I could be wrong, here, but does it seem like trade value for possibly useful, lightly used veterans totally cratered at some unknown point between last July and this exact moment? After the Francisco Rodriguez deal assisted NL Central nemesis number one—helped along, admittedly, by the New York Mets' inability to recognize a phone-card scheme when they see it—for two players to be named later, the Tigers picked up Wilson Betemit from the Royals for Generic Left-Handed-Teenager and Vaguely Intriguing Backup Catcher.
Betemit was a superprospect 10 years ago and is now basically Unfrozen Dominican Scott Spiezio—he's a better-than-average hitter and a mediocre third baseman who was once (and in St. Louis would probably return to being) an awful middle infielder. That's not going to reshape the AL Central, but a few years ago the Cardinals traded the Cleveland Indians their future closer and a future reliever to be named later for the same brand of third base stopgap. And a few months ago, the Cardinals were supposed to trade players to be named right now for Heath Bell.
I don't know what's going on, but if the Cardinals are interested in improving at the deadline they should stop trying to trade Colby Rasmus for Joe Maddon's glasses and start looking in on some of these second-tier guys. I'm pretty sure the Dodgers' current demands for Hong-Chih Kuo involve me mentioning his name one more time on this blog, though if I do it again my afterlife case worker tells me it's going to be exceedingly hard to get rid of him.
If the Cardinals do decide to go for one of these non-Heath-Bells, here are some pseudo-prospects who could probably be turned into the pitching equivalent of Wilson Betemit. I feel weird doing this—these last few trades have looked like message board trades, where you get Matt Cain in exchange for a left-handed first baseman with a bad shoulder and your team's 40th-best prospect, a 16-year-old who hit .240 in the VSL. But he was young for his league!
John Gast, the only pitcher in the system known primarily for his pick-off move, made quick but not-especially-impressive work of high-A Palm Beach and is off to a good start in Springfield, which has destroyed lesser pitchers. He's a better prospect than either of the pieces in the Betemit trade, and is the kind of prospect that had trade value even before it was determined this July that we were playing under Cards Talk rules, and every player in the world had trade value except Colby Rasmus.
Joe Kelly's not-quite-high strikeout rates and not-quite-high walk rates don't really do it for me in spite of his groundball tendencies; Jess Todd's He Will Destroy Us All starter numbers were better, and the end result of that trade is that the Cardinals are able to block Jess Todd again in 2011.
With Seth Blair having an unpleasant start to his minor league career the Cardinals' rotation depth isn't quite as thick as it was supposed to be, but the Cardinals could afford to lose one of them if the player they got back was solidly above average (or as solidly above average as lefty relievers are allowed to be, if that's the move that gets made.)
But those guys are actual prospects—top 20 per John Sickels. Once you get into the Betemit-class prospects your options open up.
On one rack, you've got the players who are blocked in the organization or clearly come up short in some important area. Is monsieur looking for a maybe-catcher with offensive skills and no future in the organization? Do you prefer Steve Hill's .933 OPS and ability to stand at catcher at the AA level, Charles Cutler's smooth left-handed swing and organizational anonymity, or—and it hurts me to part with him, but I'll do it—Bryan Anderson, who is basically Josh Thole but was drafted on an old Indian burial ground?
What about some ostensibly AAAA hitters who could grow into Ben Broussard? Mark Hamilton has now hit .309/.400/.540 in 155 PCL games and was once a second-round pick! Alex Castellanos is like Matt Adams, only several years older, Jon-Jay-sized, and recently converted to the outfield! That .270/.339/.462 line in 2010 could well be a Florida State League mirage! Daryl Jones's nickname is DJ Tools, which is great! And he really wasn't much worse than Adron Chambers before he got squeezed back into Springfield, where he's hitting .378 like everybody else. Aaron Luna! Hey, Shane Robinson went 5-5 with a double and two home runs yesterday, how about that guy?
It's been going on for a while, but it feels like it's accelerated this year: Major League teams have begun valuing cost-controlled prospects as much as we do on Future Redbirds, and they've combined that trait with the unfortunate fact that they have to actually pay all the players who aren't cost-controlled. When the market begin to look like this, even Pete Kozma looks like a possible target; that makes it so easy to produce mock trades it's impossible.