The free agent center fielder crashed and burned with the Astros, but can the Cardinals find some value?

A couple of days ago, ESPN released an article discussing possible “outside the box” options for the Cardinals in the outfield. We’ve all heard the big names, Cespedes, Desmond and Fowler, but there are some other options that have begun gathering steam with the weak free agent market. One of those names is former all-star center fielder Carlos Gomez.

Upsides

A couple of years ago Gomez would have been prohibitively expensive, but now he is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. Last year, Gomez slashed .231/.298/.384 with an OPS+ of 85. Before you cry and run away from looking at those numbers, there’s a lot more than meets the eye with Gomez. Yes, he was abysmal while playing with the Astros, but in his 33 games with the Rangers, Gomez slashed .284/.362/.543 with an OPS+ of 134. Now those are some numbers the Cardinals would love to have. If Gomez can duplicate that production over an entire season for the Cardinals, he would be an amazing signing.

There are other benefits to signing Gomez. For one, he wasn’t given a qualifying offer, so the Cardinals would not have to give up a draft pick for him. Gomez is a better defender and baserunner than pretty much any other outfielder on the market barring Cespedes, and those are two huge holes the Cardinals are looking to fill this year. He will also be relatively cheap compared to the other outfielders, as he is coming off a down year. In addition, Gomez is a center fielder, which would allow the Cardinals to shift Grichuk and Piscotty to the corner outfield positions where they will be more comfortable defensively.  It seems like Gomez would be the perfect signing. However, one question remains, can he still hit? Or was the second half of last season the last gasp of an aging star?

Can he hit?

When a player has an unexpectedly bad season, the first thing to look at is BABIP to see if it was bad luck. Unfortunately for Gomez that doesn’t appear to be the case. He hit pretty poorly the second half of the season in 2015 too, so maybe it has something to do with Minute Maid park. Still, his BABIP with the Astros was .300, a little below his career average of .310 but certainly not enough to cause such a precipitous drop in production.

On the other hand, with the Rangers his BABIP was .347. This is high above his career and the league average, which indicates Gomez could have benefitted from some good luck. Globe Life Park in Arlington is a more hitter friendly park than Minute Maid, and a large portion of Gomez’s increased offensive production came from home runs. In Houston he had a HR% of 1.6 but in Arlington he has hit a home run a whopping 6.2% of the time. That kind of production is definitely unsustainable (league average 2.7%).

There are other signs that Gomez’s production in Texas may have been a hot streak. With both the Astros and the Rangers, Gomez struck out more than usual for his career. It’s not as if Gomez was raking before he came to the Astros either. After his all-star season in 2014, his numbers steadily began to decline leading up to his trade to Houston. In Houston, the decline continued until this year where it dropped off a cliff. Ultimately, I think his performance with the Rangers was regression to the mean, just not a good mean. The slash line he produced for the season is probably right around what he’ll do next season.

Conclusion

All though this signing may seem like a slam dunk at first, don’t let the 33 game hot streak fool you. He can’t hit. Gomez’s numbers were buoyed by a hitter friendly park and a streak of dingers. Even though Gomez is only 30, we’ve seen his decline for a number of years now. Hitting isn’t the only aspect of the game, but if Gomez returns to what he was on the Astros, his hitting becomes a liability. The Cardinals would have to count on the rest of the lineup to score. If Gomez can keep a modicum of offensive production and provide excellent defense and baserunning (think Jason Heyward on the Cubs), this signing could work. If the Cardinals are counting on some offensive production out of their center fielder, they should probably look elsewhere.

Photo Credit- Jim Cowsert USA Today

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