we all said that the Cardinals have a glaring need for a top-of-the-rotation starter? Or how they need two ace-type starters to become more formidable? I’d much prefer that Mozeliak invest the better prospects in a deal or two for true starting-pitching impact.
In 2022, the Cardinals’ starting pitching ranked 16th in MLB in Wins Above Replacement level. (WAR.) That was the worst starting-pitching WAR among NL teams that made the postseason. The last four teams left standing in the postseason – Astros, Phillies, Yankees, Padres – were in the top 10 of MLB for starting-pitching WAR. Staying with the WAR rankings, the World Series matchup put the No. 1 American League starter group (Houston) against the No. 1 National League starter collection (Philadelphia.)
When the Cardinals were winning the World Series (2011) and following up with another NL pennant (2013), making multiple trips to the NLCS, and winning 100 games in 2015, their starting pitching was on the short list of the best in The Show.
From 2011 through 2015, the Cardinals ranked 5th in the majors in starting-pitching WAR. Since the start of the 2019 season, St. Louis ranks 20th in MLB in starter WAR. The offense has been an issue in recent postseason failures, but way too many people ignore this pertinent statistic: among the nine MLB teams that have competed in a minimum of 15 postseason games since 2019, the Cardinals rank No. 8 among the nine with an overall ERA of 4.00. The Redbirds’ postseason starting pitching has actually been pretty good, but greatness is the goal.
The presumptive rotation for 2023 is vulnerable, and only one of the written-in starters remain under contract past this season. Adam Wainwright plans to retire after 2023. Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery can become free agents. Only Steven Matz is under contract beyond 2023. (As is Dakota Hudson who right now could be their sixth or seventh starter and not very good.) Unless the Cardinals re-sign a couple of their own starters, they’d be scrambling for solutions.
Given the Cardinals’ obvious decline and susceptibility in starting pitching, I’m not sure why there’s so much apparent desperation to give up a load of young talent to acquire an outfielder.
— In 2022 the St. Louis outfield ranked 5th in the majors in WAR, and was rated No. 8 in offense per wRC+.
— Over the last two seasons combined, the St. Louis outfield ranked 3rd in the majors in WAR, and was No. 6 in offense.
All of this happened despite a spate of injuries that limited offensive production.
No. 1 prospect Jordan Walker will be joining the outfield cast in 2023, and I’m thinking the Cardinals will want to use him on a regular basis in a corner outfield spot.
Reynolds is an outstanding hitter, rated 26 percent above league average offensively for his big-league career, and he’s 33% above average over the past two seasons. But how would his offense play at Busch Stadium? This isn’t enough to go on — only 139 career plate appearances — but Reynolds has a .246 average, .317 onbase percentage and .365 slugging percentage in games played in St. Louis. Reynolds is 13 percent below the league average offensively (per wRC+) at Busch.
Reynolds was also the worst center fielder in the majors last season among those that played enough innings to qualify, finishing 46th out of 46 in Outs Above Average (minus 7) per Statcast. Moreover, Reynolds ranked 35th at Fielding Bible with minus 14 defensive runs saved. Is it smart to weaken the defense of a St. Louis pitching staff that ranked 28th in strikeout rate last season? These guys pitch to contact, right?
Reynolds hasn’t played right field since 2019, and he was parked in left field for only 10 innings in 2022. Reynolds could DH, yes. But the Cardinals have plenty of internal options for that, and sending a treasure of young talent away to make such a move would do nothing to address the team’s most substantial need.
The. Cardinals. Need. Elite. Starting. Pitching.
The Cardinals must reinforce their starting pitching for 2023 and beyond. And not with average-type starters. They need a couple of doses of elite starting pitching, the kind that can strike hitters out and give the Cardinals a more imposing rotation for the postseason. If the Cards front office is OK with the idea of bartering coveted young talent, the prospect capital should be invested in upmarket starting pitching.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.