We’re less than two weeks from the start of the New Year, and the Cardinals will play their first 2023 exhibition game in 67 days.
The St. Louis front office may or may not be looking to spruce up the roster. The free-agent signing of power-hitting catcher Willson Contreras was substantial, but the Cardinals went into a holding pattern. Will president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch make other, lesser moves before or during spring training?
As the offseason got underway, the Cardinals were said to be looking for a left-handed bat to add to their bench. That hasn’t happened, but I suppose it’s still possible. The Cardinals already have plenty of position players – more than enough to fill an opening-day roster.
There will be even less bench space if the front office insists on carrying infielder Paul DeJong into 2023 rather than cutting ties and paying off his 2023 salary. If top prospect Jordan Walker has an exciting spring, he’ll take up another roster slot in the outfield.
There may not be a job opening.
But just for kicks I compiled a list of available bats – left–handed or switch hitters – to see what’s still out there.
The supply of LH bats and switch hitters has thinned. Already gone: Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, Anthony Rizzo, Jace Peterson, Michael Brantley, Omar Narvaez, Josh Bell, Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Franchy Cordero, Bradley Zimmer, Victor Reyes, Jeimer Candelario.
Here are the most compelling remaining candidates. I don’t have them in any meaningful order, so don’t read too much into that.
Two preliminary notes: (1) Matt Carpenter won’t be included here; he agreed to a contract with the Padres on Tuesday. (2) When you see me reference OPS+ or wRC+, please remember that 100 is the league average for a hitter. Anything less than that is below average. Anything higher than 100 is above average.
Michael Conforto, bats left: Until injuring his shoulder in 2021, Conforto had a .495 slugging percentage and a 134 OPS+ from 2017 through 2020. Conforto is best suited for a corner outfield spot but can play center (not smoothly) if needed there. Two problems for the Cardinals: (A) Conforto missed all of last season while rehabbing after surgery, and his power capability has yet to be determined. And (B) a bunch of teams are interested in Conforto, which undoubtedly delights his agent Scott Boras, and the Cardinals aren’t the type to get caught up in a bidding battle.
David Peralta, bats left: He’s 35, but the one-time St. Louis prospect can still hit. Last season he finished in Tampa Bay after being traded there by Arizona. Overall he had 30 doubles, 12 homers and slugged .415. He had a 118 OPS+ for the Diamondbacks and a 109 OPS+ for the Rays. Peralta is still an effective weapon against RH pitching. For his career he owns a .350 OBP and .486 slug vs. righties with a 121 wRC+. And that continued in 2022, when Peralta slugged .449 with a 116 wRC+ vs. RH. Problem: he’s limited to left field or DH and was well below average defensively in 2022.
Ben Gamel, bats left: Playing for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons Gamel had a .355 onbase percentage and .408 slug vs. righties and rated 12 percent above league average with a 112 wRC+ against them over that time. Gamel had ample power vs. RH during the past two seasons, delivering 15 homers and 28 doubles in 517 at-bats. Gamel, who turns 31 in May, can play first base and all three outfield positions. (He’s OK defensively.) Gamel was a below-average runner last season – but nothing hideous. Another plus is his 14% walk rate vs. right-handers over the last two seasons. He hits the ball hard and is due for some good luck after hitting only .291 on batted balls in play last season.
Corey Dickerson, bats left: After a slow start, Dickerson came off the IL on July 9 and from there on out batted .306 with a .459 slug and a 124 wRC+. And Dickerson extended his career strength against RH pitchers, posting an excellent 140 wRC+ in his final 150 plate appearances of the season vs. righties. After seeing what Dickerson could do against right-handers, why wouldn’t the Cardinals bring him back if they want to add a LH bat in their price range?
Robbie Grossman, bats left: The outfielder has been in the majors since 2013 and has bounced around a bit. His LH bat is well traveled. From 2016 through 2021, Grossman had a .359 onbase percentage, slugged .400 and had a 108 OPS+. Last season – playing for Detroit then Atlanta – Grossman collapsed against RH pitching with a .163 average and .509 OPS. (Ugh.) But he was better – though slightly below average – after the Tigers traded him to the Braves. Here’s the tease: in 2021 Grossman lashed RH pitching for a .424 slug and .350 OBP and was 16 percent above the league average in wRC+. Which leads to a question: was Grossman’s 2022 season an outlier that should be set aside? Or did age start to catch up to him? Grossman is 33.
Jurickson Profar, switch hits: He had 2.5 fWAR for the Padres last season and slugged 15 homers. He posted a 108 wRC+ against RH pitching in 2022 and was 11 percent above league average offensively overall. Profar played left field last season – and was a plus defensively – but as recently as 2021 he spent time at first base, second base, center field and right field. Profar, 30, has slowed on the basepaths but isn’t a liability as a runner. The Astros were said to be interested in Profar – but subsequently re-signed Michael Brantley. After losing Aledmys Diaz to free agency Houston could have interest in Profar as a utility dude. My hunch is that Profar would be more expensive than the Cardinals prefer.
Rafael Ortega, bats left: here’s my sleeper candidate. The former Cardinals prospect can play all three outfield positions. Playing for the Cubs over the last two seasons, Ortega had 620 plate appearances vs. RH pitching and batted .278 with a .350 OBP, .440 slug and a 117 wRC+. Those are very fine numbers. And while Ortega is a much better fielder in the corners, he’s capable of playing decently in center. One minus: Ortega is a poor baserunner, finishing with a minus 17 net baserunning gain (per Bill James) in 2022.
Tyler Naquin, bats left: Injuries have disrupted his consistency; Naquin missed 44 days last season with a strained quad and other ailments. And he’s missed 235 days to injuries during his MLB career. But when Naquin is healthy, he’s struck for plenty of damage against RH pitching, with a career .468 slugging percentage against them – including a .486 slug and 113 wRC+ vs. righties over the past two seasons. He’s primarily a corner outfielder but the Reds also used him in center. Naquin turns 32 in April.
Edwin Rios, bats left: what catches my eye is his .492 slugging percentage in 291 career plate appearances as a Dodger. He’s a prototypical big-guy slugger type who hits ‘em far when he makes contact. But that power comes with a 32 percent career strikeout rate. He’s played adequate (if ungraceful) defense at first base and third base and can be used in a corner outfield spot. Has a .476 career slug vs. righties. Needless to say, Rios can DH. He turns 29 in April.
Jake Lamb, bats left: Last season, playing for the Dodgers and Mariners, Lamb had a .409 slug and 111 wRC+ when facing right-handed pitchers. But before that he’d performed below the league average against righties over four consecutive seasons. He’s a good base runner who plays average defense at first, third, left and right.
Didn’t make my cut: Colin Moran, Dominic Smith and Raimel Tapia. Moran was really good in 2021 but faded horribly in 2022 and was released by the Reds during the season. Smith was an above-average hitter in 2019-2020 but glaringly declined in 2021-2022 and is clumsy in the outfield. Tapia runs very well but is a below-average hitter who hasn’t distinguished himself defensively. But Tapia’s speed element is intriguing.
OK, if you had one selection to make from this list – who would you take?
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.
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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.