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The case for signing Michael Brantley

The St. Louis Cardinals have already had an excellent offseason with the acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, but they need to consider one more big signing to make the team even deeper. They should contemplate signing Michael Brantley and forgo the other “shiny objects” available in free agency.

The St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in an interesting situation going into 2019. After the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt, the team overall seems poised to improve on their 2018 record of 88-74. However, while I do believe the newly acquired first baseman makes them more competitive, he isn’t the final piece of the puzzle to reclaim the NL Central title and NL Pennant.

Many fans are calling out the organization to obtain Bryce Harper, the most coveted outfielder in free agency this season and could possibly be a one of kind generational player. Harper is the “shiny object”, the “desirable one”, but is he the best option for the Cardinals?

Yes, he provides a powerful left handed bat, that can crush any pitcher he faces, but again, is he the best option for the St. Louis Cardinals right now? The front office doesn’t think so, which is why I think the Cardinals should go after Michael Brantley.

Cardinal Direction?

First, we have to ask, ‘what does the “all-in” mentality of John Mozeliak look like?’ Many fans believe the answer lies in Harper, and the numbers are certainly impressive. He has a career WAR of 27.4, 922 career hits, a .279 career batting average, has hit 184 career home runs, draws an average of 102 BB’s/season, and has a career OPS of .900. All of those numbers are great, and he would be welcomed into the organization with open arms.

But is Harper’s price tag going to cause problems in the future? Supposedly, his price is above the $300 million range and rumored to be asking at least 10 years. His agent, Scott Boras, is world-renowned for his patience in the free agency process and will wait on for the perfect deal to come to the table.

In the past, the team has been apprehensive in handing out long term and expensive deals that could hinder the financial flexibility of the organization (i.e. Albert Pujols, Max Scherzer). But last offseason, the team was very willing to assume the majority of the Giancarlo Stanton contract, which would have cost the team a pretty penny.

Throughout the history of the franchise, the team  has thrived when the team as a whole is well balanced and unified with smaller, more practical contracts. The Cardinals have always been able to produce young talent and compete in the NL Central for many years, and yet have never been a team that makes the biggest purchases.

The question the organization has to ask itself, is Harper worth the money and years he will be asking for and when will his prime years end? Have we already seen the prime years of Harper? If he did sign with the Cardinals, how does that affect extending Goldschmidt and Ozuna after 2019?

There are lots of variables to consider, but one of the most important is asking yourself ‘are there safer, short term deals that would benefit the team more?’ In this case, one safe bet that the team can rely on for 2019 is Michael Brantley.

Brantley’s Fit

Brantley has played the last 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians and has provided them with the consistent bat and offense any team would ask for. With Brantley, we have a better sample size of who he is a hitter.

In 143 games last season, he hit .309, which was 8th in all MLB, while finishing with 176 hits. He also hit 17 home runs,  had 36 doubles, drove in 76 runs, and scored 89 runs himself. But the most impressive stat was that Brantley struck out just 60 times in those at-bats. He has proven to be a very productive hitter, consistent All-Star.

He fits the mold as a perfect number two hitter in front of Goldschmidt and behind Matt Carpenter. Plain and simple, he hits and hits for average. How can St. Louis incorporate his skills in the outfield and in the lineup?

Trade Fowler and Jose Martinez

Unfortunately, the Fowler contract has not worked out for the team. Yes, he has had moments of brilliance but not the consistency the team was looking for. Despite this, there are plenty of teams that believe Fowler holds some value, even if it isn’t with the Cardinals.

On the other hand, Jose Martinez has been very productive in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, finishing top 12 last season in batting average among qualified hitters on top of knocking in 163 hits and 17 homers, while driving in 83 RBI’s.

He has trade value since he won’t be seeing much playing time with Goldschmidt, who has displaced Martinez as the everyday first baseman. The St. Louis Cardinals can package him along with Fowler for much needed bullpen or starting pitching help.

Teams like the Rays or Indians might be interested in acquiring outfielders via trade rather through free agency, and Martinez’s cheap contract makes him a perfect fit.

Platoon with Tyler O’Neill

Brantley smashes right handed pitching. Last season, he was top 4 in all of MLB in overall hitting against righties (ahead of NL MVP Christian Yelich), and he hit a .321 average, 14 home runs, 31 doubles and an OPS of .889. Flat out one of the best hitters in baseball against right handed pitching.

One of the concerns with Brantley is his health and his ability to hit left handed pitching. His numbers, especially his power numbers are affected dramatically by the southpaws. Platooning him with Tyler O’Neill who has had huge success in the minor leagues against lefties, batting .397, and an OPS of 1.118, would give manager Mike Shildt some options for the lefty/righty split.

Next: Finding a trade for Cody Bellinger

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If I were John Mozeliak, I would go out and sign Brantley now than wait to see how the Harper sweepstakes plays out. We run the risk of another team signing Brantley in the meantime. Yes, Harper would be nice to have in the lineup but for the “all in” Cardinals, Brantley is the solution for a primed run for the NL Central and NL Pennant.

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