In a rather surprising turn of events, the St. Louis Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for right-handers Dominic Leone and Conner Greene late Friday afternoon. The move comes just days after the Cardinals avoided arbitration with Grichuk on a one-year deal worth $2.6 million. And while it is not at all unprecedented to immediately trade a player who has just been signed to avoid arbitration, comments from team executives such as President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak at the Cardinals Winter Warm Up last weekend directly implied that Grichuk would assume the role of the team’s fourth outfielder behind a starting trio of Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and the recently acquired Marcell Ozuna.
Grichuk responded by voicing understandable frustration over losing a starting role that he had held for the past couple of seasons. But over the course of these previous campaigns, Grichuk’s production was anything but consistent. The former first-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels came to St. Louis in a highly publicized trade that sent fan favorite David Freese to the west coast. Now, both Grichuk and Peter Bourjos, who was also sent to St. Louis in the deal, are a thing of the past for the Cardinals. Grichuk never found a steady rhythm or approach at the plate during his time with the Cardinals. While he pleased the fans with plenty of upper-deck home runs, Grichuk’s high strikeout rates, including an extremely high 30.1% rate in 2017, and frequent inability to provide any form of situational hitting led to a rather disappointing tenure in St. Louis when taking into consideration Grichuk’s hype, overall athleticism, physique, and baseball tool set.
The Cardinals clearly got the corner-outfield upgrade they wanted this offseason in Marcell Ozuna. While a good portion of fans may be sad to see Grichuk go, there is no denying that the Cardinals still have a surplus of young outfielders, several of which are now knocking on the door of making the cut out of spring training. Even with the departures of Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Magneuris Sierra, top prospects including Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader will surely provide sufficient depth for the Cardinals in 2018 and beyond. And if minor league numbers are taken into any consideration, these prospects may even provide more consistent, solid at-bats off the bench than Grichuk would have. And while Grichuk’s young age and undeniable potential still netted him an opportunity with the Jays, he may still face some competition for a starting spot in Toronto with outfielders such as Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce. There was no chance at all for a starting outfield competition in St. Louis, barring unforeseen injury to another player.
In addition to getting a better look at top outfield prospects by trading Grichuk, the return in the deal is highly promising for the Cardinals. Dominic Leone, a righty with parts of four years of big league experience under his belt, had a breakout 2017 season with the Blue Jays, posting a surprising 2.56 ERA with 81 strikeouts in just 70 1/3 innings pitched.
Although 2017 may seem like an outlier for Leone, an advanced look at his numbers in a pitchers ballpark in Toronto (in a star-studded AL East division) may indicate that we can expect Leone to perform at a high level again moving forward. Leone’s ground ball percentage has eclipsed the 45% mark in nearly all of his big league time, and his 6 homers allowed in 2017 resulted in an outstanding 0.8 HR/9 ratio. This along with a 1.25 game-entering Leverage Index (geLI), which roughly indicates that Leone inherited a large number of high pressure situations when entering games last season, may give reason to believe that Leone could be one of the most important members a Cardinals bullpen that has been desperate for reliable options in recent memory.
In addition to getting Leone, the starter depth that Connor Greene provides to a farm system stripped of super-prospect Sandy Alcantara makes it easy to see why the Cardinals were willing end their commitment to Grichuk. The trade not only benefits both sides in the immediate future by fulfilling big league roster needs, but it specifically gives the Cardinals an unforeseen opportunity to showcase young outfielders at the Major League level.