• Chris Lollis

St. Louis Cardinals: To Trade or Not To Trade Carson Kelly?

Carson Kelly photo credit Charles LeClaire (USA TODAY Sports)

Carson Kelly was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2nd round (86th pick) of the 2012 amateur draft as a third baseman. At 18 years old, he started his journey with Johnson City and a year later was asked to switch positions to catcher.

Since making the switch, he has earned the reputation of being a very good defensive catcher, who’s offensive numbers aren’t horrible per say, but lacking enough to not quite be ready to take the reigns at the MLB level. Luckily for him, he hasn’t had to be “that guy” in St. Louis, with future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina still holding down that position just fine.

Kelly has been mentioned among many as the heir apparent when Molina’s career in St. Louis ends. However, nothing is set in stone and by looks of things, Yadi doesn’t look to be slowing down either.

Carson has produced at the minor league level. As catcher for the Memphis Redbirds, he has helped them to back to back PCL championships and last season’s AAA National Championship. He has had some appearances with the big league club the past 3 seasons in that time.

In 2016, at age 21, Kelly played in 10 games for St. Louis. In 2017, he played in 34 games and last season played in 19. Batting .154, .174, & .114 respectively in those short stints for the season.

2018 could’ve been his chance to prove himself in the majors, as Yadi missed a chunk of time with a groin injury. However it was Francisco Pena who ended up with the bulk amount of playing time in Molina’s absence.

In fairness to Kelly, fans forget that when Molina was breaking into the majors in his age 21-23 seasons, offensively he was not the hitter he is now either. Yadi hit .267, .252 & .216 in his first three seasons.

Yadier Molina & Carson Kelly photo credit (Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)

Molina is still under contract for 2019 and 2020 and will turn 38 in July of that ‘20 season. The Cardinals have suggested that in these next couple of seasons, Kelly would be under the tutelage at back up, but without wanting to stunt his growth as a player, they felt having Carson get reps the past couple of seasons in Memphis has been more beneficial thus far.

However, with Francisco Pena electing free agency this off-season, the backup catcher position is up for grabs. Andrew Knizner of the Springfield Cardinals has been impressing many within the organization, and thus has some questioning if this makes Carson Kelly the sure fit as the St. Louis Cardinals catcher of the future going forward.

Do the Cardinals hold onto Kelly?

The argument of keeping him, is that top catching prospects in general, are hard to come by. They have been patient with Kelly and while his stock may not be quite what it was a season or two ago, he hasn’t fallen off to a point he has no value to the team.

Whether that’s as the backup for the St. Louis Cardinals, the future catcher of the Cards or as a trade piece to help bring in other team needs.

The fact that Kelly will be 26 yrs old during Yadi’s last season under contract, and not knowing if Molina will be ready to hang them up at that time, might have some believing that keeping Carson a Cardinal shouldn’t be the agenda.

Carson Kelly photo credit Chris Lee (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

On the flip side, moving Kelly in a trade at this point, would likely not get a high return unless part of a package deal with young pitching or outfield prospects. There will always be a need by some MLB teams for a skilled catcher in some capacity, so he could be a fit elsewhere if shopped.

Not knowing what the future holds for any Cardinals players, it’s worth noting that Kelly does have experience with catching many of the young arms that St. Louis has on their roster. Having that familiarity could be a benefit.

Looking into the future, there could be the possibility of both Kelly & Knizner splitting catching duties displaying their strengths & different skill sets. Again, all of this will depend on Yadier’s health and (long-term) his desire to play past his current contact with the Cardinals.

If you were the General Manager, would you be open to keeping or moving Carson Kelly? Would you go with Andrew Knizner as the next man up? Or, would you plan on Molina behind the plate longer than the 2020 season and not feel the urgency of making a decision just yet?

Let me know what you think. As always, Thanks for reading.

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