According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, officials from the Cardinals and Colorado Rockies are expected to meet during the general manager/owners’ meetings this week to discuss a potential trade involving Troy Tulowitzki.
The fact that the Cardinals plan to pursue Tulowitzki, baseball’s premier shortstop, is a testament to the team’s lack of production at shortstop this past season.
Specifically, Cardinals shortstops batted .222/.280/.303 with 61 runs scored, 37 extra-base hits and 108 strikeouts in 620 plate appearances. That group, of course, was headlined by Pete Kozma, who batted .217/.275/.273 with 89 hits and 91 strikeouts in 143 games.
However, for all of those same reasons, the price of acquiring Tulowitzki undoubtedly will be steep.
Passan goes on to explain the specifics of the 29-year-old’s current contract:
…Despite more than $75 million committed to seven players for 2014, sources said St. Louis believes it has enough room in its budget to absorb Tulowitzki's $16 million salary, which jumps to $20 million a year for the five years after before dipping to $14 million in 2020 and ending with a $15 million option (including a $4 million buyout) in 2021.
In his seven full seasons, Tulowitzki has been the game's most productive shortstop, hitting .297/.369/.516 with 154 home runs and setting the standard defensively as well. The greatest fear with acquiring Tulowitzki is his injury history, though some executives believe an eventual move to third base could lessen the wear and tear on his body and enliven his bat even more.
The Rockies finished last in the National League West this year with a 74-88 overall record, though it wasn’t that bad thanks to strong performances by Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, as well as the emergence of rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado.
The organization also has promising right-handers Jonathan Gray, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, and Eddie Butler, who pitched at three minor league levels this year, rising quickly through their system. Both prospects could conceivably reach the major leagues by the end of the 2014 season.
However, with Rockies’ obvious needs heading into the offseason, the Cardinals seemingly have the right pieces to make a blockbuster trade for Tulowitzki a reality.
First Baseman: Matt Adams
The first name that Passan mentions is first baseman Matt Adams, who is a perfect fit for the Rockies following Todd Helton’s retirement.
This past season, Adams, playing in his age-24 season, batted .284/.335/.503 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI in 108 games with the Cardinals. The left-handed hitter also stepped up in a big way in the wake of Allen Craig’s foot injury, as he posted a .952 OPS with eight home runs and 15 RBI over the final month of the regular season.
The 25-year-old also served as the team’s first baseman throughout the postseason, though his production declined in each subsequent series. Overall, Adams batted .222/.269/.317 with one home run, four RBI and 19 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances during the playoffs.
With a little more than a year of service time under his belt, Adams is under team control through the 2018 season and won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2016.
Relief Pitcher: Kevin Siegrist or Seth Maness?
While Kevin Siegrist is the sexy pick, being a left-hander capable of pumping 96-97 mph on a given night with the game on the line, Seth Maness actually makes more sense for the Rockies.
Siegrist emerged as the Cardinals’ go-to left-hander out of the bullpen following his arrival in early June. He went on to post a 0.45 ERA and .128 opponents' batting average with 50 strikeouts in 39.2 innings spanning 45 appearances.
Heading into the postseason, Siegrist carried a streak of 28 scoreless appearances dating back to Aug. 1. During that span, he posted a 30-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings while allowing just 12 hits.
It’s not like he was only effective against same-sided hitters; Siegrist was equally successful against right-handed hitters (0.48 ERA, .138 BAA) and left-handed hitters (0.43 ERA, .118 BAA) during the regular season.
Maness was called up to the major leagues in late April and ultimately led all Cardinals relievers with 66 appearances during the regular season. Overall, the 25-year-old right-hander posted a 5-2 record, 2.32 ERA and 84.5 percent strand rate.
He paced all NL relievers with 16 double plays induced and ranked second with a 68.4 percent ground-ball rate.
While he doesn’t boast a power arm like every other pitcher in the Cardinals bullpen, Maness’ plus command and knack for inducing ground-ball outs carries tremendous value as a late-inning reliever—presumably even more so at Coors Field.
Starting Pitcher: Shelby Miller or Carlos Martinez?
This is where the deal gets interesting.
Passan contends that Shelby Miller is the likeliest Cardinals starter to be dealt among their seemingly bottomless collection of top-flight young arms. Miller, he argues, has more upside given his age and the fact that he’ll remain under team control through the 2018 season.
Michael Wacha is off-limits. Obviously.
Miller wasn’t just one of the top rookie pitchers during the first half of the season, he was one of the top pitchers in the game. Over his first 18 starts, the 23-year-old posted a 2.92 ERA and .225 opponents' batting average with 112 strikeouts in 104.2 innings.
The Cardinals wisely offered Miller additional rest surrounding the All-Star break after he showed signs of wearing down in late June and into July. Although he had an up-and-down second half, the right-hander completed the final month of the season on a positive note by going 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA over five starts.
Miller’s season highlight came on May 10 in his home start against the Colorado Rockies, coincidentally, when he surrendered a leadoff single to Eric Young Jr. before retiring the next 27 hitters in order.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with Miller—and there will undoubtedly be other teams that enter the mix should he officially be made available—he may not necessarily be the best fit for the Rockies.
Miller threw his four-seam fastball 71.1 percent of the time in 173.1 innings this past season, per Brooks Baseball, generating the highest swing rate (48.92 percent) and whiff rate (23.73 percent) among the four starters (Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Tillman the others) that threw the pitch at least 2,000 times. He also recorded the highest average velocity at 94.42 mph.
At the same time, Miller’s fastball featured the least amount of vertical movement (9.16 inches), which essentially means it was the flattest. It was the source of 15 of the 20 home runs he allowed during the regular season. Although the trend isn't indicative of his future, it is concerning considering the right-hander will pitch his home games at Coors Field.
Carlos Martinez, on the other hand, doesn’t have the experience of Miller after serving as a reliever almost exclusively this season in the major leagues.
After struggling to carve out a role following his debut on May 3, Martinez was used sparingly out of the bullpen and bounced between the minor and major leagues as the organization seemingly pondered how to best utilize the 22-year-old.
By the end of the regular season, though, the flame-throwing right-hander emerged as manager Mike Matheny's preferred option in the late innings and ultimately served as the team's setup man throughout the postseason.
He appeared in 12 games between the team's three playoff series, registering a 3.55 ERA and .167 opponents' batting average with with three walks and 11 strikeouts in 12.2 innings.
Furthermore, Martinez actually is the more intriguing candidate in terms of a future pitching at Coors Field.
As a 6'0" right-hander, concern about Martinez's combination of plus-plus fastball velocity and a lack of downhill plane toward the plate has followed him throughout his career. However, his career numbers between the minor and major leagues tell a different story.
In 327.2 minor league frames over four seasons, Martinez has allowed only 14 home runs, which translates to a stellar 0.4 HR/9 rate (home runs per nine innings). Similarly, he allowed only one long ball in 28.1 regular-season innings this past season.
Martinez's ground-ball rates have also steadily improved as he's moved up the minor league ladder and have sat comfortably above 50 percent over the last two seasons. More importantly, his ability to induce ground balls translated favorably in the major leagues this year at 52.3 percent, per FanGraphs.
With the news that the Cardinals plan to use him as a starter in 2014, Martinez may be more available than the team is letting on. Plus, there was the report shortly before the trade deadline in late July that it tried to deal him to the Chicago White Sox as part of a deal for shortstop Alexei Ramirez.