The Cardinals seem intent to add a centerpiece type player this offseason, and even though we've heard the same thing with relatively little action for the past two offseasons, let's give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment and assume they actually intent to do it.
They have two tactics at their disposal. First, they could add free agents, especially given their payroll is declining while their revenues - especially with a rich new TV contract kicking in - are soaring. They could also seek to acquire new, marquee talent via the trade market.
But will the Cardinals have any trade partners?
As he notes, the Marlins are a pretty clear match for the Cardinals, with The Fish needing to not just acquire talent for a rebuild, but shed a lot of payroll in the process. The Cardinals could help them on both counts. Of course, there is still uncertainty about the intentions of the new ownership group in Miami, but overall this looks like a potential trade partner.
The Blue Jays are a more uncertain match. Like the Cardinals, they are a club that has still been trying to win but now are struggling to reach the playoffs. They seem fairly likely to rebuild, but could also make another run.
That highlights a problem I see in the overall trade market: The majority of teams are either going all-in to make a playoff run now, or tearing down to rebuild. The preponderance of trades we've seen over the last 1-2 years have been stars-for-prospects swaps between teams on opposite sides of the Win Now window.
You rarely see a trade along the lines of Scott Rolen for Placido Polanco (and three pitchers). Yes, Rolen was approaching free agency and made it clear he didn't want to stay in Philly, but these were still teams with winning records swapping (mostly) major league talent.
The Cardinals do have the pieces to play contender in one of these stars for prospects swaps, if they're willing to give up some combination of Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, or maybe something of the Flaherty, Alcantara, Delvin Perez ilk.
But they will not only have to deal from the upper-level prospect bank, they'll have to find a match with one of the rebuilding teams who hasn't already been picked-over the way clubs like the White Sox and Phillies have. So they'll have to hope clubs like the Marlins and Blue Jays enter the rebuilding mix and hope they're interested in the handful of upper-level prospects the Cardinals are willing to deal.
That means the Cardinals are probably looking at a pretty small number of potential trade partners and deals.
It also makes me skeptic they will have much luck dealing with another problem this offseason, which Bernie recently pegged as too many Cardinals. The team's recent tactic to raise the floor by hoarding 2-3 win players, and their success turning somewhat later-round draft picks into serviceable major leaguers, has left the team with a glut of players who are worth a spot in the back-half of a 25-man roster but nowhere to put them.
This is of course most apparent in the outfield. Pham and Fowler clearly stand above as starters, but that still leaves a grab-bag of Grichuk, Piscotty, Martinez, Bader and all the guys piled up just behind Bader.
These guys all have value, as 4th and 5th outfielder types, with maybe some hope to rise a bit above that. But where is the demand for this kind of player? Teams like the Reds are just looking for warm bodies to fill their outfield. Sure, one of these guys could do that, but they aren't going to give up more than a case of beer to acquire them. And it's hard to imagine them garnering much interest from the juggernauts like the Dodgers or Astros.
The Cardinals have lost some worthwhile talent to the Rule 5 draft in the past two seasons, and stand to do so again if they can't clear enough space in the 40-man roster. They have hoarded 2-3 WAR talent, and that has provided them valuable and sometimes unexpected replacement parts when projected starters have underperformed. But it has also left them overstocked, with players that are unlikely to garner much value in a trade and may just need to be dumped.
It's probably a fool's errand to try to project what the trade market will be like overall, let alone guess at what specific trades might be possible. But with so many teams either playing-to-win or rebuilding, and the Cardinals one of the very only teams in-between, I think they will find it harder than ever to find trade partners.