Would It Really Make Sense for the St. Louis Cardinals to Pursue Brian Dozier?

Sep 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) hits a single in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) hits a single in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

Brian Dozier is undoubtedly an elite power hitter, but is he the same type of player the Cardinals have been trying to distance themselves from this offseason?

With the MLB free agent market largely dried up as we approach January, much of the hot stove attention has now turned towards potential trades. Perhaps the biggest name on the trade market is Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who hit 42 home runs in 2016 and is the anchor of a Minnesota team that isn’t seriously expected to compete for quite a while.

According to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis, the Twins have plenty of suitors for Dozier, and the St. Louis Cardinals are “very much in it.” Wolfson also mentioned the Los Angeles Dodgers (long seen as the favorites to acquire Dozier), the San Francisco Giants, and the Washington Nationals as other teams that are vying for Dozier’s services.

In many ways, a trade for Dozier would be extremely intriguing. It’d silence the vocal critics who have berated the Cardinals for not signing free agent DH Edwin Encarnacion, who went to the Indians last week on a relatively modest three-year, $60 million-dollar contract. Dozier was nearly as valuable of a hitter last season as Encarnacion was, and obviously he has a ton more defensive value.

Dozier probably would slide right into the Cardinals’ cleanup spot, and his addition could create an incredibly fearsome top four in the order if Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Aledmys Diaz all perform as the Cardinals expect them to. His acquisition would allow Stephen Piscotty, who is an extremely talented young hitter but might not have the elite power that Dozier does, to slide back to the five or six hole rather than being pushed into the cleanup spot.

Then again, though, there are plenty of questions to be raised about a potential Dozier trade. First of all, a move for Dozier would almost certainly spell the end of the Kolten Wong era in St. Louis. With Dozier being owed $15 million for the next two seasons, it wouldn’t make much sense to have Wong, who’s owed $24.25 million in guaranteed money through 2020, rotting on the bench. That’s particularly true since the Cardinals already owe a backup infielder, Jedd Gyorko, $25.5 million through 2019. Wong is said to be one of the Cardinals’ most attractive trade candidates, and they’d almost certainly need to deal him in order to pull off a deal for a player of Dozier’s caliber.

Kolten Wong St. Louis Cardinals
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Wong’s had his fair share of struggles over the past season-and-a-half, as he experienced a prolonged power outage, dealt with fielding miscues during the early part of 2016, and struggled all together to make contact. He did show some signs of life over the second half of this past season, though, posting a .746 OPS while playing the most consistent defense of his career.

GM John Mozeliak has been talking up Wong all offseason and has repeatedly affirmed his faith in the 26-year-old as the Cardinals’ starting second baseman. With that in mind, it’d be more than a little surprising to see Mozeliak do a 180 and get rid of Wong this late in the offseason.

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In addition, the Cardinals seemingly have made a conscious effort to take a step away from all-or-nothing power hitters this offseason after those types of players overpopulated the roster in 2016. By cutting ties with Matt Holliday, distancing themselves from free agent Brandon Moss, and setting things up so that Gyorko returns to a bench role in 2017, the Cards have shed the power-first identity of their offense. By plugging Dexter Fowler into the leadoff spot and positioning Matt Carpenter to take over the two or three spot in the order, they’ve turned toward a disciplined approach where getting on base is the first priority.

That type of approach doesn’t really mesh well with what Dozier does. While he’s unique in that he’s a power hitter that will always try to take the extra base–he has 12 or more steals in each of his four full seasons in the big leagues–he has a .246 batting average and .320 on-base percentage over 3,065 career plate appearances, and power is definitely his primary focus. He would be the big power bat that the Cardinals are missing in the middle of the order–his 42 homers tied him with Encarnacion for the fourth-most homers in the majors in 2016–but he’s not the type of all-around hitter that the Cardinals have seemed to covet recently.

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That all-or-nothing approach lends itself to streakiness, and that’s certainly been true for Dozier. Much like guys such as Moss, Gyorko, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Tommy Pham who have been pushed down the Cardinals’ depth chart or cast off entirely over the past year–and perhaps more significantly, much like Wong–Dozier is very much a touch-and-go performer. In 24 months since becoming a full-time big-leaguer back in April of 2013, Dozier has had 11 months where he’s posted an OBP under .320 (which is at the bottom of the threshold for what FanGraphs considers to be an average on-base percentage.)

This quality was more evident than ever in 2016, when Dozier hit just .202/.294/.329 with five homers over the season’s first two months before exploding and slashing .294/.358/.631 with 37 home runs over the remainder of the year.

Things were basically reversed in 2015, as Dozier made the All-Star team after hitting .256/.328/.513 with 19 homers before the break, only to hit .210/.280/.359 with nine round-trippers over the rest of the season. Obviously, Dozier has the ability to be one of the game’s most valuable players when he’s right, but when he’s off, he creates a major void in the middle of the lineup.

Finally, the most troublesome predicament for the Cardinals will be that they’ll have to give up substantial assets in order to acquire Dozier, as he’s a relatively inexpensive 29-year-old who is coveted by many of the teams around the league. We can already infer that Dozier will cost quite a bit since he hit more homers this past season than any second baseman has hit since the early 1970s, but one number might forecast his value better than any other.

Dozier posted a 6.5 rWAR in 2016, which ranked him ninth among the league’s position players. When we’ve seen players command substantially more value than initially anticipated in recent seasons, the common theme has been that they’ve been relatively young, controllable, and coming off seasons in which they ranked highly in WAR.

Brian Dozier Minnesota Twins
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When the White Sox dealt unheralded outfielder Adam Eaton for the Nationals’ top two pitching prospects and their most recent first-rounder earlier this month, they moved a player who recorded a career-best 6.2 WAR in 2016, with much of his value coming from defensive metrics. When the Cubs gave Jason Heyward an eight-year, $184 million-dollar contract last winter despite the fact that he had never hit .300 or hit more than 27 homers in a season, much of his value was attributed to the fact that he had just posted a 6.5 WAR.

Dozier, who has averaged a 4.7 rWAR over the past three seasons, will likely command similar value to Eaton, even though he’s slightly older than the 28-year-old outfielder and has only two years of club control remaining, compared to Eaton’s five. Twins beat writer Mike Berardino suggested that the Twins shouldn’t move Dozier without getting a similar package to the one that the White Sox got for Eaton:

That package would likely have to include Alex Reyes, who the Cardinals simply can’t move with Lance Lynn a free agent after 2017, Adam Wanwright’s contract up after 2018, and Michael Wacha and Mike Leake being major question marks. The Cardinals could try to combine players like Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Delvin Perez, Nick Plummer, and Harrison Bader to compete with other teams’ packages, but ultimately the Cardinals don’t have the prospects to acquire Dozier, especially since the Dodgers are reportedly dangling star pitching prospect José De León in talks for the second baseman.

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With all of that said, it sure doesn’t seem like it makes a ton of sense for the Cardinals to seriously pursue Dozier. While he’d be a better cleanup hitter than anyone on the roster right now, it ultimately seems more beneficial for the Cards to drive up the price for other NL contenders rather than parting with their own valuable assets.