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Imagining the 2017 Cardinals as buyers

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Lately, I’ve been comparing the Cardinals to the Giants a lot. The two are both contending for N.L. Wild Card this year. They also each have a smart front office and decent financial resources, while sharing their division with a monster of a team, making winning the division difficult. Last year, the Giants found themselves with a lead of six games over the Dodgers on July 1st. They decided to be aggressive, trading for third basemen Eduardo Perez, starting pitcher Matt Moore, and reliever Will Smith.

While high prices are typically paid at the deadline for win-now talent, the Giants saw their opportunity to “steal” a division title from the Dodgers, and avoid the Wild Card play-in game. Things didn’t work out for the Giants after that, but I think the process was solid. Flags fly forever, and it’s not like the Giants are crippled going forward. It’s something I hope the Cardinals would do, if they should find themselves ahead of the Cubs in the standings half way through the season.

What prospects could the Cardinals trade? On Monday, I revealed my aggregate Cardinals top prospects list. I used seven public sources for ranking Cardinals’ prospects, and created an average ranking for everyone. This was a ranking for 56 players, so check it out in full if you like. Here’s the top 9:

Jack Flaherty represents the end of a tier, as Junior Fernandez and Edmundo Sosa come in 10th and 11th, but with an average ranking of 16.7 and 17.7 respectively. This nine also includes seven players who were featured on at least one Top 100 list. Making the back of a top 100 list implies at least a $15-$20M valuation from that scout. Harrision Bader has an asterisk next to his total, as he made only a “Just Missed” list. Magneuris Sierra and Dakota Hudson didn’t make any Top 100 lists, but received averaged rankings similar to Harrison Bader, Luke Weaver, and Jack Flaherty - who all did - so there’s reason to believe they would carry some weight in the marketplace as well.

Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, and Carson Kelly all got their first time in the majors last year. When players do that, I start to want to just use their projections to figure out their value, separating them from former prospects in similar ranges of Top 100 lists. Luke Weaver is who stands out the most. He only made two Top 100 lists, placing 50th and 68th respectively. That carries decent weight, but it pales in comparison to his projection. Weaver’s currently projected for 10 starts this year. Multiply that by 2.5 to get 25 starts, still short of a full season. Taking his projection, an average aging curve, $9M cost of WAR in the last off-season, and 5% inflation, here’s Weaver’s value:

That doesn’t include his salaries, but even if you spot him $30M over the course of his first six team controlled years, that’s a high Surplus Value. Perhaps Weaver wouldn’t be valued this high in the market place - this also has to be adjusted to net present value - but it makes a great case why his position on Top 100 lists implies too low of a value.

Why are we concentrating so much on placement on a Top 100 list? That’s because the Cardinals will likely need to part with a Top 100 prospect in order to get a deal done. In my analysis of the trade deadline market last year, I found eight deals that involved prospects ranked on Top 100 lists. Here are those eight deals:

The Cardinals could manage to get upgrades for less than a Top 100 prospect, but the it’ll probably be a more minor deal.

I expect to get some negative reactions to this article. No one wants to trade away prospects that could end up helping the team for several cheap seasons. The Cardinals have traded prospects away each of the last six years though, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them do it again.

What type of players could they be pursuing? When Reyes went down for the season, I made the case that the Cardinals didn't need to pursue another starting pitcher right away. They still have Weaver slotted as the sixth starter. After that, the team could call on Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales, John Gant, Austin Gomber, Sandy Alcantara, or Jack Flaherty. Neither of those options are terribly likely on their own to be the seventh starter, but between all of them, a couple useful options should emerge.

Maybe the staff suffers a lot of injuries though, and that depth doesn't produce good enough replacements. Or maybe the depth is fine, but the Cardinals pursue a big upgrade for the reasons outlined above.

Jose Quintana and Chris Archer are of course fun options to dream on. They’re going to cost a prospect fortune though. That’s because they're worth it, but I'd rather see the team trade for rentals that come at a lower cost. If the team needs a more long-term fix, next year's free agent market is loaded with pitching. At this point, I prefer the Cardinals purchase wins with money, rather than prospects. Unfortunately, that's not as easy thing to accomplish in-season.

A lot can happen between now and the deadline. Here’s something to get us started though. Here’s nine pitchers who play for teams that might not contend, and whose contract is up at the end of the year:

And this list wouldn’t be complete without a few players who can opt-out of their deal at the end of the year:

The team could conceivably be in the market for a position player, for instance third base. Starting pitching is always in demand and supply at the deadline though, so it's the easiest to see this far away.

I already wrote about how things could go if the Cardinals were sellers. That kind of stinks when thinking in terms of this season, but it’s fun to think about going forward. Buying is the opposite. Maybe it means the Cardinals are a little less rich in prospects, but flags fly forever. The Cubs look like easy favorites to win the division, but the team that looks the best pre-season doesn't always come out on top. If things go awry for the Cubs, and the Cards have an opening, I hope they seize the opportunity.