Free-agent shortstop Trevor Story is still out there, available for adoption as soon as the owners vs. players lockout ends with a new collective bargaining agreement.
Story’s presence excites some of the local medias and the BFIB. As a potential Stratomatic card, Story looks like a good fit with the Cardinals. But that’s before we run the obligatory reality check.
It isn’t that I dislike Story or think the Cardinals have the current–day shortstop equivalent of Robin Yount, Alan Trammel, and Barry Larkin in the form of Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman. Not at all. But why is Story so appealing? He has the name recognition, has the usual Coors Field statistical inflation, has been chosen for two All-Star games — and hey, he’s best buddies with Nolan Arenado!
I’d be very surprised if this Story-Cardinals plan evolves past the fantasy stage.
But I must say, new toys are exciting.
Friends, let’s have a look.
1) Unless president of baseball operations John Mozeliak is brazenly lying through his bow tie, the Cardinals are committed to DeJong, Sosa and Edman for 2021. Why Edman? Because power-hitting Nolan Gorman is ticketed for second base, and he’ll arrive during the 2022 season. Edman – the Gold Glove winner at 2B for 2021 – figures to move around in the coming baseball year … shortstop, corner outfield, perhaps a little third base on occasion. A Super Utility role fits, and it should increase Edman’s value to the team.
2) Gorman ain’t the only middle-infield prospect on track for arrival in St. Louis. See Brendan Donovan. Last season Donovan played 114 total games at three different levels of the STL farm system, completing his organizational tour at Triple A Memphis. In 459 plate appearances Donovan batted .304 with a .400 onbase percentage (yes!) and a .455 slug. He followed that up by hitting .308 with a .941 OPS during a 15-game showcase in the Arizona Fall League. (Including a .422 onbase percentage …. yes!) Oh, and Donovan bats lefthanded, and he can steal bases. The Cardinals like Donovan a lot, and he’ll likely have a chance to get in the mix for 2022.
3) OK, so that’s five middle infielders: Edman, DeJong, Sosa, Gorman and Donovan. Story would make it six. Yes, if there’s a DH in 2022, that’s an outlet for at-bats and can ease the traffic jam at short and second base. And trading DeJong won’t fix everything. I realize DeJong has moved into the Matt Carpenter spot – Pauly is now the No. 1 target of frustrated and fixated fans – but he has two years and $15 million left on his contract, plus a $2 million buyout for 2024. That won’t be easy to move — but you never know. With this front office, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in the middle infield. The evaluators like what they already have. And that’s what this is about. The question isn’t “Story or DeJong?” It’s about having an abundance of players to fill two positions. Players that Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch happen to like and believe in. Don’t blast me, because I’m not making the roster decisions. I’m just relaying what I know. And for what it’s worth — probably not much – Cardinals shortstops combined for 3.2 fWAR last season; that’s pretty close to Story’s 3.5 fWAR for the Rockies in ‘21.
4) Cost. And here’s the tricky part, because we’re not sure of Story’s market. He won’t come close to Corey Seager’s 10-year, $325 million free-agent deal with Texas. The same goes for Story’s hopes to get within range of a Carlos Correa contract when Correa signs with a new team for $300 million or so. If the right bidder comes along, Story could get a deal close to the Javy Baez agreement with Detroit: six years, $140 million. That’s the high end of Story’s potential cost, and the Cardinals are highly unlikely to shop in the upscale market.
5) The Cardinals have mostly avoided long-term deals in free agency. Matt Holliday’s seven-year, $120 million deal (before 2010) was a success for both sides, and the Carlos Beltran signing (before 2012) turned out fabulously. But Holliday had been traded to the Cardinals in July of 2009, wanted to stay in St. Louis, and the Cards were confident in assessing the Holliday fit. A positive relationship had already been established, and that reduced the risk factor. Holliday could pick up a bat and glove and get going in 2010 without worry, without transition. And while the Beltran contract was excellent – two years, $26 million – it wasn’t a humongous, long-term gamble. It was a swell bargain after Albert Pujols left for the Los Angeles Angels on a 10-year, $240 million contract
6) The Cardinals were burned with their extensive free-agent contracts with outfielder Dexter Fowler (five years, $82.5 million) and starting pitcher Mike Leake (five years, $80 million.) The bruising had a lasting impact; the organization isn’t keen on long-term contracts for free agents. And the Cards already have two on the books in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado. (Though Arenado can opt out after 2022.) The front office probably has future plans in mind for current Cardinals – exploring long-term deals for pitcher Jack Flaherty, and outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader. That’s no sure thing; much will depend on the performance of the players. Point is, nothing suggests the Cardinals are ready to throw down a lot of money on a long-term deal for a position player. They will, however, have to fortify the pitching staff.
7) Story is 29, and he’s coming off a down year (by his standards) and he dealt with elbow problems in 2021. Some scouts believe he’ll have to move to second base at some point in the near future. Teams seem to be nervous about giving Story a long contract. Wrote Keith Law of The Athletic: “I’d be skeptical before going long term with Story, wanting more data on his bat outside of Coors and his glove anywhere before making a four- or five-year investment.”
8) Story may have to settle for a much shorter length of contract to reestablish his value. One year? Two years? A contract that limits potential liability for the buyer should have teams lining up for Story. I mention that because it’s not as if the Cardinals would be the only team courting Story on a short-term deal. We tend to forget that when a player has options, the player gets to choose. With a limited commitment (in length of contract, could Story be a bargain? Sure. He was awful during the first four months of the ‘21 season, turning in a performance that was 15 percent below league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+). But with his achy elbow feeling better, Story hit 25% above league average in his final two months.
9) OK, what about the Cardinals? If Story agrees to accept a one-year, or two–year contract – do the Cardinals enter competition? In theory a short contract would draw the Cards’ interest. I’m sorry to be a nag, but we have to circle back and remember (1) they’re already crowded in the middle infield, and (2) the front office is happy with its internal options. Mozeliak and Girsch remain optimistic about a DeJong revival at the plate in 2022. Here’s another “for what it’s worth” thing for you: Steamer projects Story to perform seven percent above league average offensively in wRC+ next season. And Steamer projects DeJong to come in at three percent above league average offensively (wRC+). I was surprised to see such a narrow gap in the forecasts.
10) The metrics don’t agree on Story’s shortstop defense. The quick version: in 2021 Story came out on the plus side (+4) in Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved. But Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) rated Story as the 30th-best defensive shortstop in the majors last season at an ugly minus 9 OAA. Cardinals shortstops combined for 15 defensive runs saved last season and were a +9 in OAA. Do you think rookie manager Oli Marmol wants to weaken his infield defense? Assuming Gorman has a prominent role in 2022, the Cardinals figure to lose some ground defensively at second base. And then if you go ahead and sacrifice defense at shortstop as well, then the ground-ball pitchers will endure an unwanted spike in their earned-run averages. And if you’re going to downgrade the middle infield defense, then why sign newcomer Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million contract? Something to think about.
11) Hold on. Story would upgrade the St. Louis offense, right? To some extent, yes, probably so. But the confidence loses some steam when you actually dig into the numbers.
– Story had a .880 OPS at Coors last season and a .717 OPS in road games. For his career, Story has hit 25 percent above league average offensively at Coors, and two percent below average on the road. That disparity is typical for most Coors hitters. I don’t make any absolute conclusions, but it’s a factor. Bottom line: Story’s adjusted runs created total has dropped for three consecutive seasons. Home and away, the arrow is pointing down. His offense – even after adjusting for the Coors Effect – was exactly league average in 2021.
– In 2021 Story’s batting average, slugging percentage, onbase percentage and and Isolated Power numbers were his lowest in a season since 2017.
– Story has a high career strikeout rate of 28 percent – and it’s even higher when he wasn’t hitting at Coors Field. (In fairness his strikeout rate has dropped a few points in recent seasons.) Story’s contact issues are real, and he struggles against breaking pitches. According to Statcast, Story has a whiff percentage of 37.3% on breaking pitches over the last three seasons, with an expected batting average of .204.
– We’ve written a lot about the Cardinals’ problems against righthanded pitchers. Story is two percent above league average offensively vs. RH since the start of 2019 – and 11 percent below average over the past two seasons. In 2021 he batted .234 with a .417 slug and .735 OPS when facing righthanders.
12) A primary concern would be Story’s battle against Busch Stadium. We’ve been through this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: Busch is a tough place for hitters – and an especially difficult yard for RH batters. During the past three seasons RH bats hit .226 at Busch with a .361 slugging percentage, .656 OPS and were 25 percent below league average offensively. The Cards’ RH hitters put up slightly better numbers at Busch than the visitors did but still were well below average. Anyway, numbers were even worse when RH batters squared off against RH pitchers at Busch over the past three seasons: a .219 average, .350 slug, .634 OPS and 31% below league average offensively.
Arenado learned all about this in his first season with the Cardinals:
– .228 average at Busch, .279 on the road.
– .287 OBP at Busch, .336 road.
– .435 slug at Busch, .549 road.
– .722 OPS at Busch; .885 road.
– 14 homers at Busch; 20 road.
– 4% below league average overall offensively at Busch; 30% above average on road.
13) By signing Trevor Story, the Cardinals would relinquish a draft choice as compensation. (*Unless the system changes immediately in a new CBA.) And we know how Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak feel about giving up draft picks.
Story is a good player. But would he be an essential talent for the Cardinals? With Story in the lineup, would the Redbirds become a more viable threat to zoom off on a postseason run? According to the 2022 ZiPS forecast, Story would be worth about 3 and 1/2 wins over the replacement level next season. That’s only slightly higher than the 3.2 fWAR projection for St. Louis shortstops in ’22.
New toys are a lot of fun — but not necessarily better than the older toys that you already have in the box in the closet.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.