It does seem odd that the St. Louis Cardinals are willing to send do-everything pitcher Kyle McClellan somewhere else. He’s a local boy. He moved through the ranks as a starting pitcher but willingly switched to the bullpen to help the big club, becoming a dependable late-innings guy. Last season, after Adam Wainwright went down, he willingly switched back to the rotation and was very effective as a starter before getting hurt.
In this day and age, selfless players are hard to come by. So why give that up? Maybe because he’s the most expensive pitcher in the bullpen, and other than JC Romero he’s the closest guy to free agency (McClellan’s last arbitration year is next year). It’s hard to believe a team that saved $210 million this off-season would need to cut payroll, but here we are.
Reporting on interest in McClellan has named Baltimore, San Diego and Arizona as potential suitors. Since the Cardinals reportedly are not looking to take on any salary in a trade for Kyle, he would have to be moved for prospects. With that as the goal, St Louis should send him to San Diego for a minor-league catcher.
San Diego has Nick Hundley starting, and although he’s not Johnny Bench he’s not Bob Uecker either. Hundley, coming off a breakout season in 2011, is not going anywhere other than behind the plate at Petco. For the last few years the Padres have suffered from a dearth of catching depth in their system. They have been aggressive in fixing that over the last 12 months. They grabbed Austin Hedges, widely considered the best defensive catcher in last year’s draft, in the second round. Hedges has some work to do at the plate but his defense is close to major league ready now. The club also insisted Cincinnati include Yasmani Grandal in the Mat Latos trade. Grandal, a Cuban emigre, has plus power behind the plate; he rose rapidly through the Cincinnati system in 2011. Suddenly the Padres are very deep behind the plate; recently Fangraphs called Grandal and Hedges the #2 and #5 prospects, respectively, in the San Diego system.
Back to the Cardinals. Who do they have behind Yadier Molina? The depth chart currently lists Tony Cruz as his back-up, and Bryan Anderson shows up on the 40-man. Anderson has been with the organization since the 2005 draft, but has only made a cup-of-coffee appearance with the big club (2010). Why Anderson has spent the last 4 years in AAA can partially be explained by a perceived unwillingness on Tony LaRussa’s part to play him. With Don Tony retired Anderson may get another chance. Cruz has been in the St Louis organization two fewer years than Anderson and has almost twice as many plate appearances, all of which came last year. He proved he can hit major league pitching down the stretch as the Cardinals charged into the playoffs. However I don’t believe we can call either of them the long-term solution behind the plate; they may ultimately be a stop-gap to get the Cardinals to their next catcher.
Grandal is 23 and Hedges 18. Either of them would be an excellent long-term replacement behind the plate for Molina, and neither one is expensive. St Louis should trade McClellan to San Diego.