Can the Cardinals find more Rockies magic?


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Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

With the Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings racing alongside an expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement during a slow-moving hot stove period for teams and players, the St. Louis Cardinals are still looking for a viable starter for their rotation, but Cardinal Nation can only hope their eyes are also set on finding a shortstop to bolster their lineup.

Enter Trevor Story, formerly with the Colorado Rockies and most likely rejecting the qualifying offer today, which would make him a clear cut free agent shortstop. Should the Cardinals take a peek, or keep looking for the replacement to a timeshare between Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa?

First off, it’s important to point out that Story won’t instantly change the Cardinals from a playoff contender to a playoff beast. Few acquisitions pull off that sort of Houdini act, and there’s evidence in their last big offseason acquisition: Nolan Arenado. He had a very solid first season at third for St. Louis, yet couldn’t necessarily push them past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wildcard game. But Story could be a valuable asset to the Cardinals for a few different reasons, namely his hitting.

In six seasons in Colorado, the Texas native slashed .272/.340/.523. He averaged 34 home runs, 39 doubles, and six triples during that timespan, with an average 3.6 fWAR (wins above replacement). Now, some will say DeJong is capable of accumulating that WAR as well, but the trend of the St. Louis’ middle infielder doesn’t support that statement. DeJong’s 4.2 fWAR in 2019 was a highlight, but it pales in comparison to Story’s career high of 6.0 fWAR that same year. But if you look at a Fangraphs statistic called “wRC+,” the evidence of one’s decline and another’s steadiness isn’t hard to miss. The stat is similar to OPS+, a number that documents the runs per plate appearance for the player and is park/league adjusted. The average wRC+ is 100, and here are DeJong’s marks over the past four seasons: 123, 103, 101, 87, 86. While Story is still viable, DeJong is declining and Sosa’s true output is still unknown.

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The Cardinals need more consistent production at the plate from the shortstop position without sacrificing much defense in the process, and Story checks that off the list as well. According to Fangraphs, he’s saved the Rockies 69 runs over the course of his six seasons, making 88 plays out of the zone in 2021. Unlike Corey Seager, who will cost you some of the runs in the field that he provides at the plate, Story offers potent play on both sides of the ball. Again, he’s a steady player who hasn’t exactly become a superstar just yet.

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Story turned 29 on Monday, keeping him in that “still young yet entering veteran mode” phase that the Cardinals prefer. If you are hedging your bets on this team signing a guy over 30 years of age, I would scrap that. With the recent problematic experiences with Dexter Fowler and the quickly-aged Matt Carpenter, St. Louis will look to secure someone still under 30.

Now, the Colorado angle produces a double-edged sword around the league, especially when it comes to how fans view their stats–and Story is no different. He did benefit from playing in the hitter-friendly Coors Field, with an OPS of .972 at home and just .752 on the road. That stat is taken from 375 games at home and 370 games on the road. But one can’t forget that Ex-Rockies Matt Holliday and Arenado proved to be solid hitters here, even when they had spent most of the season playing elsewhere.

The other less-likely factor with Story and the Cardinals making a deal is his projected price tag. According to Spotrac, Story is set to command close to $30 million on the open market this winter. That number is right below Seager ($31 million per year), just ahead of Carlos Correa ($26 million), and comfortably ahead of Marcus Semien ($19 million) and Javier Baez ($24 million). I find it hard to believe team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. will fork out that much cash for a guy whose stats show they prefer Coors Field.

Let’s recap. Story isn’t left-handed, like the team reportedly prefers. He does hit righties very well while shredding left-handed pitchers, which is a great thing to have in late game matchups. He does offer the team solid offense and defense, so you don’t have to worry about him cramping St. Louis’ gold glove style (at least on the infield). Story is costly but still relatively young. Compared to the other shortstops on the market, I would place him in the middle of the pack for worthiness–but remember, this is a first class crop of free agent shortstops.

No matter what the team decides to do in potential negotiations with Story and his reps at Excel Sports, they do need more hitting. If I have to shout it from the rooftops like Rocky on a mountain top in Russia, so be it. Every team could use more reliable pitching but, more often than not, the Cardinals found themselves coming up short on run support recently. Injuries took a toll on the arms last year, but reinforcements are making their way back for 2022.

Reward and risk included, Story would make the Cardinals a much better team, if not a late playoff lock.