With the offseason steadily moving along, there have already been a number of trades including a blockbuster that saw the Atlanta Braves trade 26-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels for a three-player package of Erick Aybar, Chris Ellis, and Sean Newcomb. The Angels got a defensive wizard who is signed through 2020, while the Braves continued their rebuild as they brought in two upside pitchers in Newcomb and Ellis.
After the Simmons trade, the Braves were rumored to have been shopping first baseman Freddie Freeman, as well. Now, while the 26-year-old former All-Star was expected to be a franchise cornerstone, the Braves are clearly not close to contending. A Freeman trade could bring back a solid haul and expedite the rebuilding process. One team that has been tied to Freeman and the Braves is the St. Louis Cardinals. While the Cardinals certainly have a need for a power bat in the lineup, there would be a tough decision to make if they were to make the trade. It has to do with phenom Stephen Piscotty, who proved his worth at the plate in 2014 by slashing .305/.359/.494 and hitting seven homers in just over 250 plate appearances. Piscotty is currently projected to be the Cardinals’ starting first baseman come Opening Day, and the outfield is already set. Or so you would be led to believe.
This is where everything hinges on Jason Heyward. While Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk are almost certain to be locks in left and center field respectively, right field is unsettled due to Heyward’s free agency. Heyward has said he is open to re-signing, stating that he likes the team as well as the city of St. Louis. Certainly general manager John Mozeliak would like to bring back a 26-year-old who was the best Cardinal offensively, arguably the team MVP, in a 100-win 2015 season. The Cardinals are expected to push hard for Heyward, so if the team were to lock up Heyward long term, that would push Piscotty (who came through the minors primarily as an outfielder) to first base duties and make a trade for Freeman more difficult. Of course the Cardinals could potentially miss out on Heyward and this argument would be moot as Piscotty could move into right field and Freeman could slide right into the everyday first baseman’s role. Thus how this whole situation all hinges on Heyward, and so for argument’s sake we will say that Heyward re-signs in St. Louis.
Now, while bringing Freeman over to St. Louis would bolster the lineup and potentially make a stronger pitch for Heyward (remember the two used to be teammates in Atlanta), a corresponding move would likely have to be made in order to put the best team on the field. Piscotty has to be on the field, as he offers too much upside at the plate to justify benching him or sending him back to Triple-A Memphis. That leaves Holliday and Grichuk as trade candidates. With Holliday being eligible for “ten and five” status, he cannot be traded without his consent, so we can scratch the idea of dealing him in a potential Freeman deal as the 35-year-old most likely doesn’t want to go to a rebuilding team as his career starts getting into the later stages. That leaves the 24-year-old Grichuk as one of the main pieces in a deal for Freeman. Really Grichuk makes the most sense as he is a young, controllable bat with loads of potential, some of which he flashed in 2015, slashing .276/.329/.548 with 17 home runs. Moving Grichuk would most likely mean Heyward in center, as he has shown the capability to play the position. Trading for Freeman would make sense for the Cardinals and would help them keep up in a rapidly improving NL Central, but there are hoops to jump through and other moves to evaluate before a deal is done.