It’s no secret the Cardinals have a hole to fill in center field. Names like Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond have been tossed around quite a bit early in the offseason, but one player that hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention is A.J. Pollock.
There’s no question that Pollock is the type of player that can change a franchise. His presence in the Diamondbacks lineup was sorely missed in 2016, as he was limited to just 12 games due to a fractured wrist suffered late in Spring Training.
After missing almost an entire season, it’s easy to forget that Pollock was a 6.5 WAR player just 1 year ago, providing above-average defensive play in center while posting a .315 AVG with 20 HR and 39 SB. It was Pollock’s reliability atop the order that made Arizona a trendy pick to make the playoffs after their offseason spending spree that led to Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller’s arrival in the desert.
One thing led to another, though, and now it’s those same risky moves that may cause newly appointed GM Mike Hazen to break it all down and rebuild yet again. Arizona has already shown a willingness to deal away major-league caliber players, with Jean Segura being the first Diamondback to be shipped off this winter.
If Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak decides to make an outfield upgrade via trade, Pollock could be next to be on his way out of Arizona. He’s currently slated for a hefty arbitration salary bump from $2.6 million in 2016 to $7.3 million in 2017 (MLBTR), and it stands to reason that Arizona’s new front office could look to replenish the farm system while shedding payroll.
For St. Louis, Pollock would represent a huge upgrade on both sides of the ball. Despite his injury-plagued 2016 season, all indications are that he’ll be healthy and ready to go come spring training. Pollock, flanked in left and right by Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, could team up to be a championship-caliber trio of outfielders. He would perfectly slide into the leadoff spot, taking the pressure off of Kolten Wong, and getting on base somewhere near his career .346 clip.
Ever since the Cards’ season came to a disappointing end in October, it’s been clear that center field is the main position of focus for Mozeliak and his front office. The question is, should we commit big dollars to a free agent with significant question marks, or trade away future pieces in exchange for a cost-controlled, young outfielder with loads of potential. Pollock checks the boxes, including upgrading a defense that by many metrics was among the worst in baseball last season.
He surely won’t come cheap. Arizona will likely try to start discussions with Alex Reyes, at which point Mozeliak will probably enjoy a good laugh before changing the focus to some of the other Cardinals prospects that haven’t already recorded a 1.57 ERA in a major league pennant race.
The Cardinals farm system is not considered to be among the best in the majors, but they do have a collection of players who are nearly ready to contribute at the major league level, such as RHP Luke Weaver and OF Harrison Bader.
Now, A.J Pollock, like any player aside from maybe Mike Trout, does not come without his fair share of question marks. Injuries haven’t been a serious issue for him throughout his career, but he’ll have to prove himself as healthy and ready to contribute for 162 games come April. Also, with such a significant period of time missed, some may doubt if he will be able to regain that All-Star form from 2015, or if he will face a lengthy adjustment period.
Either way, with the dearth of outfield options available in the free agent market this offseason, swinging a deal for A.J. Pollock seems to be a move that most of Cardinals faithful would be able to get behind. Now, it’s just a matter of weighing risk versus reward for the prospects we’d have to let go in order to make it all happen. I say go for it.
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