Well, it's about time. I have written two articles imagining the Cardinals as sellers at the deadline, as well as a post on the merits of trading Brandon Moss in contention or not. At some point, I had to write on the most likely outcome for the Cardinals in 2016, which is the same path they've taken six of the last seven years before this one, stretching all the way back to the trade for Holliday in the 2009 season. While I won't be discussing where on the roster the Cardinals will be looking for improvements, or what players could fit that role (that's too early I think), I will be analyzing the prospects dealt in past deadline deals. The Cardinals' current run of success is intimately related to the success they've had graduating prospects to the Major League level. That's despite sending prospects away most every year for short-term re-reinforcements.
As I mentioned, I'll start with the trade for Matt Holliday from the A's, back in 2009. All the A's got for Holliday's 2.6 WAR post-trade were three players, none of which managed to even reach replacement level. Here's the two hitters' the A's received and their MLB career stats:
And here's the pitcher that was included as well:
With the benefit of hindsight, we see that the Holliday trade cost the Cardinals absolutely nothing. Not only did the trade secure a great hitter who performed well for the Cardinals in a season in which they won the division, it also bought them an up close look at a player they had coveted for years, which gave them the confidence to offer him the largest contract in team history.
Not every trade was such clear success though. The same year, the Cardinals traded for Mark DeRosa, who provided a half a win of value in 2009. For that, the team had to part with Chris Perez, who pitched pretty well in two years, 2010 and 2012:
Not counting those two seasons, Perez's career has been below replacement level, but he still had two seasons with higher production than the one they traded for.
The Cardinals most infamous trade over this time frame is the Pedro Feliz trade. The Cardinals brought in a clearly declining player in Feliz who "contributed" -0.5 WAR in his time in St. Louis, ending his time in the majors. The price of bringing Feliz's final season to St. Louis cost the Cardinals one David Carpenter, who has been an OK bullpen arm over his career:
While this trade was awful, it highlights that the worst case scenario for the Cardinals hasn't been that bad. Yeah, it would have been nice to have another cromulent reliever in 2013 and 2014 (Carpenter's best years), but the cost isn't exactly something worth losing sleep over.
2011 is the only year in this stretch where the Cardinals didn't trade any prospects at the deadline, though there of course was the Rasmus deal. While that was a deal in which future value was traded for present value, Corey Rasmus wasn't a prospect. It was more of a "trade from depth" and an "end an un-resolvable clubhouse conflict" type trade, and I don't really think it's fair to include such a unique trade in with these others.
2012 saw another deal for a reliever, with the Cardinals trading for one and a half years of Edward Mujica from the Marlins. For that, the Cardinals only had to part with already stalled-out former first round pick Zack Cox. Cox isn't in affliated baseball this year and never reached the majors, here are his numbers from 2015:
This was his age 26 season, so a 136 wRC+ in Double-A isn't really impressive at all relative what it means in terms of future MLB output. Mujica was really only useful to the Cardinals for about a year, but he brought stabilization to a pen that needed it at the time, from adding a late inning option to holding the closer job in 2013, until he lost whatever was going for him late in the year. In hindsight, Mujica's contribution of 0.7 WAR in situations with higher than average leverage was gained for literally nothing in terms of future MLB production.
In 2013 the Cardinals again played it cautious, just adding reclamation project/former closer John Axford. For that, the Cards parted with flame-throwing, control-lacking, right-handed pen arm Michael Blazek. Blazek has held a spot in Brewers' pen since, but again, he doesn't exactly leave you wondering what could have been:
In the Cardinals' org, Blazek would have had to fight for a job in the pen the last couple of years, and he certainly wouldn't crack the pen in 2016. Though Axford only threw ten innings for the Cardinals in 2013, his WAR in that time matches Blazek's current career number.
In 2014, the Cardinals made two deadline trades. One has worked out magically: the Cardinals shipped out Craig and his $31M guaranteed contract out of St. Louis along with Joe Kelly for John Lackey and prospect Corey Littrell. Kelly and Craig were not prospects, so like the Rasmus deal I won't count it. The other didn't really do anything for either side. That was the trade of outfield prospect James Ramsey for Justin Masterson. Masterson was worse than replacement level in his tenure in St. Louis, but at least it didn't cost the Cardinals any talent. Ramsey has been freely acquirable by any major league team multiple times since the trade and here's his lukewarm numbers from his current campaign with the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate:
The most recent trade deadline in 2015 brought the Cardinals three trades. One clear loss was the trade for Steve Cishek from the Marlins in exchange for Kyle Barraclough:
Like the Axford/Blazek trade, this was a reclamation project in exchange for a fringey reliever. It's worked out for the Marlins, but that walk rate is about as high as it can be. Any trend downward in Barraclough's strike out rate or upwards in the walk rate and he'll probably find himself out of a job. In hindsight, this trade was a loss for the Cardinals but again, for a worse case scenario of a trade, this is a pretty good example of how the Cardinals protect themselves from giving up cheap talent. The Cardinals can afford to give up a Barraclough or a Blazek sometimes, as long as they're not giving up the Piscotty's and El Gallo's
Going after another reliever with some rust, the Cardinals also picked up Jonathan Broxton from the Brewers, in exchange for Malik Collymore. While Collymore was interesting when he was a second baseman who posted a 154 wRC+ in his age 19 season in rookie ball (albeit with a 430 BABIP), after he was moved off of second-base to the outfield his already fringe prospect status was at risk. Here's his minor league production since entering the Brewer's system:
Above-average at his level, but that high strike out rate before even making the jump to Double-A could be quite the limiting factor in his development towards an MLB career. It'll take another few years to find out, but Collymore is unlikely to end up making the Cardinals sorry for acquiring Broxton, despite the lack of results Broxton has had since donning the birds on the bat.
The last deal was quite the controversial one when it occured. More than one outlet at the time called it the worst trade of the deadline, when referring to the Cardinals' end of it. The Cardinals parted with Rob Kaminsky, former first round pick who had pitched well at each minor league level he had been assigned to by that time. That pedigree and success began to boost him into Top 100 lists.The return, seemingly underwhelming at the time, was Brandon Moss, successful late career slugger who was recovering from injury and only had a 2015 wRC+ of 89 at the time of trade.
Moss picked up the production to the tune of a 109 wRC+ last year after the trade, but the real gains have come in 2016. He currently sits at a 139 wRC+ on the year and since the trade has been worth 1.3 WAR, with the projections caling for 0.9 more before the end of the year. All in all and assuming health, Moss will likely produce around 2 WAR as a Cardinal. At the same time, Kaminsky took a step back immediately after joining the Indians' org, with a DL stint in 2015 followed by a woefully bad 2016 campaign in Double-A so far:
While it was a widely criticized trade at the time (and it was hard not to disagree with that sentiment) the Cardinals may have pulled off selling Rob Kaminsky high while buying Brandon Moss low. Kaminsky had yet to be tested against higher competition, and the Cardinals enjoyed his rising stock up until that point. Kaminsky can still turn things around of course, he hasn't even thrown 40 innings above A-ball yet, but what looked like a clear loss for the Cardinals at first, now looks like another deal where they ended up getting something for nothing, or close to it.
I love the Cardinals' seemingly constant ability to churn out major leaguers from their prospect pipeline, so each year when trading season gets underway I get worried that the Cardinals may part with someone who ends up supplying a lot of cheap controllable seasons in the future. However, despite many deadline deals where the Cardinals gave up prospects, they've missed out on very little future value when making these deals.
The team has essentially traded away half a mediocre bullpen over the last several deadlines in Carpenter, Perez, Blazek, and Barraclough, plus a couple lottery tickets yet to be determined in Collymore and Kaminsky. If the Cardinals didn't trade David Carpenter for Pedro Feliz for instance, they might have avoided trading for Mujica in 2012, but that cost the team no future resources. If the team didn't make that trade and the Axford/Blazek trade, it might have avoided the Cishek and Broxton deals in 2015, as well as Broxton's $7.5M/2 year deal signed last winter. That however, is a pretty minor cost compared to the benefit of being able to add even minor role players each deadline that the team has been in contention.
While sometimes the return has looked underwhelming, such is the nature of the price of MLB talent in July. With the Cardinals right in the thick of the Wild-Card race, they're again looking like buyers, but don't worry too much about the Cardinals giving away the wrong prospect: they have an excellent record of limiting their losses.