The Trading Market: Assets Aplenty

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Morning, folks. Good game last night, eh? Anytime you can take a matchup of Joe Kelly vs. Mat Latos, you have to consider that a pretty good day. No offense to the bespectacled menace, of course; he's been a godsend for the Cards' rotation. But, hey, Latos has an FIP of 2.85. Kelly, a 4.26. It's not exactly knife-to-a-gunfight territory, but it isn't as far from it as we would probably like.

The reason for Kelly's poor FIP is two-pronged: one, a walk rate that isn't particularly great at 3.41, and two, an almost shockingly low strikeout rate of 5.92 batters per nine innings. Personally, I have absolutely no clue how a pitcher whose fastball regularly ranges into the 97 mph range with pretty solid movement manages to strike out less than six hitters per nine. If he literally threw nothing but fastballs, I would still think he should be able to get more swings and misses than that. It's just baffling. The groundball rate is very nice, though.

So El Birdos will go for the sweep tonight, hoping to put some distance between themselves and the still ever so dangerous Redlegs. They've certainly got the man on the mound for it; A.D.A.M. has a chance to put yet another mark on the season, though I have to admit I'm kind of hoping not to see him throw 120+ pitches again this time out. Maybe a nice six run lead by the fifth inning, and Waino can just take the night off at about 70 pitches, guys?

Anyhow, as excited as I am about the way the Cards have played lately, that's not what I wanted to talk about today. Rather, I wanted to talk about the future. It's a big word, future, because that means forever and that's a mighty long time. Or something like that.

See, the offseason has been on my mind lately, mostly because of a conversation a friend of mine and I had not too long ago, about which pitchers I projected into the starting rotation (I believe it was during the awfulness of Jake Westbrook's last start, actually), and what I saw the Redbirds doing with the various hurlers on the roster, etc. And as much as I love watching baseball, I have to admit I enjoy playing armchair General Manager just as much, if not more.

So I started really thinking about the depth the Cards have on the roster in certain spots, most notably in the pitching category, but also corner bat guys as well, and sort of looking ahead to this offseason. Maybe that's a foolish thing to do in the middle of one of the most exciting pennant races in a long, long time, but I can't help it. Just the way I'm wired.

Side note: is anyone else bothered by calling it a 'pennant race'? I know that made sense in the old days, when the regular season winner of the league won the pennant and went on to the World Series, but nowadays it's just not at all accurate. Then again, I don't really know what else to call it; 'pennant race' has a certain evocative mouthfeel and sound I would hate to lose. But September baseball doesn't determine who wins the pennant. I don't know how to reconcile this in my mind so that I don't have to make such a tedious point every time I use the phrase in conversation. I'm afraid everyone I know is getting really, really tired of hearing about it. And now you are too. So it's like we're friends! Hooray!

Back to the point at hand: I was thinking about what the Cardinals might be looking to do this offseason, and taking stock of their assets. And my friends, they are pretty much loaded with assets at the moment.

As far as needs, we all know where the club is going to be looking to upgrade. It's the shortest position on the team, and the poor play there needs to stop immediately. What hope we had last autumn has largely petered out, and I can't think of a semi-funny italicized way to use the word Kozma.

Beyond the obvious gaping hole at short, though, there's also the matter of center field, and while I will admit Jon Jay has managed to turn his season around and achieve a degree of respectability, I'm also hoping the club might do better in the future than league average. If not, hey, he's not killing the team, by any means, but if you're for upgrades to the team, center is an option. There's also the matter of third base, possibly, but I think there's a very good chance the Cards will choose to simply reshuffle the deck a bit and make the Wong-to-second, Carpenter-to-third move more permanent, most likely attempting to move David Freese this offseason. Sad to see him go, surely, but sometimes things just work out that way.

But really, the needs aren't the interesting part of this. The interesting part is on the other side, on the supply side. The assets the Cards can move, if you will. And I have to say, looking at the group of pieces they could possibly move, it's rather exciting to consider the hypothetical return.

First up is Matt Adams. I know, I know, it sucks to move a guy with his kind of talent, but I think it almost has to happen. Sure, it's nice to have a big bat like that off the bench, and I'll never be one to denigrate the impact of bench depth, but the fact is, Matt Adams is likely just too valuable to keep on the bench. I have to believe what he could bring in a trade would be worth much, much more than you're going to get out of him in the ~250 at-bats per year you can find room for. Now, could I see a situation in which Allen Craig would slide to right field, thus opening up first base for the big man from Pennsylvania? Sure, I could see it, but only if the club were committed to the idea of Oscar Taveras in center field, which I'm just not sold on. If this season had gone as we had all hoped for Taveras, maybe I would feel differently. But as it stands right now, I don't see him playing center. On the other hand, I also don't see the club committing to move Craig to the outfield with the idea of allowing Taveras more time to develop in the minors as a right fielder; to me that just smacks of delaying the inevitable. Matt Adams' value is very high right now by virtue of his hitting this year and vast amounts of cheap time left on the arbitration clock; I believe the time to strike is now and move him to a team looking for a big first base bat.

Second, the pitching. Actually, second and third, the pitching, because I feel like there's really two issues on the table when it comes to the pitching the Cards have right now. As I see it, there is a group at the very top of the value rankings for the Redbirds, with five names in it. They are:

  • Shelby Miller
  • Lance Lynn
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Michael Wacha
  • Trevor Rosenthal
You can put them in pretty much any order you like as far as value; each has their own set of attractions and detractions, and the value is obviously not completely equal across the grouping here. Nonetheless, this is the core group of talent the Cardinals have to deal from this offseason, along with Adams, and my feeling is that the team could easily move one of these five pitchers to gain an upgrade somewhere else. Any of these five have huge value; you should be able to come up with a long-term solution at an area of need by moving one of these guys.

My personal feeling? I would probably try to move Lance Lynn, mostly because he's the closest to a big payday. I like the big man and what he brings to the table (big innings excepted), but I also feel like the club could use the space in the rotation, and his value is very considerable right now due to his contract situation. And because he's an excellent young pitcher, of course. I badly would like to see Trevor Rosenthal in the starting rotation, but I worry he's been good enough in relief he may be stuck there. It's a mismanagement of a resource to me when you have a player with more than enough weapons to start and you plug him into the bullpen, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if that's exactly what happens.

Edward Mujica will almost surely walk this offseason; it's unfortunate the Cards can't make him a qualifying offer, but I don't see any way he would turn down $13 million. It's really a shame; I would like another draft pick. Oh, well.

So, to me, you move one name from that top value group of pitchers. The other four slot into various rotation spots or bullpen roles. Next, we have the second group of pitchers, guys whose values are nowhere near that of the top group, but still have real buying power in terms of being a part of a package. Possibly the biggest part, depending on the return, but I'm thinking more in terms of a guy from this group being bundled up with Matt Adams to catch a bigger fish.
  • Joe Kelly
  • Seth Maness
  • Kevin Siegrist
  • Sam Freeman
  • Tyler Lyons
  • Keith Butler
  • Mike Blazek
Obviously, there's a bit more variance in the value of this group than the first; for instance, if you're looking to deal Kevin Siegrist, I have to think you're looking to land a very big fish indeed, while Keith Butler has significantly lower appeal. (Though I am a believer in Butler's ability to be a solid big league reliever, honestly, and his minor league numbers are really quite good.) I would add Fernando Salas to this list, but I'm not sure he has much value at this point, which is sad to say, as I enjoyed watching him pitch in 2011 tremendously. I would also like to put John Gast on here, but he's injured. No dice.

Again, I think you move one pitcher from this group as well, likely as part of a package deal. Maybe even two names, depending on which ones they are. If you wanted to move, say, Joe Kelly to make an extra bit of room in the rotation and Sam Freeman because he's the third lefty and there's reason to believe Lee Stoppelman might be ready to get lefties out in the big leagues as early as next year, I could certainly see that happening and not torpedoing anything too very terribly. And while Seth Maness is certainly fun to watch roll up double plays, I think the time to sell high on him may be this offseason, before he goes ahead and turns into Brad Thompson. Or a pumpkin. I don't know which. So one, maybe two of this group.

Beyond that, there is the case of David Freese, who I firmly believe will be on the trading block this offseason. How much value David has I don't honestly know, but I think we're going to find out. Matt Carpenter is just too damned good not to lock up on a multi-year contract, and I believe the organisation is very high on Kolten Wong. (And with good reason, I think.) As amazing as Carp at second has been this season, the path of least resistance to a quality infield in 2014 is probably the one that puts he and Wong on the diamond at the same time.

There are also, of course, prospects a-plenty, still, which is sort of amazing considering just how much talent the Redbirds have graduated of late. The name I could see moving, bringing a solid return, is Stephen Piscotty, the former third baseman, now corner outfielder, the Cards drafted last year in the supplemental round out of Stanford. I was very high on Piscotty at the time of the draft, and he hasn't disappointed in his first full pro season, moving up to Double A and posting OPS+ numbers of 134 and 126 at Palm Beach and Springfield, respectively. He was also just named the Cards' priority player for the Arizona Fall League; essentially, it means he's guaranteed plenty of playing time in the prospect finishing league. He's got solid power, he doesn't strike out (10.3% career K rate in 682 plate appearances), and he draws walks at a good rate. I got to see him play a little this year at Springfield, and the guy he calls to mind at the plate is Matt Carpenter, honestly. He's right-handed, so the comparison is a little shaky, but in terms of watching a guy who just understands how to put together an at-bat, that's the guy I think of. The current version of Matt Carpenter, that is; not the 20%+ walk rate guy from the minors. (Who I still sort of hope we see come back some day.) Piscotty is going to rank very highly on the Cards' prospect lists this offseason; he may be the second-highest position player, in fact, behind Os the Great and Powerful, and unfortunately, he's not a center fielder. Meaning, he's pretty blocked at the major league level. It may be a little soon to move him this offseason, but there's a pretty good chance he ends up trade bait in the end, I think. Which sucks, because I really like him. (He does run well, with those long real-estate eating strides...maybe they should try him out in center?.....)

There are other prospects who could be moved, of course. Tim Cooney has had a huge season at Double A, striking out better than a batter per inning and posting a 2.67 FIP in the Texas League. James Ramsey has shown plenty of pop (though how much of that is Hammons Field is a really good question), but has had trouble making contact. Ryan Jackson doesn't look to ever get much of a chance here; he doesn't have a whole lot of value, but he does project to a plus defensive shortstop, which aren't exactly falling off trees at the moment.

In the end, though, I don't see a lot of prospects getting moved in the offseason. The organisation has committed to the youth movement, and I think the braintrust at least wants to see exactly what they have on their hands in some of these guys before they consider moving any of them. For me, it's all about those two groups of pitchers I mentioned earlier, along with Matt Adams. Move one pitcher from the big five, one or two pitchers from group B, and Big City. Those are the assets I think the Cards have to move this offseason, with the goal being to solve shortstop for the medium to long-term future.

It's a shame the Texas Rangers still don't seem interested in moving Jurickson Profar; their handling of him this season has been, to put it lightly, strange. He's played four different positions, including left field, and I see his situation very similarly to Matt Adams, actually. Here's a player with a large amount of value and limited opportunity at the big league level; it seems to me a smart organisation would look to maximise what they could get from said player, rather than turning him into a utility guy. Then again, it's also a shame I think the Ranger will likely go all out and sign Jose Dariel Abreu this offseason, thereby eliminating their need at first base. Maybe the Cards should sign Abreu instead, trade Adams to the Rangers, move Craig to right field, Oscar to center, and win every game 11-9. (I'm mostly joking, but only mostly. I'm a big believer in Abreu's power and batting eye, if not his ability to hit for an elite average, and he's the one of the only chances out there to add a top-end talent who only costs money. That has to be intriguing.)

So Matt Adams, one elite pitcher, and one or even two lesser pitchers. Those are the assets I think Mo tries to move. What do you think they could get back for that? Or, do you think those are the right assets in the first place?

The Baron's Playlist for the 28th of August, 2013

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