The NL Central is a bad division. I have no clue who is going to come out on top by the time we get to game 162. Currently, the surging Reds hold a slight margin over Milwaukee, but if they fell off and ended up near the bottom of the division, would anybody be surprised?
There is just so much unpredictability here. At the beginning of the year, the St. Louis Cardinals were the clear cut favorites to come out on top. In fact, their offense was one of the most intriguing in all of baseball. They weren’t just some team good enough to win a weak division either. There was a legitimate argument that they were a top contender in the National League. With multiple MVP candidates, a top hitting prospect, and several other promising hitters, how could they not be?
Well, sometimes things don’t always go according to plan. The Cardinals currently sit in dead last in the division. There’s been subpar play, but there has also been terrible communication, decision making, and relationship building from the front office and manager. The adults in the room not actually playing the sport mishandled their biggest free agent signing in the last decade and treated Tyler O’Neill as if he was a kid with no work ethic. All this to say, this team is not good, and the short-term future is filled with question marks. Ignoring these issues isn’t a good idea. They should seriously consider moving some parts around and setting themselves up for 2024. Luckily for the Yankees, there are a few players on this team that could be helpful in one way or another.
First, I’ll start with the two players who have experienced weird situations this year in St. Louis: O’Neil and Willson Contreras. Contreras isn’t likely to going anywhere. If the Yankees had significant interest in him, we probably would have heard more about it in the offseason, when he inked a five-year deal with St. Louis. That said, I’m sure the Yankees were feeling better about their catching situation in the winter than they are now. Are Jose Trevino’s struggles enough for them to consider adding Contreras for four and half years at $18 million a year? That’s a tough question. They value defense at the position, and Contreras’ is a tick below average. I wish this could be a fit, but it just does not feel realistic given the team’s luxury tax situation and priorities at the catcher position.
Then there is Tyler O’Neil. He is an athletic, strong outfielder who is coming off a down year where he dealt with multiple injuries. The injury bug has followed him into this season too. His strained lower back has kept him on the shelf since early May, but he is likely to return in the next few weeks. Healthy or not though, his profile isn’t exactly what the Yankees should target. While he is likely an upgrade in left field over whatever they currently have, his high strikeout rate and volatile offense is not what the team needs. His ceiling is as high as a 5-win player if stays on the field and gets to his power, but the health and whiffs are too scary.
The last player I want to discuss is a bit of a dream scenario. Dylan Carlson was once a top-10 prospect and entered the league at the age of 21 as a switch-hitter who had dominated minor league competition. Since then, he has yet to really blossom. His career wRC+ is 103, and this year it is 105. He has essentially been an average player. But every time I watch him, I imagine him continuing his solid hitting as a righty, and making the most of the short porch and selling out on a pull side fly ball approach from the left side. We’ve seen the Yankees help hitters do this recently, and I think Carlson is talented enough to make this change. The cost won’t be cheap, but the Cards’ outfield is crowded. Jordan Walker is back and hitting, Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar feel like two players who aren’t going anywhere, and Brendan Donovan is one of the team’s best hitters. Carlson may be available if the team is looking to rebalance their roster.
We’ll see how this plays out. We saw these teams make a 1-for-1 swap last year that was mutually beneficial. Can they do it again? I think so, but it is largely dependent on how the Cardinals’ front office views their struggling team.