Cardinals do right by Stephen Piscotty by trading him to A’s
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cardinals obtained the potent hitter they desperately needed when they traded for outfielder Marcell Ozuna in one of the Winter Meetings’ biggest deals.
Yet it was another move that earned them wide admiration.
In a business where decisions are almost invariably determined by gains and losses, the Cardinals took human needs into consideration in sending outfielder Stephen Piscotty to the Athletics on Thursday for minor-league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.
The trade allows Piscotty, a Stanford alum who grew up about 30 miles southeast of Oakland, to be closer to his family. His mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed in May with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
‘‘There were certainly some opportunities to move him elsewhere, and when you’re looking at how to break a tie, that did play into it,’’ Cardinals president John Mozeliak said.
The Cardinals didn’t make the trade purely for altruistic reasons. The arrival of Ozuna, who hit 37 home runs and had a .924 OPS with the Marlins last season, created a logjam in the outfield. Center fielder Dexter Fowler just completed the first season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, and left fielder Tommy Pham is coming off a breakout season in which he batted .306 with 23 homers and a .931 OPS.
The Cardinals also have two other major-league outfielders in Randal Grichuk and Jose Martinez and a prospect in Harrison Bader. Piscotty, who signed a six-year, $33.5 million deal in the spring, was expendable after batting only .235 with a .708 OPS and getting demoted to the minors.
But he earned the contract with a strong season in 2016, batting .273 with 22 homers, 85 RBI and an .800 OPS. It’s conceivable that concern about his mother’s illness played into Piscotty’s down season and that he could bounce back.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the team felt for Piscotty and his ordeal.
‘‘You can’t even really go there or understand what it is that he had to endure or what that is like for a family,’’ Matheny said. ‘‘I think it’s really just understanding that it’s very, very difficult. You let him know that you care. You acknowledge. You have compassion.’’
Piscotty, who turns 27 in January, fits perfectly into the A’s plan to build a contender with affordable talent. Even though the A’s finished last in the American League West for the third year in a row in 2017, they went 17-7 in the final 3½ weeks and showed signs of better days to come with the emergence of homegrown prospects such as first baseman Matt Olson (24 homers in 59 games) and slick-fielding third baseman Matt Chapman.
The A’s traded Ryon Healy to the Mariners partly to open the DH spot for Khris Davis, who has defensive deficiencies as a left fielder but has produced more than 40 homers and 100 RBI each of the last two seasons.
That left a vacancy in a corner outfield spot that Piscotty will fill, likely in right, with Matt Joyce and Chad Pinder probably splitting time in left.
The A’s had been interested in Piscotty for some time and were willing to part with Munoz and Schrock — their No. 13 and No. 17 prospects, respectively, according to MLB.com — because they have a deep reservoir of young infielders in the minors.
But the trade might not have been completed without the Cardinals’ willingness to do right by Piscotty, which earned them complimentary responses on social media.
It also elicited praise from Billy Beane, the A’s executive vice president of baseball operations. Approached by a Bay Area News Group reporter, Beane said he thought the Cardinals wanted to help Piscotty get closer to home.
‘‘That’s what makes the Cardinals one of the classiest organizations in sports,’’ Beane said.
Follow me on Twitter @jorgelortiz.