It's been a slow-developing trade market this year, which seems like it could be the norm for baseball these days, as the new ten-team playoff format has kept more and more clubs on the verge, on the sidelines of the dance floor, unable to decide if they want to shit, get off the pot, dance, hold up the wall, or any other variety of mixed metaphor you'd like to throw at the situation.
Of course, I thought last year we would see a slow or nearly nonexistent trade market due to the stasis imposed by very nearly every team being within at least striking distance of a playoff shot, and then the trade market of last season actually happened. It was, of course, one of the crazier we've seen in recent history, fueled at least in fair part by Billy Beane's willingness to go a little bit nuts in shuffling around those deck chairs. So maybe this year we'll see a similarly busy whirlwind of activity before the trade deadline, as a couple dozen flawed-but-not-fatally-so clubs try to find the magic move that will suddenly vault them into realistic contention. I wouldn't bet against it at this point, even if it seems unrealistic to my way of thinking.
However, it is a fact that, as we sit here on the morning of the 22nd of July -- actually, I suppose I should note I'm writing this on Tuesday night, just to cover my ass against any 2 a.m. trade shenanigans -- the market has been slow to come together. Teams are still talking, still testing the waters, still feeling each other out as to what is actually available, and what it will actually cost. The recent will-they-or-won't-they bit of news regarding the Detroit Tigers possibly, maybe, but maybe not, considering maybe selling off assets such as David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, maybe, is emblematic of what we're seeing this year. The Reds can't quite make up their minds. The Brewers seem to have made up their minds, but only on some stuff, and they don't seem in a hurry to move. Oakland is enigmatic. The Phillies are, well, the Phillies. The Mariners aren't all that good, but don't understand sunk costs and desperately want to win. In short, it's a rather uncertain market right now.
We all know what the Cardinals need. They need someone to play first base who can hit. As I type this, I'm watching Stephen Piscotty wave at a slider that nearly hit him in the foot for strike three. Bases loaded, one out, facing one of the young guns of major league baseball is a tough spot for a guy getting his first MLB plate appearance. Still, not an optimal outcome. Maybe Piscotty is a solution at first, maybe he's the solution at first. I'm not necessarily holding my breath, even if I do like him a whole lot as a hitter.
The Cardinals also might need some innings in the rotation. Or maybe not, considering the sheer number of wily lefthanders they seem to be able to throw at the wall right now; perhaps Carlos and Michael Wacha can simply take every third start off from here on out, to be replaced by some portsider with an 88-91 mph fastball, a 55 changeup, and a curve he can occasionally get a swing and miss on. Which guy am I talking about? I'll leave that to you to decide.
They also might -- might -- need a bit of help in the bullpen. The Redbird Relief Brigade has been one of the strongest areas of the club this year, with Trevor Rosenthal establishing himself as one of the best closers in the game, Kevin Siegrist looking much more like his 2013 self than he did at any point last season, and a revolving cast of characters all doing their best to bridge what innings aren't eaten by the rotation until the big boys at the back can come in and slam the door. Still, Jordan Walden has missed much of the season with a shoulder injury, and while he's on his way back, it remains to be seen if he'll be as effective as he was in April. Mitch Harris is also on his way back, but Mitch Harris is not answer, except to various Navy-related baseball player trivia questions. Matt Belisle has no current timetable for a return, so far as I know. And Rosenthal, good as he has been, is showing signs of wear, with iffy performance and now a sore arm the order of the day lately. In other words, as good as the 'pen has been, if there was an affordable upgrade out there, the Cardinals might want to consider it.
Given that we generally know what the Redbirds are looking for, I thought maybe we should look at what they have to spend. The chips, so to speak. I'll be going both major and minor leagues, here, although as I'm sure you know the minor league names that could pop up as pieces rather than principles in deals are so myriad I could't possibly be comprehensive with them here. Still, I thought it might be useful to sort of collect all the names together in one place.
The Big Pieces
These are the kinds of players who would be principles in virtually any deal they were involved in. A couple major leaguers, a couple minor leaguers.
Jon Jay -- Now, before anyone accuses me of just trying to once again run Jon Jay out of town by putting him at the very top of this trade assets list, let's acknowledge a few facts about Jon Jay. One, Jon Jay is the oldest outfielder the Cardinals have on the roster, aside from Matt Holliday, who is really his own category at this point. Two, Jon Jay plays a position where, quite suddenly, the Cardinals have ridiculous depth. Not just outfield depth, mind you, but potential center fielder depth specifically. The trio of Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Peter Bourjos basically makes Jay almost completely redundant.
The problem with trying to deal Jay, of course, is that his health is currently a question mark. It's impossible to really even say if he'll be back before the trade deadline at all, much less have proven he's at a point where a team would be willing to give up much of value for him. When he's healthy, Jay has proven himself a league-average or slightly above player in center field, which has definite value. As things stand now, though, I think it's much more likely he gets dealt in the offseason than right now.
Randal Grichuk -- It's not a likely scenario. And it probably feels even less likely than it really is, given how high the field staff seems to be on Randal Grichuk. But, it's possible the front office could decide that Grichuk's value will likely never be higher than it is right now, considering how unsustainable certain portions of his performance seem. Of course, teams looking at dealing for Grichuk will probably see those same things, but if the Cards found a team that wanted to bet on him dramatically improving his plate discipline there could be a match there.
For my part, I still can't quite decide what I think of Grichuk. He isn't going to maintain a .360+ BABIP going forward, and when that comes down his on-base numbers are going to plummet. However, his walk rate is now up to nearly 6.0%, and you would like to believe that might improve even more as pitchers learn you have to be very, very careful with this guy. Even striking out ~30% of the time, if Grichuk could get his walk rate up to, say, 10% or so, I think he could end up a very valuable, if unorthodox, player. I'm just not sure that happens, though. I doubt he's dealt, honestly; I'm including the possibility here just for the thought exercise it invites as to whether the organisation might try to sell high on a player whose future value could be huge, or could end up more like most hitters who strike out nearly a third of the time do.
You know what? I just realised something. Randal Grichuk is kind of a right-handed Colby Rasmus. Maybe not quite as patient as ol' Gump, but the overall package of tools and performance aren't that different.
Jason Heyward -- Now this one seems really unlikely, doesn't it? To tell the truth, it definitely is. After all, the Cardinals just gave up a rather substantial package of players in the offseason to bring in the J-Hey Kid, and it seems like the two sides are a pretty outstanding fit. Plus, the Cardinals are contending right here and now, and you don't trade away 4-5 win players midseason when you're in contention. It would seem much more likely that the Redbirds do everything in their power to make sure Heyward is part of the club's long-term core than deal him away.
However, there is also the fact that Jason Heyward is likely going to be pretty expensive. He's also going to command a very long contract. And as of yet, there doesn't appear to be any progress between player and club on a contract extension, meaning it seems as if Heyward will, in fact, test the waters of the market, at which point the Cardinals will be bidding against all other teams for his services. And that's not a situation the Cards seem to enjoy very much, for the most part.
If some team with extremely deep pockets, in the Yankees/Red Sox/Dodgers mold, confident they could overwhelm Heyward with a contract offer and lock him up long term immediately, came to the Cardinals and just blew their socks off with an offer, I could see Mo and Co. at least considering it. And if they felt like they could reasonably cover center and right field with some combination of Grichuk/Bourjos/Pham/Piscotty going forward, even without mentioning Jon Jay, then perhaps some very large package of future value could entice them. Not likely, but at least worth a thought. We see how much depth the Cardinals have in the outfield, and while none of it is the calibre of Jason Heyward, the fall off from him to Grichuk or Piscotty might be moderate enough that a trade package worth significantly more than the first-round pick the club would receive were Heyward to leave town could actually be a good idea.
Alex Reyes -- Reyes is the top pitching prospect in the Cardinals' system, and one of the better pitching prospects in all of baseball. He possesses pyrotechnic stuff, still-erratic control, and has now missed time this season with a sore shoulder. If he gets back on the mound and appears healthy, Reyes could command a hefty price on the trade market. The problem for him is the same as with Jon Jay: it's tough to say Reyes will have time to prove himself fit before the trade deadline comes.
I have some more extensive thoughts on Reyes, which I plan on putting down in a Fanpost or some other format relatively soon whenever I have a bit of spare time, but at the moment I'll just say this: I would not at all mind it if the Cardinals chose to cash in his chip in the near future for something of value on the market. Take that for what it's worth.
Stephen Piscotty -- When I said at the top of this section that it was a couple major leaguers and a couple minor leaguers, I was considering Piscotty still a minor leaguer. However, I suppose that's no longer technically accurate, and if things go really well for the former Stanford star over at first base, he just might establish himself as nearly immovable, at which point my offseason trade chips column will probably start off with Matt Adams.
On the other hand, if Piscotty is ultimately determined to be an outfielder, he falls into the same soup as Heyward, and Grichuk, and Jay, and Bourjos, and Pham, and could very well be the best trade chip of the bunch. He's actually older than Grichuk, but has less service time, and probably offers a more well-rounded game a trading team might find more appealing. Piscotty is a top 50 sort of prospect, on the cusp of contributing at the major league level, and those kinds of players don't get traded all that often. If the Cardinals were to put him on the market, he would likely bring back a healthy return.
Piscotty is also, however, probably the best Heyward insurance the Redbirds have, and if they're doubtful about resigning the big right fielder long term, then the former Cardinal probably won't be a former Cardinal, if you take my meaning.
The Mid-Tier Guys
These players probably wouldn't be worth a ton on their own, but could headline more of a package approach for a big name return.
Peter Bourjos -- If you look at what Peter Bourjos has been in his career, in terms of WAR/playing time, he should really be a part of that first group. However, there are two things going against Bourjos. One, major league clubs still don't value defense the same way they do offense, or at least they don't pay for it the same way. Two, the Cardinals really haven't done Peter -- or themselves -- any favours when it comes to his value, with inconsistent and sometimes nearly nonexistent playing time serving to torpedo much of the value Bourjos brings to the table.
I'm done arguing for Bourjos to be the full-time starting center fielder for the Cardinals; that argument is a lost cause, for whatever reason. As it stands, the best-case scenario for both club and player is likely for him to be dealt to a team more willing to put him on the field, and hopefully bring back a solid return.
Tommy Pham -- Pham didn't hit amazingly well in his relatively brief audition with the big club this year, but the low numbers are largely a function of a brutally low BABIP, albeit one at least partially fueled by an extraordinarily high groundball rate. Still, if you could say to me right now that over the next five years, Tommy Pham is going to stay healthy, I might be inclined to pencil him in as the starter in center field. He offers the best overall package of tools and skills of any center field option the Cardinals have, with much better plate discipline that Grichuk, more power than either Bourjos or Jay, and speed and defense that both rank right near the top of that group. If he could play ~140 games per season, he just might be the guy I would hitch my wagon to over any of the other options.
That being said, the organisation is clearly intrigued by Grichuk, to the exclusion of most other options, it would seem, and Tommy Pham has probably just missed his window with the Cardinals. Too many injuries, too much missed time, and I can't really see him pushing his way into the long term plans of the club at this point. He and Bourjos won't both be dealt, but I definitely think one of the two will be, and Pham would be the cheaper option for any club looking to acquire a league-minimum player.
Marco Gonzales -- The only reason I would hesitate to put Gonzales in that top group, right on par with Alex Reyes, is the health concerns he's suddenly displayed this year. I personally still believe Gonzales should have a better than average chance of being durable over the long haul, but that doesn't mean he might not be. He's a 3/4 sort of starter when healthy, and extremely affordable for at least the near future, so as co-headliner of a trade package (say, with Peter Bourjos), he could bring back serious value in return. Still, this is a player the Cardinals like an awful lot, and one who offers very much something they need over the next few years, so unless it was to get something tremendous in return, it seems unlikely they would deal Marco away.
Rob Kaminsky -- Kaminsky's basic numbers (i.e. ERA), would suggest he's just as good a prospect as Alex Reyes, if not better in certain ways. He doesn't miss bats at the clip Reyes does, but walks significantly fewer hitters, generates a ton of groundball contact, and keeps the ball in the park. In other words, while Reyes is the more exciting prospect, Kaminsky is probably the better pitcher, at least right now.
However, that much more middling ceiling for Kaminsky likely suppresses his value compared to Reyes, even if I think he's probably a significantly safer bet to give you something than Reyes. And to a rebuilding club, the ceiling of Reyes is probably going to mean much more than the run-suppressing ability of Kaminsky. If Kaminsky were at Triple A while Reyes was at High A ball it would probably be a different story, but given they're at the same level Kaminsky just can't match up with the dreaming one can do on the arm of Reyes.
Which isn't to say Kaminsky doesn't have value, of course; he could likely co-headline a package in much the same way Gonzales could. And that's definitely something.
Corey Littrell -- The other pitcher the Cardinals received from Boston last year in the John Lackey/Joe Kelly/ Allen Craig deal, Littrell has gone from a moderately intriguing lefty arm in 2014 to a pitcher who, if you squint really hard, might just look a little like a candidate to turn into Dallas Keuchel. He's made that transition by simply refusing to walk hitters any longer, and markedly improving the command of his curveball to go along with a heavy sinker and plus changeup. At this point, I would kind of prefer the Cards hang on to Littrell and see what they might have with him, but if you're looking for a trade piece that would have value but not impact the big league club immediately, there are worse names to consider.
Littrell is currently pitching in Palm Beach, striking out nearly 20% of the batters he's faced this season, and walking just 3.2%. Part of that, of course, is pitching in the Florida State League, where pitchers have little to fear when it comes to challenging most hitters, but even so, that walk rate is absolutely astonishing. I'm really hoping he's promoted to Springfield relatively soon, so I can make the drive and maybe lay eyes on him firsthand.
Luke Weaver -- The Cards' first-round draft pick last season, Weaver is part of that ridiculous Palm Beach rotation that contains Littrell, Reyes, and Rob Kaminsky, and he's holding his own amongst that group. The strikeout numbers haven't been huge for Weaver in his first full pro season (19.3% K rate), but he's limiting walks very well (5.4% BB rate), and hasn't been overly hittable, either. The ceiling isn't huge, but the floor is probably pretty high for Weaver, and he's just another minor league arm the Cardinals could cash in making a move. In fact, if you're looking a group of players from which to draw trade chips, that Palm Beach rotation is probably the number one place to start.
It's probably a little soon to deal Weaver, actually; I could see the club wanting a little more time to determine what they have in him before deciding what direction to go. Still, if a trading partner club was really in on Weaver, he could definitely be part of a package.
The Add-Ons (or Throw-Ins, if you prefer)
These are the player who likely don't have a ton of value on their own, but could easily become part of any package, adding some value to help even out the scales.
Sam Tuivailala -- We've seen the stuff, and it is kind of incredible. We've also seen the command of said stuff, and it still needs some work. The upside of a closer is very much in play for Tuivailala, and he's probably the best of this group the Cardinals have, to the point he's borderline mid-tier. As a relief-only pitcher, though, the value is somewhat lessened.
Chris Perry -- The righthanded reliever who made such a huge impression in 2014 with his insane numbers moved up to High A to start the 2015 season, and continued to perform well, if not quite to the level of last year. He has since been promoted to Double A Springfield and has struggled a bit in the early going, but with full small sample size caveats in play, given that it's less than eight innings so far.
Xavier Scruggs -- Scruggs showed us mostly what we expected this year, as he made more contact this year than in his 2014 cup of coffee, but still looked to be a very limited player. A team that utilises platoon splits heavily could have interest in Scruggs, as his minor league numbers suggest he could be the lefty-mashing part of a first base or DH platoon.
Dean Anna -- In any just, sane world, Dean Anna would be backing up shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals this year. Instead, the lunacy of an organisation that just can't let go of Pete F. Kozma has relegated Anna to Memphis, where he's played well but not ridiculously so. Still, he's a competent defender at shortstop, is walking in nearly 12.0% of his plate appearances, and could offer an immediate major league bandage to a club in need of a middle infielder.
Anthony Garcia -- I wrote awhile back about the possibility the Cardinals could do something crazy with Garcia, and maybe try him out at first base. Actually, come to think of it, I was suggesting they do with Garcia pretty much exactly what they're doing with Piscotty. Part of the reasoning was the fact Garcia was destroying the Texas League, which continues to be true. The other part was the fact he'll need to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season if the Cards don't want to lose him to the Rule 5 draft, which also continues to be true. Given the roster crunch in terms of outfield spots, Garcia just might be in line to be part of a trade package, and is another player probably on the border of mid-tier and this lower stratum of guys. He's limited defensively and came into 2015 trying to forget two really rough seasons in Palm Beach, but the batting line he's produced this year at Springfield is fairly absurd, and he's not doing it with an extraordinarily high BABIP or anything like that. His walk rate is elite, his strikeout rate is elite, and he's hitting for better than a .200 ISO.
Also, there's this. So, you know.
I'm going to stop here. There are probably a few players I've missed, but this is already quite long, and fairly late (I began this watching the game last night, and am now trying to finish it up at 9:30 am, so it's been in the works for awhile), so I'll call it. I should probably throw in Charlie Tilson, at least as a consideration. But these are the names most likely to make an impact for the Cardinals at the trade deadline, in terms of outbound players. I might include Lance Lynn in the top tier, as well, if the return was of a certain sort and the Cardinals felt they were upgrading by including his team-friendly contract and dependable performance.
We're just nine days out from the deadline at this point, and virtually nothing has happened. If the flood gates are going to open, they might want to get started doing so.