Hi, John, Bill. You're probably wondering why I'm here. Let me get right to the point: The St. Louis Cardinals are boring, and your fans are frustrated by it.
You don't take risks, and when you do take them you don't double down—you'll trade for Jason Heyward, sure, but you won't extend him unless it's on your terms. And that's fine, in isolation! Perfectly fine.
But you only ever accept one kind of risk: The risk that you didn't quite do enough. If Mike Leake doesn't pitch well, or if three consecutive years of line-drive-hitting collegiate draft picks all peak as bench bats, you've only run the risk of having a very profitable, very flexible 81-win team.
Now, sirs—please, my name isn't important—sirs, building for the second Wild Card as your downside risk makes for exciting baseball, but it doesn't make for exciting baseball fandom, and so it becomes more boring and more frustrating to watch the Cardinals every season and offseason.
Sometimes baseball feels like a solved problem—that's not sabermetricians' fault, and it doesn't mean we can ignore what we've learned, but it's a fact of baseball fandom. And really good sports fandom requires surprise and confusion. We want to watch a winning team, but we also want to turn to each other and say, "Are you seeing this? What the hell is John Mozeliak thinking? But I guess, maybe—" No offense, John.
To get surprise and confusion on a team level, and a front office level, you have to believe that a non-rational actor might be involved in personnel decisions.
I am not a rational actor, and I am here to help.
John Mozeliak, Bill DeWitt, rational-acting members of the Cardinals front office, it's time to do something risky and dumb. I want you to—no, it is time we must—trade for Mike Trout.
Please, write this down. After security responds to the silent alarm you just triggered—I saw your foot move, and I'm not mad—but after they respond to the silent alarm they'll wrench the index cards out of my hands and I won't be able to repeat this speech.
Trading for Mike Trout is a risk. You'd have to trade a lot of flexibility, because that's the only thing the Angels could want in return, and if having Mike Trout were a sure thing—well, [laugh]—sorry, that's a stage direction I wrote down—well, ha ha, I wouldn't have even stolen the Fredbird's Dad costume from the stadium, gotten hunched down inside that snack cart, and waited overnight in your office in the first place—because then the Angels would never trade Mike Trout! Okay, NOW I'm supposed to laugh.
So it's a risk. But the reward is something more than winning 90 games and having a reasonable chance of winning the World Series: It's building a team that captures fans' imaginations! The best player in the world on a team stocked full of above-average teammates, playing in a stadium that will never let him or anybody else forget he's the best player in the world.
I tear up thinking about it, almost. So here's how you do it.
1. You trade Alex Reyes. You can't trade for Mike Trout without giving up a super-prospect in return, and you guys are lucky enough to have one! As good as he is, Alex Reyes is a pitcher, with built-in risk of his own, and if he hits your 90th-percentile projections for him he still won't be as valuable as Trout is now.
2. You throw some really good pieces in, too. When the Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr.—who was much older than Trout is now, only I left my notes in my regular human pants so I can't say how old—they got a major-league-ready Gold Glove center fielder, a future Top 20 prospect, and a starter with some upside.
Alex Reyes is a great start, though. He'll give Angels fans something to rebuild their own imaginations around. Kolten Wong could be Brett Tomko in this set-up. And then throw maybe in some Paul-DeJong-type prospects? (You guys ever mix him up with Paul Janish? I bet you don't, since you drafted him, but man—every time I'm on Baseball Reference!)
Hey, I'm just a guy in a stolen mascot costume. I don't really know what it takes. But I'm sure the Angels will tell you. And it may seem like a lot of pieces, but you guys trust your abilities, right? You can get more good prospects where they came from, no problem. But nobody gets to draft Mike Trout.
Now, if you were just giving up the prospects you were comfortable with giving up, I think the Angels would balk on this. You hold assets close to the vest, and what I just suggested might sound like one too many. And—I feel like I can be honest with all you guys, now that we've been through this silent alarm together—I'd balk too! Right now it still feels rational. A big risk, and an exciting one, but it's missing a little something. A little Walt Jocketty.
That's why you take on Albert Pujols's contract, too.
OK, I see you aren't as surprised as I thought you'd be, and I think it's because I read this notecard once already, after I dropped them all at the beginning and they got out of order.
You take on Albert Pujols's contract, and you get to keep more of your cool assets, and Mike Trout is so good that he'd pay for both contracts! Check this out:
|Pujols salary||Trout salary|
Trout's $/fWAR has been $77.4, $60.8, and $72.1 million over the last three full seasons, and that's without taking any future inflation into account. You mostly don't want to pay face value for WAR, but before his poor 2016 Pujols had actually generated some value of his own. You can think of it as paying $165 million to keep some of your own prospects, if it makes you feel better.
But hey, that's just numbers! And I'm here in this prostate-awareness mascot costume, talking through this novelty T-Pain app I forgot was still on my phone, to teach us all a valuable lesson about irrational attachment and feeling.
OK: It's weird not having Albert Pujols around. Not so weird that I wish you guys were paying him $30 million in 2021 for no reason, but if he can help bring in Mike Trout? And if the Cardinals don't have a right-handed hitting first baseman?
Look, we all said some things we regret when it first happened. That was before we knew how Albert Pujols would age, and how little the Cardinals would fall off. I think people want to root for Albert Pujols again, even if it's just because they think he's gotten his comeuppance. And I don't think Albert Pujols is going to get a lot out of a lifetime personal services contract in a city where nobody has any fond memories of him.
We'll get to be around for 3000 hits and 600 home runs, and he'll be able to chase records in a place where people remember how he got into a position to do that. And he might even help the Cardinals win some games this year—if you believe Baseball Reference, he was an above-average first baseman in 2014 and 2015. Only don't look at FanGraphs.
So it works. And worst case scenario, you're out Alex Reyes and $165 million and you have Mike Trout! And hey, $165 million, whatever, but you guys are loaded, right? The food on that cart was super expensive. I could tell, even though it was pretty cold by the time I figured out how to take my beak off.
Well hey, thanks so much for your time. I hope you think about it! I'm going to try escaping, but if you want to talk more about the plan, my Twitter account is on the little cards I left on your desks—@Total, then an underscore, then—that's right, the rest is all one word. Bye!
No, you're right, the other door! Sorry, I can't really see out of the mouth that well.