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About Last Night, and Some Trade Rumours as We Near the Deadline

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Some thoughts on the ugliness of last night’s game in the light of day.

St Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins
This is Jerome Williams in a Cardinal uniform. Sigh.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

First off, I just want to take a moment to say how incredibly frustrating — downright maddening, even — it was to watch Jaime Garcia take the mound last night. It was one of the most inexplicable decisions I can recall from this coaching staff, and apparently from this front office as well, and the fact it blew up in their collective face in exactly the way virtually every single one of us here could have — and probably did — foresee happening only serves to highlight the folly.

We’ve had countless debates over the question of buying or selling at the trade deadline here over the past couple months, with people coming down on all sides of the nominally binary debate. Buy small, buy large, sell small, sell large, Cubs are too good, no one cares about the Cubs, and every other permutation one could imagine. I myself have maintained a stance on the side of strategic selling, believing this roster composed of mostly interchangeable parts but often lacking a real center isn’t likely to improve in the short term without moves being made, and that the worst possible iteration of the trade deadline this year would be what we had last season, where the Cardinals once again spent talent capital for marginal bullpen upgrades.

Unfortunately for me, my standpoint of hoping to sell and reshape the roster has been severely undermined by the fact most of the moving parts I was hoping to take advantage of in the marketplace have either found their way to the disabled list or performed so poorly as to torpedo their value. Trevor Rosenthal, who I’ve been crowing about selling high on since last November, looked good early, making us all think he might be worth a ransom were the club to actually realise closers are usually a poor investment and much more often an excellent opportunity for deals to be made. But then poor Trevor self-destructed and is now on the DL with either a rotator cuff strain or acute suckitis. For his sake, I hope it’s suckitis, because rotator cuff issues even now are still very nearly a death sentence for pitchers. (It does seem very odd a guy with a shoulder injury could still throw 97+, since shoulders usually affect velocity much more dramatically — and quickly — than elbows.)

Matt Adams had a hot streak when he might have had some value, but that value evaporated in a hurry, just like the hopes of those people still banging the Matt-Adams-is-a-future-All-Star-if-he-just-gets-the-playing-time drum. (Well, except for the broadcast team, who just won’t shut the fuck up about it. We get it, Ricky; you’re way into Matt Adams playing every day. Maybe buy an independent league club and employ him yourself?)

Jhonny Peralta, with one very reasonable year left on his four-year contract and excellent positional flexibility, would have seemed like an ideal fit for a whole bunch of teams with a need on the infield and less depth than the Cardinals. Alas, we’ve seen very little of Jhonny this year, and thus, no value.

And then there’s Jaime Garcia, to bring this back around to the subject truly at hand. Garcia, I thought, could be the Cards’ silver bullet in the trade market this year; a just-now-turned-30-years-old (which barely seems possible he’s still that young, doesn’t it?), number two starter with an eminently affordable option for next season could have brought back a major haul with the dearth of starters available on the market this year. Given the fact we thought the Redbirds would have Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, and Marco Gonzales all available as backup plans and Jaime’s great-or-hurt binary nature, Garcia being awesome and healthy early would have presented the ideal scenario to move him. Those plans didn’t come to fruition, though, since Jaime has been the one thing this season he’s never really been before: healthy but mediocre, having seen his walks per nine increase by one full walk while his strikeout rate has remained steady, his home run rate double from last season, and his strand rate throw in a decent dose of poor fortune to boot. The collapse of the Cards’ immediate rotation depth has only exacerbated the situation.

And so, as we stand just one day away from the trade deadline, the pieces I and my fellow sellers wanted to sell largely have no value, and there’s been little so far to suggest the Cardinals have any interest in making a really meaningful splash on the market like the one I recently suggested, in the mold of the Matt Holliday deal from 2009 or the offseason acquisition of Jason Heyward. Bring on the middle-relief band-aid, I suppose, is the message at this point.

Here’s my problem, though: if you’re going to refuse refuse refuse to ever sell, to ever reset, to ever admit you could use a slight course correction (and for the record, that slight course correction is all I’ve ever been arguing for; this isn’t a team that should be blown up, just reshaped a bit after nearly a decade of continual NLCS appearances), and are going to hit the deadline every year looking to pay out more capital to potentially get that one or two extra win swing you need to make it into the tournament, then you CANNOT GIVE AWAY GAMES. Period.

At some point in the next 30ish hours, I expect the Cardinals to make some small deal for a reliever. It will be the sort of utterly uninspiring pickup that will surprise no one, will engender plenty of snark as people trot out the dry powder and payroll muscle memes of the past, and will probably serve to increase the club’s true talent level by something like one-half to one marginal win. Obviously, it could turn out beautifully in terms of real-world situational use and we could be watching Octavio Dotel striking out Ryan Braun forever and ever, over and over, but chances are the club is actually going to pick up maybe one win’s worth of value, at the most.

You know how else you could grab one win? By not making the utterly boneheaded decision to stupidly forgo all over options to start a game against your closest competitor in the current playoff race and instead trot out your historically fragile lefty who’s never made a short-rest start in his career. The Cardinals virtually threw away that game yesterday making one of the most asinine decision I can recall from this franchise in recent times, and probably killed off the last shreds of trade value Jaime might have had, were the front office to decide now was a good time to cash in whatever chips they still hold with him, rather than wait for the next arm-related issue to pop up.

Options abounded for that start, and the club ignored all of them in favour of the one with the absolute lowest possible upside. Alex Reyes was pulled from a start to make him available for yesterday. Luke Weaver threw on Friday, and easily could have been bumped back one day, since he actually looks much closer to ready right now than the Walk-o-Matic 3000 that is Alex Reyes. Hell, my preference would have been to simply give Tyler Lyons a proper chance at starting the game (just as my preference in dealing Jaime would have been either Tim Cooney — when he was healthy — or Tyler Lyons taking over the ceremonial lefty starter spot).

The Cardinals arguably made the decision representing the worst of all possible worlds yesterday when they ran Jaime out to the mound on short rest. There’s the downside of Garcia pitching poorly out of his normal routine (I think we’ve gotten past the headcase narrative of Jaime being unable to deal with disruptions to his routine, but pretty much all pitchers hate to have their whole rhythm thrown off). There’s the downside of potential extra wear and tear on a pitcher whose arm has already betrayed him multiple times in the past.

And what is the upside? If Garcia had come out and pitched well, that would have been fine, sure. But you still passed on an opportunity to get a look at some potentially important future pieces on a major league field. You still ended up needing Tyler Lyons (for one goddamned inning, somehow, because Mike Matheny literally could not figure out the difference between the bullpen phone and his own ass if you paid him to, which by the way, the Cardinals are paying him to), but didn’t maximise the innings he gave you. So instead of any of the potentially exciting, meaningful scenarios we could have gotten out of last night’s game, with a reliever making his case to start, or a prospect showing just how close he might be, or anything else that might have represented an exciting positive, we got to see Jaime Garcia pitch on short rest, struggle in exactly the way I think nearly everyone here expected, Tyler Lyons get burned in mopup duty then fail to stick around long enough to actually mop up, and Jerome Williams make his stirring Redbird debut in what could only be described as a nihilistic baseball game.

Oh, and we got to watch the Cardinals drop a game to the club they’re directly fighting for a Wild Card spot without ever even putting up a fight. So all in all, exactly the kind of hopeless, flailing loss you would expect when the decisions leading up to the moment were so utterly incomprehensible.

And finally, now we get to read snippy, snappy retorts from the manager about post hoc analysis, in spite of the fact the vast majority of people called this particular shot ahead of time. We get defensiveness from a man of faith backed into a corner, convinced he’s still right, that he’s never, ever wrong because how could empirical proof ever change a person’s mind about anything? If there’s one thing that bothers me more than anything else about Mike Matheny, it is that. That stubborn, dig-in-your-heels mentality when decisions blow up in your face, an inability to ever have the simple self-confidence to admit that you probably bungled this one, that given a chance to do it over you might consider a different approach. Rather, he attacks questions of his managing with the same kind of single-minded, fear-based lack of deviation that governs the rest of his life. Okay, rant over.

When you forget to let the dog out before you leave the house, you can’t get angry at the dog when you come home to a pile of shit in the living room. It’s not the dog’s fault; you’re the one who created the situation where someone couldn’t help but shit on your floor.

I’m grumpy about yesterday’s game, in case you couldn’t tell.

So now we’ll watch this dance at the deadline, waiting for the Cardinals to try and make their annual move to grab one or two extra wins in the standings. And I don’t begrudge them trying to pull those extra one or two wins, even if I think there are better ways to approach the trade deadline. But if you’re going to spend financial and talent capital to try and grab one or two extra wins, you cannot fritter away wins through pure boneheaded decisions. Maybe the Cardinals would have lost yesterday no matter what; probably they would have. But being down four runs after one inning certainly doesn’t help matters any, and particularly when everyone here could see it coming, meaning I’m sure a large portion of the players in that dugout were in full mental, “Not in the face!” mode going in. If you’re going to piss away wins by not taking any of the better options you could have, then justifying spending for that one or two wins you could easily have just not pissed away is, to my mind, a very tough matter indeed.

Since we’re just one day away from this year’s trade deadline, here are some rumours flying around currently:

  • It looks like the Cleveland Indians have swung a trade for Andrew Miller. Considering what the Cubs gave up for Aroldis Chapman, who is a) not as good as Miller, b) a free agent following the season, and c) human garbage, I fear what kind of ridiculous haul the Indians may have had to give up for the number one reliever on the market. I’m rooting for the Indians to end their championship drought this season (unless it happens that the Cardinals meet them in the World Series somehow; then you can eat a bowl of dicks, Cleveland); something about the idea of Cleveland suddenly turning into title town out of nowhere for a brief, shining moment is extraordinarily charming to me.
  • The Indians were also rumoured to be in hot pursuit of Jonathan Lucroy; a day or two ago it was the Indians and Mets both shooting for the Brewers’ catcher, but the Mets’ interest seems to have cooled, possibly because of the asking price. There have been reports of the Indians and Brewers agreeing to a deal pending Lucroy waiving his limited no-trade clause, but that hasn’t been officially confirmed by the teams as of yet that I know. Of course, that could all change at any moment, I’m sure. I wonder if the Indians’ successful pursuit of Miller will take them out of the Lucroy sweepstakes due to a lack of resources.
  • The Padres are apparently going about their rebuild with the same over-the-top commitment with which they attacked their 2015 Year of Contention build. Having shipped Matt Kemp to the Braves in one of the less-sensible deals we’ve seen so far this year (amazingly, the trade looks bonkers from both sides, actually), San Diego is now apparently trying to move Derek Norris. The bad news: Norris has been awful this season. The good news: Norris is still a competent catcher, so maybe there’s a little value there.
  • The Rangers-Phillies Vincent Velasquez deal looks to be dead, when the Rangers wouldn’t pony up the huge asking price of the Phils. Shame the Cardinals don’t have a current major league starter they might be able to sell Texas on, considering how badly the Rangers need rotation help and how stacked they are in terms of future talent. (And no, I can’t tell if this comment is sarcastic or not either.)
  • Wade Davis had an MRI, and the Daniel Hudson deal fell through, so maybe we aren’t going to see half the closers in MLB moved at the deadline this year. I have a sneaking suspicion the Cards were one of the clubs in on Hudson, by the by....
  • But in terms of actual, tangible Cardinal trade rumours, beyond the previous speculation that they were ‘aggressively pursuing’ relief help? Crickets, daddy-o. Crickets.

And that’s it for me today. Cardinals and Marlins are back on the field today just after noon Central, as the Redbirds try to prevent the fish from grabbing their Wild Card lead back. Cards have the right guy on the mound, as by-now-undisputed-ace (I hope), Carlos Martinez takes the bump for the good guys. The bad news: Andrew Cashner brings his newly-shorn chin to the park for the Marlins. (The ridiculous facial hair policy: just one more reason to hope nothing good ever, ever, ever happens to the Marlins, even if I harbour their players no ill will. Well, most of their players, anyway.)

Let’s all pretend we just don’t remember what happened last time Andrew Cashner faced the Cardinals, okay? Or, at least, that we don’t really remember what happened until after he left that game.