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Imagining the 2016 Cardinals as sellers

It's been a long time, but if things go wrong enough in 2016, it might be the best move.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I'll start this out by showing Fangraphs' current predicted WAR totals from the top NL teams:

Team Bat Pit WAR
Cubs 29.4 22.3 51.6
Dodgers 25.1 23.6 48.7
Nationals 21.4 21 42.4
Mets 20.4 20.4 40.8
Cardinals 22 18.3 40.3
Pirates 22.5 17 39.5
Giants 23.7 14.8 38.5
Marlins 19.1 13.2 32.3
Reds 18.2 13.6 31.8
Dbacks 16.9 14.3 31.1
Padres 11.9 16.6 28.5

The Cubs are a behemoth, and looking at the difference in total WAR is discouraging a bit. Of course championships aren't played on paper, they're played on the field, and the Cubs will have to earn it. But that doesn't change the fact that the odds are going to be tough to beat. We are however right in the Wild Card mix. The Cardinals, PiratesMets, and Giants are all right around the same amount. There's always some surprises in every season, but that is what it looks like on paper in December right now.

So the Cardinals figure to be in the Wild Card mix, which looks to be a 4-way fight for 2 wild card spots. . Or a bunch of other stuff could happen. No season plays exactly to the projections.

One of the things that could happen, is that the Cardinals finally don't perform up to expectations. No, it's not a fun thought, but sometimes that happens to a team, even the most consistent contender of the 21st century. Perhaps by the time the All-Star Game comes around, the Cardinals are several games out of the second Wild Card, and farther behind the Cubs in the Central. If that happens, there is one very opportunistic path the front office could take: trading off a few current MLB assets for prospects who can help build a brighter future.

Of course, some players aren't capable of getting moved. Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina represent the old core. They're who most fans will think first about who to move. But all three have full no-trade protection. The Cardinals probably don't want to trade any of those players anyways. All three have been an integral part of a lot of great Cardinals teams, and the front office values those players' contributions enough to hold them in a higher regard. The team also wouldn't want to trade long-term pieces either. The front office is depending on players like Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha to be part of new core going forward. Moving cheap, low service time players like Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Tommy Pham wouldn't make sense either, as the hope is for those players to take a step forward and eventually be important pieces or at least role players of future Cardinals teams.

So where does that leave us? Well here are four players I think would be optimal trade pieces at the deadline:

Trevor Rosenthal

Let's look at 3 closers  and their stats from the 2015 season:

Player A 68 68.2 10.88 3.28 0.39 45.8 % 4.8 % 2.10 2.42 3.19 2
Player B 69 70 11.19 3.21 0.26 44.8 % 3.3 % 1.80 2.13 3.05 2
Player C 61 59.1 13.2 3.34 0.91 46.1 % 13.6 % 2.58 2.68 2.46 1.5

And now let's look at those same 3 players, through the lens of their steamer projections for the 2016 season:

Player A 65 65 11.09 3.48 5 2.85 2.91 0.9
Player B 65 65 10.06 3.51 6 3.31 3.41 0.7
Player C 65 65 11.84 3.34 5 2.62 2.67 1.2

Steamer doesn't divulge batted ball stats like GB%, HR/FB, or the resulting xFIP numbers, so they weren't included in the projection chart. Now you can probably guess who one of the players is, because his name is in big bold letters right before I listed the chart. And while you probably don't have the other two pitcher's stats memorized, since I'm talking about trades and closers you can probably guess who the other two are. Player A is our own Magical Trevor. Player B is Ken Giles, breakout closer for the Phillies recently traded to the Astros. Player C is one of the greatest closers baseball has ever seen in Craig Kimbrel. While he didn't have quite as dominating a performance as usual in 2015, it was still plenty dominating and combined with his supreme numbers before 2015 he's considered the best of these three going forward. Kimbrel of course was traded in a blockbuster of a trade to the Red Sox.

Rosenthal isn't quite as good as Kimbrel, though he will cost about ~$10M less over the same three years. And he's not under contract for as long or as as Giles, though he does have a longer track record. Giles has 5 years service time remaining and won't be a Super 2, so he still has two years at the league minimum whereas Rosenthal is entering arbitration this year with three years of control left. But at this point, both in recent performance and projected performance, Rosenthal is at least similar enough to these two as to be comparable. Probably the weakest of the three because Kimbrel is one of the best ever and Giles has two more seasons of control which come at the league minimum, But, Rosenthal can close that gap by being dealt at the deadline, when prices for win-now pieces are higher.And in this hypothetical the Cardinals at least have one thing on their side that the Phillies and the Padres didn't: Rosenthal would be dealt at the deadline, when prices for win-now pieces are higher.

The Kimbrel trade was quite the eye opener. Let's look at the two main pieces the Padres got and where they've ranked on the various Top prospects list:

Baseball America Kiley McDaniel KATOH Keith Law
Margot 25th 19th 25th 11th 15th
Guerra not ranked 50 FV (80-143) 76th not ranked 48th

So according to the public scouts, Margot was in the 15-25 range, which is pretty great. And while Guerra wasn't ranked by every source, he was held in high regard by several outlets. The other two prospects in the deal were not ranked by any publication I could find. The Padres essentially got a top-20ish guy and a top-100ish guy, plus two throw-ins.

The Giles trade was a little different. While the Padres got great prospects who haven't had a chance at the big league level, the Phillies main piece was a major league ready pitcher in Vincent Velasquez. Let's look at his numbers for the 2015 year:

19 7 55.2 9.38 3.4 0.81 31.3 % 7.1 % 4.37 3.46 4.15 1

Not bad for a guy that skipped Triple-A and only spent 33 innings at Double-A. The HR/FB rate might look fluky at first sight, but as the GB% shows, Velasquez is an extreme fly ball pitcher and in general those types of pitchers perform better than xFIP would indicate. The other main piece the Phillies got was Mark Appel. While some of the prospect shine has left the former number one overall pick. Baseball America considered him the 39th best prospect at midseason this year, and considered him 43rd. Kieth Law also considered him 41st. Former Fangraphs lead scout Kiley McDaniel considered him the 18th best prospect in baseball going into 2015, but he made no mention of him in his midseason breakdown. The other pieces was back of the rotation fodder Brett Oberholtzer and two unranked prospects as throw-ins. Not quite the package the Padres got, but still an envious one for a guy that pitches just 65 innings or so a year.

Based on the recent moves in the market, Rosenthal is a valuable asset, and among the assets the Cardinals would be willing to trade, he probably has the highest value. He could possibly be exchanged for the Cardinals' shortstop or catcher of the future. It's exciting to think about what that kind of piece would do to our future outlook.

Jhonny Peralta

This one is a little more dependent on infield prospect Aledmys Diaz. After going on a tear late in the year in Double-A and Triple-A, and an outstanding performance in the AFL, Diaz is back on the Cardinals prospect map. If he can show he's good enough to hold down a starter job for at least the end the of 2017 (the last year Jhonny is under contract anyway), it could make Peralta expendable. Due to Peralta's contract being a rarely seen front-loaded deal, Jhonny will earn just $10M in 2017 despite being the last year of a 4 year, $53 Million deal. Since that's a paltry sum in this brave new cash-infused baseball world of ours, Peralta could be enticing trade target to a team looking for an infield upgrade for the next year and a half.

Looking through MLB Trade Rumors transaction tracker, there hasn't really been a similar player to Jhonny being traded recently. Shortstops don't move very often because there simply isn't many of them. Teams keep the ones they have and are happy with even if they're not contending. That could mean that if a team needs a shortstop, Peralta could be the only option. Peralta has played a fine 3B in the past and perhaps a team could look to him as an upgrade at the hot corner. Peralta is currenly projected as an above average player and could raise his stock with a strong first half. Add in that Peralta wouldn't be a pure rental, and I could certainly see a team exchanging a top 100 talent for Peralta at the deadline.

Brandon Moss

While Moss isn't exactly considered a very good player anymore, he's the only Cardinal currently on the roster who the Cardinals can't stop from reaching free agency at the end of 2016. Mo brought him to St. Louis by trading a top 100 prospect in Rob Kaminsky, so with a year less control it's hard to imagine him bringing one back now. But Moss was a much better hitter before 2015. Here's his stats from 2012-2014:

2012 296 8.8 % 30.4 % .306 .359 .291 .358 .596 .402 160 0.7 21.4 -8.8 2.3
2013 505 9.9 % 27.7 % .267 .301 .256 .337 .522 .369 137 -0.9 20.5 -18 2.1
2014 580 11.6 % 26.4 % .204 .283 .234 .334 .438 .339 121 2 15.3 -11.1 2.5

It's easy to see Moss as a declining player even without seeing the ugly 2015, but the silver lining is that Moss was playing hurt in 2014 (and exposed more against Left handed pitching due to an excessive amount of A's injuries that year) and recovering from surgery in 2015. While it's too much to expect a repeat of 2013, if he can pull off a 120 wRC+ through the first half he would look like a nice rental for someone. A back of the top 100 guy like Kaminsky would probably be asking too much, but perhaps an unranked guy that the Cardinals think has been been under-rated. Or maybe he could be part of a deal with one of the other three in order to get a package the Cards really want. Moss' value lies in his power, and power tends to be more in-demand lately, so that helps us out a bit.

His ability to play both corner outfield and first base also increases his market, if he can hit well. That unfortunately looks like a big if, but stranger things have happened, and we know that he at least has that type of season in him,

Jaime Garcia

The perennially injured Jaime finally had an extended period of health in 2015. He made 20 starts, more than he made in 2014 and 2013 combined and matching his 2012 total. While Garcia can probably never shed the injury prone label, teams will always be looking for a starting pitchers at the deadline. If he can stay healthy up to the All-Star break, teams with a need for a starter will be considering Jaime. And that is because when he has been healthy, he's been fantastic. Let's review Jaime's 2015 campaign:

Jaime Garcia 20 129.2 6.73 2.08 .267 61.2 % 7.1 % 2.43 3.00 3.36 2.8

Jaime didn't have a qualified season, but if he had he would have placed 4th in GB%, 16th in FIP, and 21st in xFIP. Jaime also has a 2017 option for $12M with a $500,00 buy-out. So there is upside for the buying team: They can cut him loose if he gets injured, or they can have an affordable one year deal for a quality pitcher.

One pitcher dealt at the deadline who was comparable to Garcia in terms of overall value is Scott Kazmir. They're not similar pitchers in any way; Kazmir strikes more hitters out, walks more hitters, and is  a fly ball pitcher. But up until he was traded to the Astros at the deadline, he had amassed a 3.16 FIP and the year before he had a 3.35 FIP. When you consider Jaime's cheap option, you could make the argument that he'd be a better trade chip than Kazmir was last year. Kazmir brought in catching prospect Jacob Nottingham. At the time of the trade, Kiley McDaniel considered him a 50 FV prospect (which would rank him in the back half of the top 150, (85-150), and in the updated top 100 KATOH rankings he came in 15th. KATOH is still a system in progress and this doesn't mean anyone should consider him the 15th best prospect, but it speaks to the type of season Nottingham had.

Of course, if we're behind in the Wild Card race at the All-Star break, all four of these players (plus Diaz, whose success is dependent on trading Peralta) probably won't all be having strong, healthy seasons. Rosie probably will have a strong season as he has the last three years. Peralta can be a valuable trade chip just by playing to his projections. Garcia can be a good trade chip if he can stay healthy. Moss is really the only player that would require a season better than expected in order to get something useful.

The 2016 Draft and the Cardinals' current lower minors talent

As it stands right now, the Cardinals will have three picks in the top 40 of next year's draft. That includes their own first round pick plus the supplemental round picks received as compensation for John Lackey and Jason Heyward. Adding three prospects with those picks to our farm along with trading any of the above players would do a lot to aid our farm system.

Outside of top pitching prospect Alex Reyes, the Cardinals don't have any top talent in the upper levels of the minors, but slowly a group of prospects are working their way through the system. Jack Flaherty, Magneuris Sierra, Nick Plummer, Edmundo Sosa, Harrison Bader, and Paul DeJong are a nice bunch, but it's not exactly a group that leads you to believe the Cardinals will continue to pump out major league ready players for years to come. They're also not players that can be expected to contribute in 2016 or 2017. Adding some talent in the draft and at the deadline (and getting our current group of prospects one year closer to the majors) could entirely change that perception. It might not quite get us back to the 2012-2013 days of having the best system in baseball. But it would be the first time since then that the org was set up so well to supply the big league club with a steady supply of talent for several years.

No Cardinals fan wants to see them not make the playoffs. We've been spoiled. The first year of Matt Holliday's contract was the last time we experienced no October baseball. That's ages ago! But, there are some great consolation prizes available, if Mo and company play their Cards right.