Last season the trade deadline saw the Cardinals move two fan-favorites in Joe Kelly and Allen Craig and in separate moves, bring in Justin Masterson and John Lackey. The moves also served to give playing time to Oscar Taveras. Last season, the terrible production in right field plus multiple pitching injuries and inconsistency caused the Cardinals to search for innings and create lineup space in right. The Cardinals do not have the same concerns they had last season (or even earlier this season) with innings, and first base looks to be the main target for potential improvement. Whether that upgrade is really necessary is debatable.
This season, the Cardinals appear to have most of their innings covered internally due to the solid play of Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons as well as the potential to get Marco Gonzales back shortly. The Cardinals already addressed the potential overuse of the bullpen by bringing in Steve Cishek and also hope to get Jordan Walden back shortly. While further injuries would certainly hurt the team, the Cardinals only real need for improvement is at first base, but deciding to upgrade at first would be costly for a team that is already very likely to make the playoffs.
The main options appear to be Adam Lind and Chris Davis as Ben discussed yesterday. Adam Lind is an interesting player, but he has terrible platoon splits, is not very good on defense, has been on the disabled list in three of the last four seasons before this one for back injuries and is currently having back problems. He has a relatively cheap option for next season, but he carries risk that might not be worth giving up legitimate prospects to receive. Chris Davis is a more intriguing option, but he is a pure rental and the Orioles might not even be selling at this point. If the Cardinals are upgrading, first base is the way to go, but their offense has not been that bad all season, and should be considerably better than it has been over the last month.
Assuming Randal Grichuk's injury is not serious, the Cardinals have seven of the eight positions on the field set for the rest of the season. Matt Holliday has returned from his injury and is a fixture in left field. Jason Heyward has convinced nearly all doubters from the beginning of the season and has been a tremendous asset in right field. The Grichuk experiment is destined to continue until either he or the league changes. Matt Carpenter and Johnny Peralta man the left side of the infield, Kolten Wong has had a solid season at second, and Yadier Molina is a necessity behind the plate. Below is the wRC+ (100 is average, larger numbers are better, stats through Sunday) of those players thus far as well as their projections for the rest of the season using FanGraphs Depth Charts (an average of Steamer and ZiPS rate stats with playing time estimated by humans).
If the current Cardinals were to continue their current averages, the Cardinals would have one of the very best offenses in the league. That the current offense is not one of the best in the league is due to a few factors. First, the two best hitters so far are also the two with the smallest amount of playing time in Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk. The second is obviously the missing position as Cardinals' first basemen, mainly Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds, have hit very poorly this season. Despite those issues the Cardinals' offense has not been bad this season.
Confusing not good with bad is an easy thing to do. The Cardinals offense has not been good this season, but that does not necessarily mean that it has been bad as average is another option. On the season, non-pitching Cardinals have a 103 wRC+ that ranks eighth in Major League Baseball and third in the National League behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Looking at the Cardinals' hitting line of .262/.331/.401 at then looking at other teams with better lines like the Reds, Diamondbacks, or Rockies leaves out the ballpark component. Busch Stadium is in the bottom 20% of parks for home runs and it is in the bottom half overall while those other teams play in hitter-friendly parks.
In terms of runs, the Cardinals four runs per game is in the middle-third of teams, and even with no upgrade at first base and Randal Grichuk, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong all dropping considerably in the projections, the team is still expected to score about four runs per game going forward. The last month has been rough on the Cardinals as they lost their best hitter in Matt Holliday for a good chunk of the season at the same time Matt Carpenter went into a slump, but Holliday lengthens the lineup considerably and Matt Carpenter will hit much better than he has over the past couple of months.
Another factor often left out when discussing the Cardinals' offense is the excellent defense. A run taken away on defense is just as valuable as a run scored on offense. The Cardinals have been incredible all year long and a great deal of credit goes to the pitching staff as it should, but the defense plays an important role. Heyward, Molina, and Peralta are all great at defense, Grichuk has acquitted himself well while Wong, Carpenter, and even Holliday are roughly average for their positions. The Cardinals have a team that is built around pitching and defense that is fortunate to have a lot of guys who have been adept at getting on base.
The Cardinals have the best record in baseball with no production on offense from the position most associated with offense, and while they could easily upgrade that position if they feel that Stephen Piscotty is not up to the task, but will it be worth the cost. Fangraphs has the Cardinals odds of making the playoffs with the current team at over 99% with the division up over 80% right now. Any short-term move is not for the upgrade over the next few months as the Cardinals are unlikely to need the help to qualify for the playoffs. Is giving up prospects for a player just for the playoffs worth it when we have very little ability to predict whether the new player will be an upgrade over what is on hand in such a small amount of plate appearances? If the Cardinals bring someone in, he should provide an upgrade, but holding on to prospects and rolling the dice with the development of Piscotty might be the better option now and is likely the better option for the future.