I’m always in the mood for baseball scuttlebutt and the offseason and bits of informed speculation that involve the Cardinals. Thankfully, the hard-working Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic) came through earlier this week.

Rosenthal wrote that the Cardinals and Marlins have engaged in “at least preliminary trade discussions” on a potential trade that would send starting pitcher Pablo Lopez to St. Louis. Miami reportedly has made other starting pitchers available including lefties Trevor Rogers and Jesus Luzardo and righty Edward Cabrera. To what extent they’re actually available isn’t clear.

Rosenthal mentioned the STL’s potential surplus of outfielders after rookie Jordan Walker arrives in the majors at some point in 2023. And that would make the Redbirds a logical trade partner for the Marlins, who need to augment their offense.

I do believe we should have some fun here by coming up with Cardinal outfielder most likely to go to Miami in a trade for Lopez. I’ll write this from the perspective of what the Cardinals would prefer to do if they’re willing to part with an outfielder.

1.  Alec Burleson: He should develop into a good MLB hitter because of his plate discipline and high contact rates. He didn’t show much in 48 MLB plate appearances for the Cardinals last season, but that means little. Burleson is one of their better prospects, bats left-handed, and pounded RH pitching for a .313 average, .356 OBP, and .533 slug at Triple A Memphis last season. Burleson also has six years of club contract control, and that’s huge. I assume the Cardinals would part with him for the chance to land Lopez. But Burleson isn’t smooth defensively, and that may be a turnoff for the Marlins. I don’t know how the Marlins feel about him.

2. Juan Yepez: Slugged .447 as a rookie last season. But he fits the DH profile, and I’d be surprised if the Marlins were comfortable with the idea of Yepez playing the outfield. He’s under contract control for five more seasons and could do a lot of a damage as the right-handed DH. The Cardinals like him. But do they love him?

2a. Moises Gomez: He led the minor leagues with 39 homers last season, and hasn’t made it to the majors … but is getting closer. Strikeouts are a problem. I have no handle on the Marlins’ level of interest (if any) in this slugging prospect. I don’t think there’s much of a chance of the Cardinals striking a deal for Lopez with just Burleson, Yepez or Gomez.

3. Tyler O’Neill. Why? Because he’s missed 150 in-season days to injuries during his career including 63 in 2022. He can become a free agent after 2024. Walker will need a place to start and play a lot, and left field makes sense. And while Bro’s power and athleticism can be thrilling assets when he’s healthy, there are no guarantees that he’ll play a lot. Even as he works hard this offseason on a stretching program to improve his flexibility. But that’s also why the Marlins would likely covet another outfielder. Would the low-budget Marlins really want to part with Lopez for an injury-prone outfielder who has Scott Boras as an agent and can walk to free agency in two years?

There’s a risk for the Cardinals. Despite his many stays on the Injured List, O’Neill has won two Gold Gloves in left field, and offensively he ranks 9th in slugging percentage and 10th in OPS+ among MLB outfielders that have at least 1,300 plate appearances since 2018. And O’Neill’s 2021 season was memorable for his 34 homers, .560 slug and an OPS+ that put him 48 percent above league average offensively. What if he does something like that again in 2023? The Cardinals have screwed up too many transactions that include outfielders — coming or going.

4. Dylan Carlson: He’s still only 24 years old and has played only two-plus seasons. The results have been mixed. He was good in the brief 2020 playoff series against the Padres. Per OPS+, Carlson was 15 percent above league average offensively in 2021 and batted .283 with a .347 onbase percentage and .502 slug in his final 64 games. But he regressed in 2022, finishing at exactly league average in OPS+. Clearly limited by wrist and thumb injuries, Carlson batted only .206 with weak power (.324 slug) over the final two months.

Carlson should be healthy at the start of the 2023 season, but can he stay that way? Carlson played well in center field for the Cardinals in 2022, but isn’t as good in right field as the Cards say he is. I’d like to say that his switch-hitting capability is a plus – but frankly he’s mediocre vs. RH pitching. And that’s an issue because the Cardinals usually take about 75 percent of their plate appearances against right-handers during a season.

Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), Carlson has been a smashing 142 percent above league average offensively when batting against lefties – and is 9 percent below average vs. righties. The Marlins are aware of these stats, and they’re more in the market for a center fielder.

Carlson has four seasons to go before he can become a free agent – which has to be appealing to the Marlins and the Cardinals. Carlson has the talent and the potential to put it all together as a high-onbase, plus-power hitter. But his ongoing struggles vs. right-handed pitching is troubling. And he must get physically stronger.

5. Lars Nootbaar: I don’t think the Cardinals are interested in trading The Noot. He made a positive impression late in 2021 and started slowly in 2022. But that’s mostly because he didn’t get much of an opportunity to play early on. Once Nootbaar was plugged into the lineup on a regular basis last season, here’s what this left-handed hitter did in his final 75 games: .376 onbase percentage, .514 slug, and 29 extra–base hits among his 56 hits (52%).

From July 5 through the end of the regular season, he performed 51 percent above league average offensively. Nootbaar has excellent plate discipline – showing that with a low 17.2 percent strikeout rate to go with a terrific 16% walk rate over the final 75 games in 2022. Rocket arm in the outfield. Can do a good job in center. His OBP-SLG capability makes him qualified to hit in any key spot of the lineup, and he’s a source of relentless energy. Oh, and Nootbaar has five seasons to go before getting to free agency. The Marlins are said to be enamored of Nootbaar, and the glowing reviews of manager Skip Schumaker is part of the reason. Schumaker should know, having been the STL bench coach last season.

5. Jordan Walker: Hah. No chance, no way, fahgettaboudit.

OBSERVATIONS ON PABLO LOPEZ … 

Cardinals fans like him. I like him. The Cardinals front office seems to like him. But let’s pause to consider at least two or three things:

Positive: Over the last two seasons he has a 118 ERA+ which means he was 18 percent above the league-average standard for pitching. He also had a 25 percent strikeout rate in 2021-2022, and the Cards rotation needs strikeout dudes.

— Positive: Lopez is under contract control for two more seasons. That’s meaningful because they’ll likely be in need of starting for 2024.

— It makes sense that he’s available because Miami signed free-agent starter Johnny Cueto to fill a rotation role that could open if Lopez is traded. It’s easier to part with Lopez or another starter now.

Lopez is a nice pitcher, but he isn’t a No. 1 starter. I don’t want to get hung up on labels, but he’s more of a No. 2 starter. But would he upgrade the St. Louis rotation? Sure. But over the last two seasons he ranks 39th in WAR among 76 pitchers that have worked at least 250 innings. Part of that is because of missed time (injuries) in 2021. So let’s focus on his WAR in 2022 when he pitched 180 innings. Lopez ranked 28th in the majors with 2.8 WAR. This puts his performance in context: last season Adam Wainwright had 2.8 WAR, and Miles Mikolas had 2.7 WAR. Good starter … but not a No. 1.

Better make a close inspection of his right shoulder. Lopez has missed 182 in-season days during his career because of shoulder problems … including 82 days on the IL in 2021.

LH batters have struck Lopez for a .425 slugging percentage and .749 OPS during his career.

Lopez has a history of fading after the All-Star break. For his career he has a 3.49 ERA before the break, and a 4.60 ERA after the break. Over the past two seasons Lopez had a 2.94 ERA before the break and a 4.98 ERA (!) after the break.

The Cardinals don’t have to trade an outfielder to acquire Lopez. I’m sure there would be other ways to make a deal. And deals can ne made closer to the trade deadline.

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie

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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Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.