Back in December, I wrote on the possibility of the Cardinals actually selling at the deadline. The Cubs looked like a behemoth, and the projections liked the Mets, Giants, Nationals, and Dodgers better than the Cardinals, though they did like the Cardinals marginally better than the Pirates. Even if you didn't agree with the projections, a lot of crazy things can happen in baseball. The Cardinals have outperformed their baseruns record by twenty-five games in the last three years, possibly the biggest reason for the Cardinals' successful three-peat of the division over that time-frame. Perhaps, this year would be the first in a while that baseball's randomness worked against the Cardinals rather than for them.
Well, two months in, the Cardinals have been about as unlucky as they can be. I'm writing this on Friday, before the game, when the Cardinals currently stand as six games worse than their baseruns record, which is 30-18, tied for third best with the Nationals and behind only the Cubs and Red Sox. There's no doubt in my mind that this is a good team, perhaps not as good as their baseruns record suggests, but not as average as their current win-loss record suggests. However, they nevertheless sit ]not just behind the Cubs but currently behind all of their Wild Card competition, with the exception of the Dodgers, who are tied with the Cardinals at 25-24. Going into yesterday, Fangraphs Playoff Odds gives the Cardinals just 24.5% chance of winning the Wild Card, and because of a 2.4% chance of winning the division, they have just 15.1% chance of reaching the NLDS, either as Wild Card game victors or division champions.
With 57 more games to go before the deadline, the Cardinals' season is by no means over: anyone who is aware of the 2011 Cardinals should know that. Please don't take this as me dooming and declaring that selling is the only option. A 4-game deficit is certainly not insurmountable, and the team is definitely good: if their record reflected their BaseRuns record, they'd be holding one of the Wild Card spots, and I wouldn't even have wrote this article. You'd be reading about Jeremy Hazelbaker right now instead, probably. With two months to the deadline, things could get better, stay the same, or even get worse.
However, in their current state, John Mozeliak and company should certainly at least have the possibility in their collective heads. They do have several candidates that make sense to trade. Due to 10 and 5 rules, and No-trade clauses, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Broxton, and Mike Leake are all with the Cardinals under their current contracts for better or worse. On the other hand, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, and Michael Wacha all have three or more years of cheap control after this year, and if the team is good, which I believe it is, there's no reason to start selling everything.
There are however, some options which make sense to be traded. In my original post (linked above) I originally mentioned four trade candidates, Jhonny Peralta being one of them. Being that Peralta still hasn't taken a plate appearance in 2016 due to his thumb injury, it's a stretch to imagine a team giving up much for him by the deadline. This is especially true when said injury is one that has a reputation for sapping batted ball quality (though I guess no one told Yadi that). Still, the remaining three options still make great trade candidates:
With Lance Lynn returning in 2017, the Cardinals have six major league starting pitchers under control next season. That leaves the Cardinals with the opportunity to deal one pitcher. With Carlos, Wacha, and Waino, and Leake all mentioned above as players likely kept by the Cardinals, that leaves Jaime Garcia.
You all know the story of Jaime's last half decade of baseballing: when he's been on the mound he's been great, but he just can't stay on the mound. He's (mostly) stayed on the mound for the last calendar year, over which he's thrown a qualified amount of innings in 27 starts. The results have been about as good as you could possibility imagine. The following is a scatter plot of each qualified Starting Pitching season over the last calendar year, arranged by FIP- and GB%:
The circled dot at the bottom left handed corner is Jaime Garcia. These stats don't count last night's outing. He's got the highest qualified GB% among starters in the majors, and the eighth best FIP- out of 87, just outside the top 9%. Jaime has no doubt been an ace on a per-inning basis. The "per-inning basis" is a necessary qualifier though, as he lags right around the minimum amount of innings pitched. That's due to Jaime missing some starts in July of last year. Ranking that group of starters by IP/GS puts Jaime at 29th out of those 87, dropping his overall production to 4.1 fWAR, 17th in that group. Still, that's a strong asset, and perhaps Jaime's relative health of late is enough to make some team overlook his past injury history if he's still healthy by the trade deadline (which is still a big if in my opinion). The receiving team would also get some upside in his 2017 option year, which the team can decline if things go wrong down the stretch for Garcia.
What contenders should be looking for a starting pitcher? The Pirates and Royals are both contenders with bottom of the league production out of Starting Pitchers, ranking 28th and 27th respectively in fWAR. The Red Sox and the Mariners are also below average, at 19th and 16th. The Rangers or Marlins may also be in the mix for an upgrade, at 14th and 13th. Starting pitchers get injured quicker than I can come up with analogies though, so more teams than this will be looking for starters when the deadline rolls around.
In my original post in December, I broke down the return that the Padres and Phillies got for Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles, basically salivating over the idea of getting a return like that for Rosie at the trade deadline. Those deals were widely panned as one sided, so they shouldn't be taken as precedent going forward. Rosenthal also hasn't been as good as Kimbrel, and going into the year he arguably hasn't been as good as Giles has been in his short career. However, the trade deadline also has a premium attached as team's don't have a free agent market to draw from and only a few teams are looking to sell, especially with the addition of the second wild-card making it easier for teams to imagine making the playoffs.
Rosie may have a lot of walks this year and dealt with a little homer trouble, but he still sits at a 2.90 xFIP thanks to the fact that he's struck out over 14 hitters per nine. Rosie also offers a rarity in the reliever market: track record. From 2013 to now, 108 relievers have thrown at least 150 innings, and Rosie is 10th among them in fWAR, the top 10%. If they stay out of the race the Yankees will certainly be looking to move Arnoldis Chapman, who is a free agent at the end of the year, so Rosie won't be the best reliever arm on the market, but he still represents a strong immediate upgrade to a team with bullpen issues, as well as two additional years of control after this one.
So far, the Rangers, White Sox, Mets, and Cubs have all had below average bullpens by xFIP-, so that's a good start for teams that could be interested in adding another strong arm to the pen. Like with starting pitchers, more teams than that will be in the market for an extra reliever. The Cardinals could replace Rosenthal's role as closer with Seung Oh, who has continued to impress.
As the only Cardinal on the roster not controllable in some form next season, Moss is the most obvious trade candidate. He's certainly looked better since the Cardinals acquired him a year ago for top 100 prospect Rob Kaminsky, though he also has one less year of control since then. The bounce back seems real, here's his average fly ball distance per year since 2012:
2012: 294 feet
2013: 296 feet
2014: 281 feet
2015: 285 feet
2016: 323 feet
I'd expect the 2016 distance number to regress downwards from here on out, but still it's been an impressive. Moss has a 111 wRC+ so far with a BABIP 37 points worse than his career average. With some BABIP regression he'd be more of a good hitter than great, but the market has certainly been shown to value dingers more than a similar amount of value produced in other ways. Getting back a top 100 prospect might be asking too much, but maybe one tier down from that is possible.
The White Sox could be a fit for Moss, who have a 88 wRC+ at the DH position so far this year. Moss could play there or at first-base, with Jose Abreu moving to DH. He could also take some time away from Austin Jackson in the outfield, who holds a 75 wRC+ and could be replaced in center by shifting Adam Eaton over from RF. The Orioles may also be interested in another slugger and only have one entrenched corner outfielder in Mark Trumbo.
With five remaining starters and a deep bullpen, trading Rosenthal and Garcia make sense, and with Moss gone at the end of the year anyway he also makes sense. But prior to his injury I also thought it made sense to part with Jhonny Peralta, and while he might specifically be tough to deal, dealing someone else from the depth the Cardinals have accrued could make sense. For 2017, Adams' presence could be negated by shifting Marp to first, with Peralta and Diaz covering the left side of the infield. That would still leave Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia as very capable back-ups. Peralta leaves after 2017 though, so holding on to Adams could allow him to be a starter in 2018.
That's his last season of control however, so if the team could find a way to move him for a package they liked, I don't think a hypothetical opening for one year in 2018 should hold them back. The team could instead retain Jhonny Peralta or Matt Holliday for an extra year or two, stick Jedd Gyorko there for the year, sign a free agent, or fill the hole with Paul Dejong, currently in Double-A. The team could also fill the hole with a prospect received from dealing one of the other three players. There's a lot of ways the team could replace Adams' production in 2018, and Adams certainly hasn't been someone to bet on long-term anyway.
The tougher part may be finding a team in need of a hole at first base, as that's the only spot where Adams can play. The White Sox have received poor production from first, but are unlikely to bench Jose Abreu, and the same goes for the Dodgers and Adrian Gonzales. The Mariners haven't received much from Adam Lind, and Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder have both been below replacement level for the Rangers. With AL teams, Matt Adams could also DH, opening up some possibilities there. Adams is currently sporting a 152 wRC+, so some team is going to be interested if he can keep it up.
The Cardinals currently have $93M committed to next year's roster, plus Holliday's option, and Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Kevin Siegirst entering arbitration. That would still leave the Cardinals $25M short of this year's $145.5M roster, and with only $60M on the books in 2018 they certainly have the ability to make some pricey additions. The next free agent market is going to be weaker than most, but likewise it should prompt an active trade season that the Cardinals would be able to take part in. They should be able to deal these four at the deadline, and still have the ability to put a Wild Card contending product on the field in 2017, all the while stacking the farm system for another extended run.
The Cardinals' farm system currently ranks around average depending on who you're asking, but the proceeds of selling these four, plus three picks in the top 35 of the upcoming draft, and getting their current low-to-mid minors concentrated talent one year closer to the big leagues could propel the Cardinals towards having one of the best farms in the game again, like they were in the 2012-2013 off-season. Such a result could again bring oodles of cost controlled talent to the big league club, creating a whole new run of postseason success.
Again, let me re-iterate, this is by no means imminent. For all I know, the Cardinals could win 20 of the next 30 games, generating a more fruitful discussion on what the Cardinals are going to add at the deadline, and this article will look silly. But, the Cardinals also haven't been sellers in a loooong time, and that makes this discussion pretty interesting to me at least. We're passed the 2000 words mark here, so I'll let you stop here. Hopefully, these 2000 words end up all for nought, and the Cardinals end up making the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year, something only the Braves and Yankees have done in the Wild Card Era. If that's not in the cards though, selling would be quite the exceptional consolation prize.