With Matt Carpenter still recovering from an oblique strain, Brandon Moss hobbling around on a bad ankle, and Jhonny Peralta joining them on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with an injured thumb, which may or may not be related to the injury he sustained in spring training, the Cardinals are currently minus three players capable of covering every position on the field minus pitcher, catcher, and centerfield. But slide Greg Garcia or Jedd Gyorko in at third and Kolten Wong back to his natural position at second, and the Cardinals are hardly missing a beat in the way of defense, which, I guess, is the one advantage when there aren't huge defensive shoes to fill. What they'll likely miss, however, are the bats.
Peralta didn't exactly light the NL on fire when he returned in early June (although his slugging was fine for an infielder in his age-34 season), but Moss was on pace to become the first Cardinal to hit 30+ home runs since Carlos Beltran in 2012. And then there's Carpenter, who had an NL leading 164 wRC+ at the time of his injury on July 6th, and whose loss can't be overstated. Though there are few players on the trading block that could provide some pop for the Cardinals, some of whom have been linked to the team in the past, it appears the Redbirds will let it ride on the offensive side of the ball barring something currently unforeseen (trade for Trout!):
Source: #Cardinals have no interest in trading for a hitter, even with 3 impact bats on DL, unless it would be a long-term impact player— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) July 19, 2016
I'm also told the #Cardinals top baseball people are not as high on Carlos Gonzalez as other people seem to think they are— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) July 19, 2016
The Cardinals' starting pitching has been fine, quite good even. They've been hit with some bad luck, but they've also been uncharacteristically able-bodied. As a result of yesterday's double-header, Sunday night's game with the Dodgers could mark the first time they'll have to look for a sixth starter - making them the last club in the NL able to make that claim. On the other hand:
Dreams for an Immaculate Season from the rotation still alive. https://t.co/l6Ciq26Vwh— viva el birdos (@vivaelbirdos) July 20, 2016
What's left for the team to shore up is the bullpen, which is where most of the trade speculation has been all along. Richard Justice noted that Aroldis Chapman could make sense for the Cardinals but I'm going to agree with John Fleming on this one. No thanks for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is the important one.
Andrew Miller's name is still out there. He's as tantalizing as the uniquely talented Chapman only with more years of control and without the moral firestorm. But as has been covered on these pages before, the asking price will be high and more than they should be comfortable parting with for a relief pitcher. Even the best relief pitcher. I support what the Cardinals are currently doing as it concerns the bullpen - experiment with what they have internally (Socolovich, Bowman, Lyons) while keeping tabs on the outside lesser-tier relief options, as was detailed well yesterday by Derrick Goold.
So to circle back to the beginning, are the Cardinals making a mistake in not seeking a quick fix at the plate? After all, with Clayton Kershaw out indefinitely, and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo poised to possibly split the vote, Carpenter was looking at a very realistic shot at the NL MVP had the injury not occurred. He's been that good. And if the Cardinals are without his production for several more weeks that's a big void.
Still, if indeed their strategy is to leave the offense alone that certainly appears reasonable. Let's take Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies since they are the usual trade piece linked to the Cardinals, as acknowledged by Mark Saxon above. The Coors effect is probably often overstated. A lot of players have home/road splits that favor the home park. Peruse FanGraphs Leaderboards and you'll see that across baseball the home team has a .749 OPS in 2016 while the road team is at .730. In fact, Matt Carpenter's career OPS at home is over 20 points higher than on the road and Busch Stadium is a pitcher's park. Home is where players are more comfortable; they're going to play better.
Yet you look at a player like Blackmon (.893 OPS at home vs. .677 on the road) and the difference is so large that throwing caution to the wind feels like it could be a bad idea. Gonzalez's splits (.997 OPS vs. .750) are worse (or better, I guess, depending on our perspective). Add in the fact that Gonzalez is on the wrong side of 30, and Blackmon will be soon, and the Cardinals' reluctance to get involved with one of these bats makes sense.
As for "long-term impact players," Evan Longoria would fit that mold. He's under contract through 2022 with an option for the next year, and has been linked to trade rumors with the Dodgers. He plays good defense at third base, and offensively speaking (.290/.338/.550; 135 wRC+), he's possibly having his best year since 2012. Although in June, Neil Weinberg took a closer look at his 2016 season and found a player who rediscovered his power but also saw his contact rate and hits to the opposite field on the decline. Furthermore, Longoria is also on the wrong side of 30 and is still owed nearly $100 million. That should probably be a pass.
That's not a huge sample of offensive, and this could be naïveté speaking, but this Cardinals team as is should be capable of making a run. They might be doing it right now. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out yesterday that they've been historically unlucky, untimely, or whatever you want to call it. Eventually (hopefully) that will correct itself. In the meantime, keep playing Tommy Pham. Put Gyorko in a trance that leads him to believe he's playing the Padres every night. Wait patiently for Matt Carpenter and the other bats to return, and the offense will likely be fine.