With Matt Holliday hurt, Cardinals overpay Indians for Brandon Moss
Already on the hunt for a first base option to offset the loss of Matt Adams to a potentially season-ending quadriceps strain, the Cardinals' search gained urgency when leftfielder Matt Holliday left Wednesday night's game after re-injuring his right quad. On Thursday morning, the team pulled off a swap with the Indians to add depth at both positions, acquiring outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss in exchange for pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky—a puzzling move for the Redbirds given the former’s sagging production and the high esteem in which the latter is held.
The well-traveled Moss—a 31-year-old former Red Sox draft pick heading to his sixth major league team in nine years—was hitting just .217/.288/.407 with 15 homers and -0.5 WAR for the Indians, playing 79 games in rightfield and 10 at first base. That performance is well off the combined .254/.340/.504 with 76 homers he hit as a vital piece of three Athletics playoff teams from 2012 to '14; in terms of OPS+, he’s gone from 135 over those three years to 91 this season. Moss struggled greatly in the second half of '14, hitting just .173/.310/.274 with four of his 25 homers and playing through a torn labrum in his right hip. He underwent surgery in October, then was traded to Cleveland for minor-league second baseman Joe Wendle in December. For the disappointing Indians (46–54, last in the AL Central, 15 games out), his production has waned with each passing month, from an .802 OPS in April to .740 in May, .682 in June and .564 in July.
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Moss's falloff has been particularly acute against righties. Though he's hit .241/.319/.462 against them for his career compared to .252/.326/.414 against lefties, this year he's been much better against the latter (.265/.336/.453 with four homers in 131 PA) compared to the former (.191/.262/.382 with 11 homers in 244 PA). Despite similar exit velocities off his bat against both lefties (89.8 mph) and righties (89.0)—those are MLB Statcast numbers via Baseball Savant's Daren Willman—his batting average on balls in play split is wide (.342 against lefties versus .221 against righties), suggesting some amount of luck is involved.
At the very least, the Cardinals, who at 64–37 own the majors' best record as well as a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central, were in search of a lefthanded bat to offset the loss of Adams, who went down in late May with a right quad strain that required surgery and has jeopardized his season. With righty-swinging Mark Reynolds covering the bulk of the remaining playing time instead of just spotting against lefties, the production of the team's first basemen (.234/.302/.371 with 11 homers) has been the league's second-worst in term of OPS. To add to their options from within, the Cardinals gave well-regarded 24-year-old corner outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty a crash course at first base at Triple A Memphis (where he hit .272/.366/.475 with 11 homers) before recalling him earlier this month. Thus far, they have started him twice at first, three times in leftfield and once in right.
As for the 35-year-old Holliday, his 131 OPS+ (via .290/.409/.420 hitting) is the team's second-best behind Randal Grichuk's 141, but he missed 31 games, from June 9 through July 17, with a strain in his right quad and had gone just 6 for 29, albeit with four extra-base hits, in 11 games since returning. He hurt himself running out a double-play ground ball in the first inning of Wednesday's 1–0 loss to the Reds, with Reynolds entering the game to replace him and Piscotty, who had started at first, moving to leftfield. An MRI revealed Thursday that Holliday has a Grade 2 sprain, and though it isn't known how long he will be out, the Cardinals placed him on the 15-day disabled list as expected.
Thanks to the Cardinals' existing depth, that will leave manager Mike Matheny with an ample cast—Moss, Reynolds, Piscotty, Grichuck and Peter Bourjos—to cover first base, leftfield and centerfield, with Jason Heyward in right. Moss and Heyward are the only lefties in that group, which is without Jon Jay due to a nagging left wrist injury—termed a stress reaction and a bone bruise—that has sent him to the DL twice and greatly sapped his production, making the team's need for a lefthanded bat more clear.
As for Kaminsky, a 20-year-old lefty who was the Cardinals' first-round pick out of a New Jersey high school in 2013, he's been almost exclusively a starter in the minors. This year at high A Palm Beach, he has posted a 2.09 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine and a 64% ground-ball rate in 17 starts totaling 94 2/3 innings. Though a bit on the small side for a pitcher at 5'11", 190 pounds, he can touch 95 mph with his fastball, which generally sits in the 89–92 mph range. Via FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel, "Kaminsky fearlessly attacks both sides of the plate and can add and subtract well from his fastball. His plus curveball is still the separator and is a now-weapon that could get big leaguers out." Via ESPN’s Keith Law, Kaminsky “has great deception in his delivery; prep hitters who faced him on the showcase circuit said he was harder to square up than other pitchers throwing much harder but who showed the ball early.” Kaminsky’s changeup grades out as at least average, giving him the makings of a mid-rotation starter, albeit one who’s at least a couple years away from making the majors.
Even with the risk that Kaminsky winds up in the bullpen, that’s a nice piece to get for an underperforming player making $6.5 million this year, even if he does have one more year of club control left. One has to wonder how much more the Brewers were asking for lefty first baseman Adam Lind, hitting .283/.362/.494 with 16 homers, and on a very reasonable contract—$7.5 million this year, with an $8 million option for 2016. From here, it certainly seems like the Cardinals could have done better, even if they were simply protecting themselves from the risk of losing Holliday for a lengthy amount of time along with Adams.