Why Bryce Harper is not the best option in right field.
The need is clear. The Cardinals are missing a left handed bat in their lineup, and they are missing a reliable all around player in right field. And the fan favorite to take up the mantle of right field is the 400 million dollar man himself, Bryce Harper.
And while there are plenty of positives to signing Harper, the one nagging issue that will continue to hinder productive conversation between the Cardinals and Boras will be committing 400 million over 10 years to one player. As many Cardinals fans well know, Mo and company are not likely to give out a contract like that, especially when they just brought in the person they feel can be the impact 3 hole bat in Paul Goldschmidt.
The reality is that the Cardinal Way will make it nearly impossible for Harper to find his way into St. Louis. This means that Cardinals fans should start placing their hope elsewhere, and I for one suggest Michael Brantley, the free agent left fielder from Cleveland.
I know what you are thinking, why go after a left fielder when we need a right fielder? Why sign a guy who would fit best in a position occupied currently by Marcel Ozuna. But let's look into the facts a little further.
Start with the obvious offensive benefits.
The above stats show that Brantley obviously dealt with some health issues, but he has still had three all-star seasons in the last five. And 2018 was arguably his second best overall season, batting .309 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs. These are the types of numbers that many Cardinals fans hoped for from Dexter Fowler. Brantley also posted a .839 OPS, showing that he has an ability to consistently get on base, numbers that would work well ahead of Goldschmidt.
Imagine having a Carpenter-Brantley duo at the top of your lineup, followed by Goldschmidt and Ozuna. While this still leaves the Cardinals lineup right hand heavy, they would be more of a threat to right handers, with two lefties at the top who can get on base at a high clip. Brantley also fits a reoccurring theme with Cardinals in this lineup currently.
Between the Carpenter, Brantley, Goldschmidt, and Ozuna, they have a combined 11 MVP vote receiving years, with five of them finishing in the top five, but with none of them actually winning an MVP. What does this all really mean? It means that in 11 seasons, one of these players had a year where voters considered them worthy of the MVP on some level, with only five of those seasons having any real chance to net one of these five an MVP.
So am I trying to say that the Cardinals are intentionally going after runner up MVP players? Does it matter where these guys finished in past MVP races? Well, no, not necessarily. But it shows a market that the Cardinals love to work in, and right now it has netted them a solid 3 man core, missing one more solid bat to firm up the top four in the order.
Brantley has the real potential to be an impact bat, and he has posted back to back all star seasons, meaning that at age 31, he still has plenty left in the tank. So great, he is a left handed bat who fits nowhere in our defensive scheme. How does this help us?
Let's look at how Brantley could fit into the Cardinals lineup from a defensive stand point.
The above stats are just a quick overview, but there are some key takeaways early:
1) In 1,003 games, Brantley has a .994 fielding percentage, showing he has been consistently solid defensively in the outfield.
2) Brantley has logged approximately 67 percent of his time in a corner outfield spot, meaning a switch to right field would be more an angle change than a complete position change.
3) One of the key things that sticks out to me about Brantley's numbers lies in his usage at the DH position. If Brantley was a defensive liability, his bat would certainly keep him around, meaning he could be used in the DH spot.
It would seem that not only has Brantley been a constant in the batters box, he has been a constant in the outfield, with solid fielding percentages in both '17 and '18, both all star years.
But none of this necessarily means he could be a right fielder. And let's be honest, after watching guys like Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez play the fish out of water defensively, it may seem pretty annoying to once again be settling for a second choice.
But even if Brantley isn't a born right fielder, I again say that it stands to reasons that this is an easy transition for Brantley to make. He is a guy who has shown clear competence in a corner outfield spot, and should be able to pick up right field easily enough. And with Jay Bruce spending some seasons manning right field for the Tribe, it would make sense that Brantley would be a primary left fielder.
Going for second on this signing does not mean that the Cardinals are giving up on defense like they did with Martinez. And it doesn't mean that they are settling for average with above average pop like they did with O'Neil.
Most importantly, Brantley comes with more of a proven track record than Fowler did, meaning in Brantley, you are getting a guy who will almost certainly put up solid numbers as a 2 hole bat, but at the very least he would consistently find a way on base ahead of the primary run producers in the 3 and 4 spots.
But let's put this farther into perspective.
Money, Money, Money
This is where John Mozeliak will really get excited. In the last five seasons, Brantley made 1.5 million in 2014, 5.875 million in 2015, 7.375 million in 2016, 8.375 million in 2017, and 11.5 million in 2018.
For a guy with career average numbers of .295, with 13 home runs and 81 RBIs, it is easy to see why this would be an attractive option for the stingy Cardinals front office, with a projected deal probably landing Brantley in St. Louis for four years at 30 million, a very team friendly deal with great upside.
Now understand how this helps St. Louis outside of the obvious statistical bumps.
Firstly, not having to lock up 400 million in Bryce Harper opens the Cardinals up to make more signings on the free agent market, adding guys like Britton and Miller, veteran left handed relievers who would command moderately sized contracts and who the Cardinals desperately need.
It also means that the clear question marks after next year, Marcel Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt who are both going to be free agents, could realistically find a long term home in St. Louis with the money the Cardinals save on staying out of the Harper Bazaar. Does the Goldschmidt-Holiday comparison I made on my previous article make more sense?
And realistically, it would make plenty of sense to hold on to guarantees like Ozuna and Goldschmidt over going in on a hyped player like Harper, who might fall off drastically after signing this contract, a la Albert Pujols. The key difference is that Pujols was 31 going on 32 when he signed with the Angels. Bryce Harper on the other hand would be 25 years old, meaning he would spend much more of his prime under that contract.
While the idea of Harper in St. Louis sounds very appealing, it is clearly becoming more unlikely that the Cardinals go after him. If that is in fact the case, then maybe it is time for Cardinals fans to start looking at other options to fill right field.