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St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres

St. Louis Cardinals outfielders Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham talk during a pitching change on Aug. 24, 2017, at Busch Stadium. (Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee)

Winter meetings are coming, and baseball’s hypothetical trade season is in overdrive.

We love to discuss trades that could and should (and probably won't) happen.

What about trades teams would probably take back?

The Cardinals on Wednesday designated veteran reliever Dominic Leone for assignment as they prepared their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft. The Royals on Wednesday designated pitcher Conner Greene for assignment as they did the same. Perhaps you remember what the two have in common.

Both right-handers were traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cardinals for outfielder Randal Grichuk after the 2017 season.

Leone’s injury-impacted stint with the Cardinals never lived up to expectations. He was eligible for arbitration, so the Cardinals made a predictable move early. He joins the tall pile of veteran relievers who have joined the Cardinals, then fizzled. His 72 strikeouts were dulled by 30 walks and 12 home runs allowed. His ERA in St. Louis read 5.15.

Greene never pitched in the majors for the Cardinals. He’s never pitched in the majors, period. The Cardinals designated him for assignment a year ago. The Royals got him off waivers, called him up last season, never let him pitch, then designated him for assignment on Wednesday.

Grichuk?

Life is pretty good for Grichuk.

Especially considering the fourth-outfielder tag that stuck to him when he was traded to Toronto.

In 2019 Grichuk set career-highs in games played (151) and at-bats (586). He struck out a career-high 163 times. He also hit a career-high 31 home runs and totaled a career-best 80 RBIs. He remains a powerful, boom-or-bust hitter who can play all outfield positions well. The rebuilding Blue Jays are apparently happy enough with the roller coaster. Grichuk has provided 2.5 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, to the Blue Jays over his two-season body of work. He signed a five-year, $52 million extension in April that will pay him $13 million in 2020.

Here's a question. Would Grichuk's numbers during two seasons in Toronto be more appealing to Cardinals fans if he was presented as, say, a mystery trade candidate? I think so.

What if I told you there was an outfielder available who . . .

• Has matched Juan Soto in home runs since 2018. Both have knocked 56. Only 38 major leaguers have more homers during this span.

• Has two more extra-base hits (123) than Ronald Acuna Jr. since 2018. Only 32 major leaguers have more extra-base hits during this span.

• Has seven fewer strikeouts (285) in the past two seasons than Jackie Bradley Jr., despite 42 more at-bats, with a .476 slugging percentage that beat Bradley's by 64 points. This mystery slugger has had a better slugging percentage since 2018 than every Cardinal not named Paul Goldschmidt (.504).

That guy, of course, is Grichuk.

The Cardinals were not crazy for trading him. They did lose this trade, though. That much is clear now. And the outfield picture that the Cardinals aimed to help clear up by trading Grichuk – and Oscar Mercado and Tommy Pham and Magneuris Sierra – remains very much unsettled.

As the Cardinals’ outfield churn burns on, it seems fair to wonder how an environment that encourages a constant scrambling of young, unproven players to establish a grip on a job before younger, more unproven players get their shot could do as much to produce endless churn as it does eventual stability.

That's my big question about this notion of using 2020 as an on-the-fly tryout for guys like Tyler O’Neill, Randy Arozarena, Dylan Carlson, Lane Thomas, Adolis Garcia, Justin Williams and any other names that can force their way into the picture. In a race so crowded, how is someone supposed to break free to the point of ending the discussion? How is someone supposed to not look over their shoulder? How can the Cardinals guarantee they are giving the right guys enough time, but not too much? How much time can even be offered for the competition if Dexter Fowler and Harrison Bader are being referred to as returning starters, with plans for Tommy Edman to spend some time out there as well?

The Cardinals continue their search. Churn, churn churn. Their outfield castoffs are settling into meaningful roles elsewhere.

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