By this point, you know the drill. The St. Louis Cardinals have been falling apart at the seams, destined for their just their second season with a losing record in the 21st century and their first since 2007. Because of this, they have announced their intention to sell at the deadline, a move as unprecedented as the Yankees’ sell-off in 2016. The Yankees, as they have for three years now, need a left fielder, preferably one with multiple years of team control who could be a contributor on more teams than just the treadmill-running 2023 squad. If there’s one thing the Cardinals have an overabundance of, it’s outfielders, leading many to peg the two teams as possible trade partners.
To that end, earlier this month, Esteban profiled Dylan Carlson, while I checked out Tyler O’Neill. Now, to wrap up our journey through the tradeable pieces in the St. Louis outfield, let’s take a look at the player that piques my interest the most out of the three, the international sensation Lars Nootbaar.
Originally drafted by the Cardinals in the eighth round of the 2018 draft, the El Segundo, California, native made his MLB debut on June 22, 2021, at the age of 23. Spending the remainder of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 as the team’s fourth outfielder, Nootbaar eventually seized a starting job when injuries hit, and his breakout was partially the reason St. Louis was willing to send Harrison Bader to the Bronx last July. Overall, Nootbaar slashed a solid .228/.340/.448 (125 wRC+) with 14 home runs, 16 doubles, and 3 triples in 347 plate appearances, and his 2.7 fWAR ranked 25th among outfielders with at least 300 plate appearances.
Nootbaarsolid 2022, however, was just the beginning. Playing for the Japanese National Team during the World Baseball Classic, Nootbaar gained international acclaim. Serving as the team’s starting center fielder, Nootbaar reached base 14 times in just 33 plate appearances, scored seven runs, stole a pair of bases, and played stellar defense in center field. His pepper grind hit celebration became one of the signature features of Japan’s championship run. Predominantly known only among diehard baseball fans and the Cardinals fanbase, over the course of WBC, Nootbaar became one of the international faces of the game: over the course of the tournament, his Instagram following grew from 59 thousand to almost a million (it has since eclipsed the one million mark).
International popularity is great for the game of baseball, of course, but it doesn’t help you win ballgames. So how does Nootbaar fit on the Yankees? In my opinion, it’s hard to find a player who fits the 2023 team better than Nootbaar. While his power numbers are down slightly from last year — he’s slugging just .393 with seven homers, 13 doubles and no triples in 301 plate appearances — he’s getting on base at an incredible clip: his .360 OBP is tied for 12th among qualifying outfielders and would be better than everyone in the Yankees lineup besides Aaron Judge by more than .020 points, thanks in large part to his 13.6 walk percentage.
Aaron Boone has penciled in eight different players at the top of the lineup this year, with Gleyber Torres filling the spot 29 times, Anthony Volpe 28 times, DJ LeMahieu 20 times, Jake Bauers 13 times, Oswald Peraza four times, Willie Calhoun three times, Anthony Rizzo twice, and Billy McKinney once. Nootbaar has led off 35 times for the Cardinals, and the only reason he hasn’t done it more is because they also have Brendan Donovan. After spending the better part of the last year trying to figure out who should lead off, the Yankees would finally have some stability in front of their big bashers.
In the outfield, Nootbaar has provided above-average defense in both left and center (2 Defensive Runs Saved and 1 Out Average in 101 innings in left, 1 DRS and 2 OAA in 292 innings in center), while the metrics are slightly split on his performance in right (1 DRS, -2 OAA in 192 innings). While it’s unlikely that a Nootbaar/Bader/Judge outfield would be as elite defensively as, for example, a Bellinger/Bader/Judge one, it would certainly be decidedly above-average. Additionally, Nootbaar’s ability to play center would give the Yankees a solid backup to Bader, as it seems extremely unlikely they’d be willing to play Judge out there when he returns from injury — assuming they put him into the outfield right away to begin with!
As if this doesn’t make Nootbaar seem appealing enough, he’s currently in his age-25 season and will be under team control through the end of 2027. With center field currently in flux beyond this year — Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa will be free agents, and aside from Judge, the in-house options with MLB experience at the moment are Billy McKinney, Greg Allen, and the seemingly exiled Estevan Florial — Nootbaar would give the Yankees a player capable of manning the position.
Oh, and Nootbaar bats left-handed, and as we know, the Yankees have had a dearth of left-handed bats since Greg Bird lost the first base job to Luke Voit and Didi Gregorius left in free agency. Anthony Rizzo is tasked with holding down the fort and only just homered to end a two-month drought. Otherwise it’s pretty dark unless you happen to be a founding member of the Jake Bauers Fan Club.
Unfortunately, the dream of hearing the Bleacher Creatures chant “Noot!” during the roll call will likely remain just that: a dream. The Cardinals appear to view Nootbaar as a member of their core going forward, and with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado under contract through 2024 and 2027, respectively, it appears unlikely that they’d be willing to listen to offers until they decide to trade one or both the veterans.
So unless 2024 in Missouri looks a lot like 2023 in Missouri, I just don’t see it. The Cards want to compete next year and Nootbaar is key to the equation. So unless someone blows the front office away, he’ll still be wearing the Redbird uniform when the deadline arrives next week.