clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cardinals trade for Brandon Moss, get reinforcement for steep price

The Cardinals responded to Matt Holliday's injury by acquiring Brandon Moss. Is he worth the price they paid to get him?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The team with the best record in the majors had been relatively quiet amidst the flurry of deals taking place over the last 48 hours. The St. Louis Cardinals had made just one move, trading for reliever Steve Cishek. However, the Cardinals were forced into action by an injury to Matt Holliday last night, and responded by agreeing in principle to acquire Brandon Moss from the Indians for pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky.

Moss has struggled at the plate this season, posting a slash line of .217/.288/.407. With that said, he brings a strong track record of power from the left side, and has been 12 percent above league average overall offensively during his career.

Kaminsky, the Cardinals' first round pick in 2013, was ranked their #5 prospect by Baseball America before the season began. The Indians appear to have done well, but we'll get there in a minute. For now, let's focus on Moss, and how he fits into the Cardinals lineup.

The Cardinals have struggled to find decent first base production since Matt Adams' season ending injury (and actually before then as well, as Adams had struggled out of the gate). The team has relied mostly on Mark Reynolds, who has not been an above-average hitter since 2012. Reynolds' ISO sits at a career-low .163 this season, so it appears that his trademark skill, power, is abandoning him rather quickly. St. Louis has used Stephen Piscotty sparingly at first since calling him up from the minors, and though he was a top prospect, he has yet to display much power.

One of the advantages to acquiring Moss versus a hitter like Adam Lind is that Moss does not display a very significant platoon split. He is better against righties for his career, at 14 percent above average, but he has been 5 percent better than average against left-handers, too. Prior to Holliday's injury, Moss could have taken over at first base, playing pretty much every day.

However, with Holliday out, Moss is likely to move around more often. Holliday strained his right quad, the same injury for which he spent six weeks on the disabled list earlier this season. In his absence, Moss will seemingly take over regular duties in left, sharing time occasionally with Peter Bourjos. The Cardinals will most likely stick with the combination of Reynolds and Piscotty at first base until Holliday returns (if Holliday returns). At that point, Moss would shift back to first.

The good news, for St. Louis, is that Moss' offensive numbers should improve. His hard-hit rate of 38% is higher than his career average of 34.2%, suggesting that his bat speed has not eroded. Moss has accrued a BABIP of .265 thus far this season, which would easily be the lowest of any full season of his career. If Moss continues to hit the ball as hard as he has thus far, improved luck will likely point his overall numbers in the right direction.

Moss projects to be worth about 1 win going forward, according to FanGraphs. That should make the Cardinals about half a win better, considering that he will be taking the place of either Mark Reynolds or Peter Bourjos, each projected to be valued at just above replacement level. However, as is the case with most players traded at the deadline, Moss will be most valuable to St. Louis in the playoffs, when his proficiency against pitchers of both hands will give St. Louis added versatility.

As a team, the Cardinals have posted the second-best FIP in the majors at 3.25. However, their hitters have collectively been 14th in the majors, with a below-average wRC+ of 96. St. Louis hitters have struggled to hit for power, with an ISO of .132 that ranks 24th in the majors. The addition of Moss should improve both numbers. At 31 years of age, Moss' best days may be behind him, but he is still young enough to produce at a relatively high level for a few more years. As a rental, he will do just fine.

The Cleveland side of the deal is fairly straightforward. The Tribe have lost seven of ten and find themselves eight games under .500 and 15 games back in the division. In the past two weeks, they have cemented themselves as sellers, and have already shipped off David Murphy to the Angels.

They did well to acquire Kaminsky from the Cardinals, especially when considering that Moss becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The lefthander was drafted out of high school in 2013, and has solid stuff. Kaminsky is not big — at 5-11, 191, he looks more like a reliever than a starter — but he features a plus curveball already, and his velocity is improving. At the high-A level this season, he has posted a 2.09 ERA and a 2.59 FIP, with 79 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings.

Kiley McDaniel at FanGraphs ranked him the #99 prospect in baseball on his preseason top 200. MLBfarm.com listed Kaminsky as the #4 prospect in the Cardinals system, and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as St. Louis' fifth-best prospect before the season began.

The general consensus surrounding Kaminsky seems to be that he was comfortably one of the Cardinals' five best prospects, and that he sits on the fringes of the MLB top 100. McDaniels projects that Kaminsky develops into a number four starter, while John Sickels at Minor League Ball thinks Kaminsky could eventually be a number three, if he avoids durability issues.

A caveat, perhaps, for the Indians, is that since hiring John Mozeliak to be their General Manager, the Cardinals have been extremely successful when trading young pitchers. Look no further than Joe Kelly, traded with Allen Craig for John Lackey last season, who has posted an ERA of 5.76 with Boston. Going back a little further, Clayton Mortenson and Shane Peterson, two of the players traded for Matt Holiday in 2011, have combined to be sub-replacement level in the years since. In fact, since the beginning of Mozeliak's tenure, the only pitchers under 30 to accrue at least 1.0 fWAR after being traded by St. Louis are Shelby Miller, Luke Gregerson, and David Carpenter, and the latter two did so in relief.

Circumstances aside, the Indians appear to have received more value. Considering the Cardinals' offensive weaknesses, however, the acquisition of Moss increases their chances at playoff success, especially if his hitting improves with better luck. The best team in baseball has fought its way to 64 wins despite injuries to some of its best players. Now, finally, it seems that reinforcements are on the way.

Tom O'Donnell is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at Od_tommy.