In the second edition of our “Six Pack of Free Agents” we take a look at another area the St. Louis Cardinals could improve on in free agency this winter.
The St. Louis Cardinals should trade Carson Kelly. There, I said it. It isn’t a popular take, but it needs to happen. He cannot sit on the bench and rot for the next three seasons. I don’t care to hear the lip service about how he will take on more and more of the workload as Yadier Molina ages because I am not buying it.
All that being said, I think the Cardinals realize this as well. They are looking to add a bat via trade this winter and the #1 catching prospect in all of baseball would help fetch a decent return. With another special catching prospect on the fast track to the majors, Andrew Knizner, the Cardinals do not have a need for Carson Kelly.
With Carson Kelly potentially traded and Knizner a little ways from being major league ready, the Cardinals will need a backup catcher. This is where I suggest Chris Iannetta. Iannetta is coming off a fantastic season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He slashed .254/.354/.511 with a 114 OPS+.
The Cardinals are notorious for having weak hitting back up catchers, whether it be Tony Cruz or Eric Fryer, they never have a threat to use on day Molina needs a day off. Maybe it’s that very reason that manager Mike Matheny doesn’t rest Molina as often as he probably should. Not only can Iannetta hit, he absolutely smashes left-handed pitching. He slashed .300/.404/.563 with a .409 wOBA and 148 wRC+. He can hit.
So, I suppose what you’re asking is, “ok, but how is he behind the plate?”. That’s a fair question for a catcher who will turn 35 years old before Opening Day next year. The answer may surprise you. Not only did Iannetta only have 5 passed balls last year, he rated as the definition of average at pitch framing. His strikes gained per game was a 0.0 per StatCorner’s Catcher Report.
I know, that doesn’t sound particularly special, however, Molina rated out at -0.4. Yes, Yadi is costing his pitchers strikes over the course of the season. So not only does Iannetta bring a much-needed bench bat, he also has a very respectable glove behind the dish.
This is the interesting part, as the Cardinals are not known for spending money on backup catchers. They have mentioned that they want to break out of their usual mold. This would be a start, finding a backup catcher that can bring value to the club on Molina’s days off and not act as a second automatic out in front of the pitcher.
Iannetta is a tough contract to peg, because he is above average at hitting, but right at average defensively. He is somewhere between Stephen Vogt and Brian McCann. Yes, that’s how wide a net I had to cast to find a value. Due to his age, he will not get a long-term deal. I can see a contract at $5M for one year, with a team option for the second year at an additional $5M with a buyout of $1M.
All in all, the Cardinals will be getting a plus back up catcher for a guaranteed $6M. That is not bad at all and will really help Mike Matheny feel more comfortable resting Molina more to keep him fresher as the season drags on.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 3!