Earlier this week the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves swung a trade that sent young outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to St. Louis with starting pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins going back to Atlanta. This marks the second trade in consecutive offseasons the Cardinals have made to acquire an elite defensive outfielder, and interestingly the acquisition of Heyward suddenly makes that first defensive specialist expendable.
Back in 2013, the Cardinals made it all the way to the World Series, eventually losing to the Boston Red Sox in 6 games. After the postseason, they felt that there was just one thing lacking on the squad: a good defensive center fielder. With the emergence of Matt Carpenter and second baseman Kolten Wong waiting in the wings, they were comfortable with trading away third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Meanwhile, the Angels had no problem in parting with Bourjos because they had some overachieving outfielder that could take over in his place.
Even though the Cards gave up their starting 3rd baseman from their World Series team, they did not view Bourjos as a starting outfielder as 39 of his 104 appearances last year came off the bench. After all, they already had a starting outfield from left field to right field of Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and a combination of Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras, and Grichuk. Bourjos only appeared in center field last season, often pushing Jay over to right field to optimize their defense in the late innings.
With Craig traded to Boston and Taveras passed away due to his unfortunate car accident in the Dominican, the Cardinals have an interesting decision to make. At the end of the season and in the playoffs, Grichuk was making most of the starts in right field. Do the Cardinals trust that Grichuk is their right fielder of the future, or do they want to stick with Jon Jay?
Now, Peter Bourjos isn't in the discussion for a few reasons. One, his defense is already excellent in center field. Putting him in an outfield corner, while making him perhaps the best defensive corner outfielder in the majors, would also be a waste as there's less room to cover. Second, his offense is not worthy of a corner spot as he's a career .247/.304/.388 hitter. Think of putting shortstop Andrelton Simmons at first base when he's the best defensive shortstop in the majors.
This is why Bourjos is now a trade candidate, as Jesse already pointed out on Monday. If he were to become a Twin, he'd most likely step in as the starting center fielder, pushing Danny Santana over to shortstop where he belongs. With Byron Buxton's imminent debut, the Twins don't want to block him and Bourjos could easily slide to a reserve role. But, if the Twins still like Eduardo Escobar at short and Santana in center field, then Bourjos is already capable as a 4th outfielder, though this second scenario also means the Twins would still acquire someone to man left field (again, it's unlikely Bourjos would suddenly become a corner outfielder).
But, the Cardinals do have another player that might be dangled on the trade market in Jon Jay. He's been the main center fielder for St. Louis over the past few years and he offers an entirely different skill set from Bourjos. Whereas Bourjos' value comes almost entirely from his glove, Jay's advantages are with his bat. Although he doesn't flash much power or draw a ton of walks, he does hit for a high average and he makes up for his lack of walks by getting hit by pitches. Defensively, he's just a touch above average for his career, but he also has experience in the outfield corners, something Bourjos does not have.
Now, the Cardinals trading Jay is a bit more unlikely. While Jason Heyward does have experience in center field, I'm sure the optimal Cardinal outfield involves Holliday in left, Jay in center, and Heyward in right. I don't think the Cardinals would see Bourjos as being a better overall player in center field than Jay, but you never know what could happen. If the Cardinals were blown away by a trade proposal for Jay, I'm sure they'd be willing to part with him.
Nevertheless, I still see Bourjos donning his third different jersey in three years. He already projects best as a backup outfielder and giving him up would be less of a loss for the Cardinals, therefore meaning he'd be cheaper to acquire as well. As a stopgap until Buxton is ready, whether that's midseason or in September, Bourjos would make sense for the Twins.