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The necessary return for dealing Alex Reyes

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The Cardinals are probably not going to trade Alex Reyes before this year's trade deadline. But what kind of trade would it require for the Cardinals to consider it?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For a specific type of St. Louis Cardinals fan, last Sunday was the first time they watched top prospect Alex Reyes on the mound in a live baseball game. For those of us who are not avid watchers of Minor League Baseball and instead rely on the red baron to be our eyes and ears regarding Reyes, it was a chance to not only see the Cardinals' most hyped pitching prospect in years, but it was a chance to see him perform against some of the most anticipated young players in baseball at the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Disappointment seemed inevitable, yet Alex Reyes managed to meet the utterly irrational expectations which come with his status as MLB.com's #7 prospect. If you want a detailed explanation of what this says about him in the short and long term with the Cardinals, Joe Schwarz examined Reyes's future on Monday.

Most analysis has worked under the assumption that Alex Reyes will soon enough join the St. Louis Cardinals, either for an apprenticeship in the bullpen as early as this season or as a future front-line starting pitcher. And while his eventual ascension to the mound at Busch Stadium seems inevitable, if the Cardinals intend to make, or at least discuss, trades before the 2016 deadline, any team doing its due diligence will at least inquire about Alex Reyes.

And why shouldn't they? Even if it is a long shot that the Cardinals would part with a young gun who has invited comparisons to Mets wunderkind Noah Syndergaard, there is precedent for trading elite prospects. Just two years ago, the Oakland Athletics dealt MLB's #5 prospect, Addison Russell, to the Chicago Cubs as the centerpiece of a trade for two starting pitching rentals: Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Unlike the 2016 Cardinals, who currently trail the Cubs by 7 games in the NL Central and sit one game back of the second Wild Card, the A's held a 3.5 game lead in the AL West. The maneuvers made by Billy Beane that July seemed to be an attempt to crystallize an ALDS appearance, though a moderate collapse meant that they traded the man who started the All-Star Game yesterday at shortstop for the National League for a couple guys who netted them an appearance in one playoff game.

But while it would be very easy to project upon Alex Reyes, to assume the absolute best of him, commensurate with our wildest dreams of what he could be, it would be unrealistic to expect that every player will achieve his peak, as only a few will. Here is a comparison of Alex Reyes to other recent #7 MLB.com prospects. Pre-2011, I went with the #7 prospect per Baseball America, since an MLB.com pick is not available.

Year #7 prospect Career highlights
2015 Tyler Glasnow, Pirates 1 career MLB start: 5 1/3 IP, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
2014 Miguel Sano, Twins 32 HR, .875 OPS, 137 wRC+ in 592 PA
2013 Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks 99 2/3 IP, 8.04 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 5.06 ERA, 4.73 FIP
2012 Gerrit Cole, Pirates 45-24 W-L, 3.03 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 2015 All-Star
2011 Jacob Turner, Tigers 298 2/3 IP, 4.97 career ERA, currently in AAA Charlotte
2010 Buster Posey, Giants 2012 MVP, 4-time All-Star, 32.3 career fWAR
2009 Brett Anderson, Athletics 674 1/3 IP, 3.69 ERA, missed most of 5 of last 6 seasons on DL
2008 Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers PRETTY GOOD
2007 Evan Longoria, (Devil) Rays 5160 PA, 127 wRC+, 46 career fWAR
2006 Chad Billingsley, Dodgers 1212 1/3 IP, 3.72 ERA, 49 IP from 2013-2015, currently out of baseball

It's a mixture which includes some great (Kershaw, Posey, Longoria), some injury victims (Anderson, Billingsley), and some not-so-great (Turner). So if a team is to approach Alex Reyes feeling he has a chance to become Kershaw but also a chance to become Jacob Turner, how should they handle it?

The simplest advice would be "with caution." The Cardinals will almost certainly not trade Alex Reyes because most teams who have commodities worth losing Reyes for would not want to give up their own stars, barring somewhat extraordinary circumstances.

And essentially any conventional "rental" player currently available is off the table: to find a player from the MLB Trade Rumors list of top impending free agents who has not already signed an extension and who does not play for a team that, like the Cardinals, is more likely to buy than sell during July, one has to scroll down to Josh Reddick, a right fielder that would seemingly be a depth acquisition for a team that already has Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty in the corners.

The next step would be players such as Andrew Miller, who are not impending free agents but whose current teams may be motivated sellers. As has been addressed on this site, Miller would represent a significant upgrade to the Cardinals' bullpen, but by virtue of pitching far fewer innings, relievers do not accumulate the same value as starters. Despite a doggedly consistent career unparalleled in baseball history, Mariano Rivera was worth fewer fWAR over his career than John Lackey. Innings matter in producing value for a team. And after seeing a very raw Alex Reyes still pitching very effectively and regularly hitting triple digits in what was essentially a relief appearance on Sunday, it would make only mild sense in the short term, and very little sense in the long term, to trade Reyes for Miller.

So if not a rental, and if not Miller, for whom should the Cardinals trade Alex Reyes? The list is very short. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs ranked Reyes #46 in trade value among all players in baseball on Monday, though the Cardinals would not likely trade Reyes for, say, #42 ranked Trevor Story, because while the Cardinals may not be unreservedly sold on Aledmys Diaz, his hot start to 2016 would likely make Story less valuable in their eyes.

It is the source of a supermajority of The Internet's bad hypothetical trades, and I have long resisted the temptation to delve fully into one of these myself, but among players who might be shopped, one of the few players who would be worth it to the Cardinals would be Mike Trout. The Angels are a terrible team right now with a terrible farm system whose MLB roster is flooded with terrible contracts, and there is an endless supply of "the Angels should trade Mike Trout" takes out there. And if the Angels decided that Alex Reyes alone were worth trading Mike Trout (this is extraordinarily unlikely but the Angels would get some payroll relief, so there's that), the Cardinals should and likely would jump right on that.

But this is the kind of super-deal that it should take for the Cardinals to even entertain the prospect of trading Alex Reyes: it would require a franchise-altering talent. A Trout, a Bryce Harper, a Manny Machado, a Kris Bryant; not players targeted solely for what they can provide in 2016. Because no player in baseball has been accomplished enough in a two-month span to make a Cardinals division win the most likely outcome of this season, the Cardinals should instead be very happy at the likely high future value which Alex Reyes can provide to the club beyond 2016.