Author’s Note: Sorry for the missed post on Sunday, everyone. There was a sudden death in my family, and I was distracted. Apologies. — Aaron
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; it’s that time again. The time of year when we all look around at the Cardinals’ situation and dream up whatever dreams we may have in our hearts. The GM for a day posts are always more interesting when the team has clear need of a shakeup; when it’s 2004 and it seems painfully clear to everyone that the club really lacks a sixth inning bridge reliever but not much else, conversations about what moves to make tend to lack some teeth. This year’s club, though? Here we have fertile soil.
Those of you who have been around here for awhile know the rules of the game: normally, we here at VEB Industries focus on analysis, but for the purposes of this particular post let’s instead throw that out the window and go for wild-ass conjecture and opinion. What I want from each of you is your completely hypothetical gameplan for how you would approach the time from now until the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July. Actually, if you have plans that carry beyond that, for instance selling certain pieces to create space/opportunity/payroll/whatever for an offseason move, you can go further ahead as well. But, for the most part, what we’re talking about here is the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals.
Realism of some sort is preferred; I suppose you could trade Kevin Siegrist for Mike Trout in your world if you want, but none of us are going to take you seriously if that’s your proposal. That being said, you can be as bold as you want in pretty much any direction; if you think a complete teardown is best, that’s fine. Ditto a scenario where you’re emptying the farm to immediately load up the major league club.
Be as specific as possible; these are always more interesting when you have actual names in mind, rather than just, “Trade for a couple good players who play positions X and Y, and a shutdown closer.”
There are, of course, no prizes here, as there is no real judging criteria. But the real major league club is too depressing to talk about, so let’s build us a fake one, shall we?
Oh, and while I’m sure many, many of us would simply type ‘Fire Mike Matheny’ in big 24-point font and call our GM life complete, I’m going to try and avoid saying much about the guy in the dugout. I’m interested in how this roster could be massaged and/or upgraded; we all know the manager is just not good. But until the owner of the club realises one of his team’s biggest problems is said guy in the dugout, nothing there is going to change.
So for my own scenario, I decided not to just straight sell. I can certainly see arguments for a pure sell-off, both a variety geared toward 2018-’19 competitiveness and scenarios that kick the can down the road a year or two more, where you’re probably looking at a 2020 window opening, but those scenarios are slightly less interesting to me. More importantly, I’m not sure a true teardown is actually necessary; the Cardinals of 2017 have plenty of issues, sure, but this is also a club with a record by baseruns over .500, and while that certainly doesn’t ease the frustration with what’s actually happening on the field, it is a good indicator that the club’s base talent level is somewhat better than what we’ve seen this year. I have a tough time gutting a club that has mostly above-average players by both OPS+ and wRC+, an above .500 record by the most context-neutral stats we have, and a pitcher like Carlos Martinez in the early stages of his prime.
While I am going to avoid a full teardown in my role as imaginary GM, I do believe selling off a decent number of the organisation’s assets is really the only way forward. Philosophically, I’m shooting for a consolidation of talent; I want to turn five two win players into two five win players, essentially.
So my plan will start with the selling side of things.
First off, I’m putting Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, and Seung-Hwan Oh on the market. Lynn has had a tough time with the long ball this season, and has been through the standard ups and downs of a pitcher coming back from Tommy John. The home run rate is really the one and only thing that jumps out as being a serious drain on his performance this year, though, and if he can get that back under control he’ll look a whole lot more like the pitcher he’s been in years past. Both Rosenthal and Oh need to stop sucking (last night’s unpleasantness in the desert is not going to help on that count), but both are, on the whole, very valuable relievers. Given the premium that relief pitchers fetch on the market at the trade deadline, both are just too valuable for me to hold on to.
In all three of these deals, I’m looking for the greatest amount of value coming back I can get. I don’t care what players, what positions, what organisations I’m dealing with. I just want value in bulk. I’m not acquiring pieces; I’m acquiring ammunition.
I’m also putting Randal Grichuk on the market under the same directive. Don’t care what I get back, so long as it’s valuable. Randal has been so up and down that I’m probably selling low on him, but I really don’t believe my manager is capable of using him correctly. And so, in order to keep Tommy Pham in my lineup long term, Grich has got to go. Also, I heard he was once drafted ahead of Mike Trout, so he should be incredibly valuable.
I’m putting Kevin Siegrist on the market, too, and trying to keep a straight face when clubs ask me if I’m serious. I don’t expect to get any real offers, and so after failing to deal him I’m going to quietly remove him from the 40 man roster. I just don’t think Siegrist is physically sound any longer, and I have serious doubts he’s ever going to be a good pitcher again. Matt Bowman I like, but I’m taking offers there as well. Again, relievers fetch big prices at the deadline, and I have guys who I can replace internally, I believe. So pretty much anything not nailed down in the current major league bullpen goes if I can get a meaningful prospect or player back.
Now, with all those players moved, I can remake my bullpen. I don’t care, at all, about proven relievers with track records. We’ve seen track records and where they get you. They get you to Jonathan Broxton town. Instead, I want pitchers in my ‘pen with at least one really great offering. That’s all I care about. One plus or better pitch, and you can relieve on my team. Which means that I’m:
- keeping John Brebbia with the big club for now. He throws hard and has a plus slider, which is good enough for me. Sure, he’s a former indy leaguer, but he also looks like one of those pitchers who’s just figured some things out. Found a little extra velocity, a little extra sharpness on the breaking ball, and throws a ton of strikes. It concerns me that the strikeout numbers haven’t really been there yet, but we are talking about a microscopic sample size.
- putting Mark Montgomery on the 40 and bringing him up pretty much immediately. Montgomery has always possessed a dominant slider — a legit 70 any day of the week — and has shown fairly amazing control this year after never being able to consistently throw strikes before. He’s striking out around 30% of the hitters he sees in Triple A, and walking just about 5%. He’s on my team.
- getting Josh Lucas onto the 40 man roster. He’s got the big power slurve, is striking out almost 30% of batters and walking less than 5% this year in Memphis. His ERA is actually somewhat elevated, the result of a poor strand rate and a high BABIP (one being caused by the other, if you know what I mean), but his underlying numbers are borderline spectacular.
- bringing Marco Gonzales up and inserting him into the bullpen. I know Gonzales is a key depth piece for the rotation, but he’s also a pitcher with one plus pitch in his changeup, which looks like a magic trick the first time he faces a hitter, and a repertoire that’s never really developed beyond that. Neither the curve nor cutter are really major league quality pitches, so I’m going to just put Marco in the ‘pen as a third lefty, one with a true 70 grade changeup, and allow him to work as a swiss army knife sort of reliever, coming into important situations at any point in a game, but not letting hitters see him more than once.
- dumping Sean Gilmartin. Look, I get it. He’s depth. But that’s a roster spot I think can be used better. Sorry, Sean.
So overall, I’m going with seven relievers — three lefties, four righties. Brett Cecil is both untradeable due to his contract and, honestly, has been quite good for most of the season after getting off to an appalling start. Tyler Lyons I considered moving to the rotation, but he’s really useful in the bullpen, capable of handling multiple roles. He and Marco give me a ton of versatility.
On the righthanded side, I’m essentially creating a Memphis shuttle of Brebbia, Montgomery, Sam Tuivailala, Lucas, and Mike Mayers, who I think has a chance to be effective in relief. Those five guys, all with big-time stuff and not much pedigree, are going to fill three spots for me.
Hang on a second, I hear you saying. What about the fourth righthander in the ‘pen?
Well, my observant friend, that spot will go to (fanfare please), Michael Wacha. That’s right; I’m moving Pac-Man to the ‘pen. I know, I know; he just put together a good start last time out, and he’s proven he can start before, and he’s this, and he’s that, etc., etc., etc. The bottom line is this: we’ve heard multiple years in a row that Wacha and the Cardinals are taking steps to strengthen his arm, his shoulder, his body overall, whatever, in order to prevent his recurring shoulder problems from, you know, recurring. And yet what have we seen from Wacha this season? He starts off like a house on fire, and then gradually the results start to turn south. We haven’t heard the shoulder specifically blamed for his struggles yet this year, but the pattern is disturbingly similar. So I’m taking the guy with the ultimate one-plus-pitch repertoire and moving him to the bullpen, where I think he can hold up throwing a third as many innings as he’s expected to in a rotation. Maybe the ‘pen will prove just as tough a challenge for him, and he won’t be able to pitch back to back days or something. If that’s the case, and Wacha really is that physically limited, I’m just not sure he’s a major league pitcher at that point.
I should say that, before I move Wacha to relief, I would probably put his name out on the trade market as well, and at least listen to offers. Perhaps some club that feels it has a medical staff advantage would be willing to take on the risk and pay handsomely for the honour. I’m not expecting that to happen, though, and so Wacha becomes a late inning reliever for me. And, hopefully, a great one.
So now I’ve created two holes in my rotation. That doesn’t sound like the move of a man looking to compete, does it? Well, to be honest, I’m not really that concerned with the pitching the rest of this season. This year is going to be experimental in terms of pitching (especially for the rotation), and while I might get a little worse, I would argue it wouldn’t be as much worse as you might think.
Into those two rotation slots I will insert Luke Weaver and John Gant. While I actually prefer Weaver as a reliever — he has basically the same dynamite one-two punch as Wacha, along with the same shallowness through the rest of his repertoire — he’s the best bet I have right now to step in and be a productive big league starter. Gant has three useful pitches, a funky delivery, and deserves a shot to prove himself, I think.
My hope is essentially that one of the two of Weaver and Gant will prove to be a viable rotation option going forward. By next spring, I believe Jack Flaherty will be ready to compete for a big league spot, and Alex Reyes should return to the Cardinals sometime next season, if I don’t trade him in the meantime to upgrade the club. (More on that in a moment.) Zac Gallen may not be far off as well, provided I don’t, again, trade him away. Ditto Dakota Hudson, though he hasn’t been quite as awesome this year as Gallen. (Then again, who has?)
(One last note on the pitching: I’m going to contact the Diamondbacks about Mike Leake. If they want a quality innings eater for their playoff push, I’ll see if Leake would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to get to the team he most wanted to sign with in the past, just because I know that’s the one place he’d probably jump at a chance to go. If that deal falls through, I won’t be shopping him around anywhere else.)
Now, as I said, I have admittedly probably weakened my pitching. However, there’s a reason for that. And that is, as I mentioned earlier, ammo. In dealing Rosenthal and Oh, I’m hoping I managed to extract from some desperate club (Washington, I’m looking at you), a significant haul for two proven late-game relievers. Rosenthal in particular, with a year of club control left and huge strikeout numbers, should draw tons of interest from clubs looking for that Andrew Millerish presence in their bullpen. Again, though, hopefully Rosie can maybe stop doing things like he did last night. Although he’s striking out almost 40% of the hitters he sees and has an FIP of 2.13. (That’s an FIP- of 50, by the way.) So, you know. He’s really fucking good. And really fucking valuable.
I believe, between Lynn, Rosenthal, Oh, and Grichuk, I should be able to acquire several more top-100 prospects. Especially if I’m not picky about blocked prospects or certain positions, I think I could amass quite a war chest of value.
With that being said, my tradeable assets list at that point looks something like:
- Alex Reyes, who I think may be awesome, but is destined for a short career,
- Carson Kelly, who is awesome and quite possibly too valuable not to cash in while he’s still blocked by Yadi,
- Magneuris Sierra, who has shown real improvement this year and certainly impressed in his first MLB exposure, but has two other outfielders essentially competing directly with him in Randy Arozarena and Oscar Mercado,
- Edmundo Sosa, who has struggled this year but is still a solid defender at shortstop,
- Paul DeJong, who I like a lot but needs tons of work on his approach,
- Dakota Hudson, who is proving his groundball bona fides but has a risky delivery and needs development time,
- Jake Woodford, who is making slow but steady progress,
- Sandy Alcantara, who has huge stuff and spring buzz, but is still a ways off,
- Junior Fernandez, who I like a lot but needs a breaking ball,
- Harrison Bader, who I wouldn’t give up unless the deal was really special, as I think I’m going to need him to take over Randal Grichuk’s role in the outfield sooner than later,
- all the value I was able to bring back in return for Rosenthal, Oh, Grichuk, and Lance Lynn, and
- a pair of players on the major league roster who I plan on actually building a couple deals around.
Now, obviously, I’m probably not going to trade all these players. This is just the pool of assets I feel comfortable dealing from. There are other talented players in the minors, but they are either less valuable due to less of a track record or so valuable I don’t want to get rid of them. Right now my more-or-less untouchable list of minor leaguers looks something like Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson, Jack Flaherty, probably Arozarena, and maybe Zac Gallen. And Gallen isn’t really untouchable; it would just take a really meaningful deal for me to want to part with him. That’s pretty much the whole list. I would prefer not to deal Terry Fuller or Scott Hurst from this draft class just yet, also.
So here’s what I’m going to try to do with that war chest of value I’ve accumulated: acquire stars. Two of them, to be exact.
Actually, I might go after three; if the White Sox have dropped the asking price on Jose Quintana at this point, considering he’s had a shakier year than was maybe expected, I might be convinced he’s a worthwhile move as well. Carson Kelly is one hell of a prospect, and the White Sox need a catcher for their own rebuild. If Kelly gets you most of the way to Quintana, maybe I make that trade. Quintana’s walks have been up a bit this year, and he’s been bitten by the home run bug, but he’s striking out more batters than ever, and moving to Busch Stadium would probably cure him of his recent bout of homeritis pretty quickly, especially considering it would be a direct move from U.S. Cellular to Busch.
However, I’m really focused on two players, and I’m going to focus in heavily on one area of the team. I believe I have a very good outfield mix with Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Jose Martinez/potentially Harrison Bader. Adolis Garcia looks like a very good candidate for extra outfielder duty relatively soon as well. I’m not upgrading at catcher. And I feel the right side of my infield is about as good as you’re going to realistically fine, with Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong presenting two solid, multidimensional anchors for the club.
That leaves me with the left side of the infield, and that’s where I’m going to make my upgrades. First off, I’m going to call up the Angels and inquire about Andrelton Simmons. The Angels are going nowhere fast with Mike Trout on the DL and an aging team with little pitching. Pitching I got, so I think there’s a fit. The package will start with Aledmys Diaz, who will give the Angels a shortstop in the immediate term, one who perhaps they can help get back into a groove with the bat, and who is also under club control for four more years after this one, albeit with arbitration coming up soon. The Cardinal coaching staff has obviously been unable to help Aledmys get himself right this season; perhaps a change of scenery and new eyes will mean better days ahead for Diaz.
Admittedly, four more seasons of control over Aledmys Diaz is not as valuable as three more seasons of modest salaries for Andrelton Simmons, who remains one of the premiere defenders in all of baseball, and has turned himself into something resembling an average hitter to boot. That’s where my pitching pool comes into play. I would like very much to get Simmons for something like Diaz, Dakota Hudson, and maybe a low-A arm, but I have a feeling it would cost more than that. Would I be willing to deal Aledmys Diaz + Alex Reyes for Andrelton Simmons? That’s a tough one. I think I might, though.
Now for the biggest piece. I’m calling up the Toronto Blue Jays and I’m throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them for Josh Donaldson. And actually, if they want a kitchen sink, I’ll run out to Home Depot and pick one up, so long as they’ll accept it in lieu of a player in the package.
My beginning point for Donaldson, as it was for Simmons, is the player on the Cardinals who currently plays Donaldson’s position: Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko is, considering the type of player he’s become, an extremely valuable piece. He’s closing in on 2.0 fWAR right now, and will probably get there right around the 300 plate appearance mark. He’s not hitting homers this season at the absurd pace he did last year, but he’s also using the whole field more, is still hitting for above-average power, and has played pretty excellent defense this year. He is a very good starting third baseman, I believe. He’s also signed to an incredibly friendly deal: just $6 million this year, $9 million next season, $13 million in 2019, and a team option for $13 million ($2 million buyout), for the 2020 season. Given the way costs per WAR are escalating, that $9 million figure next year is probably only going to be about one win’s worth of production. Those $13 million salaries? About a win and a half.
Donaldson, on the other hand, is a star. A true star. He is a legitimate MVP candidate and the kind of middle of the order bat the Cardinals simply haven’t been able to find or develop over the last several years. Admittedly, he’s a little older than I would prefer to acquire — this is his age 31 season — but he is just unbelievably good. He’s also under club control for another season after this one, albeit at an arbitration salary that could set all sorts of records.
So why would the Blue Jays want to trade such an incredibly valuable commodity? Because they’re in trouble, that’s why. The Red Sox are excellent, rich, and still have a loaded farm system. The Yankees are resurgent and will be signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in a couple years, most likely. The Rays are good, even. (Baltimore is not so good, admittedly.) Toronto needs to get leaner, younger, deeper, and gear up for another run at the newly brutalised AL East. Moving Donaldson could immediately clear a big salary off the books for a club that needs to retool and bring in a ton of new depth for the future.
I’m starting with Gyorko, and adding from there. If I traded Reyes instead of Dakota Hudson in the Simmons deal, Hudson fits in nicely here. Maybe they would like Magneuris Sierra to patrol the outfield next to Kevin Pillar, giving them the best defensive outfield in baseball. Maybe they’d prefer Bader. Maybe they would like Randal Grichuk, and told me so when I first made overtures before starting this whole process. (Hopefully I picked up on that and then didn’t move him.) Maybe they think King Lean Protein could hit 50 bombs a year at the Rodgers Centre. Maybe they like Sandy Alcantara because he can throw 100 and could be in their bullpen next year alongside Osuna. Would I be overpaying on a four-for-one deal when the one only has a single year and two months of club control, while the most valuable of the four has three more super cheap seasons after this one? Almost assuredly. But I don’t really care, to be honest.
Here’s what I want: I want a five-day negotiating window to talk to Donaldson, during which time I would try very, very hard to sign him to a five year, $150 million contract. Yes, he’ll be 36 at the end. I think he may still be mostly awesome in five years, considering where he’s starting from. I get that window and that contract, and Toronto can have pretty much anything they want from my system. If not, I’ll try the Red Sox and see if Dave Dombrowski will give up Michael Chavis or Rafael Devers for Ol’ Jedd.
Now what kind of team would I have? Well, I’ve probably made my rotation worse, but maybe not by as much as you might think. At the very least, I feel more confident I would have only one member of the rotation killing me in terms of lack of innings instead of two with Pac-Man in the ‘pen and only Waino failing to get through the fourth every couple times out. (If the price on Quintana proved to be very affordable, maybe I actually made my rotation better, but I doubt the price would come very low.) My bullpen could be worse, but I’ll be it has a decent chance to be better, as well.
And I’ve massively upgraded my position player pool, I believe. The defense at short will be substantially better, and if Wong returns healthy, Aaron’s imaginary Cardinals could have perhaps the best middle infield defensively in baseball. The offense at short would be league average, as well, with a very high contact rate that I would feel good about putting down in the seventh spot in the lineup. Or, hell, third. A guy who doesn’t strike out with Fowler and Carpenter on in front of him would be interesting to watch, at the very least.
I’ve certainly done some damage to the farm system, but I don’t think it’s anything the farm can’t recover from. And considering I have two valuable pieces on the major league roster already, I might not even have to wreck the farm system all that badly.
So would the club be that much better this year? Well, that’s tough to say, honestly. I definitely think they would, but admittedly, weakening the pitching could have unfortunate consequences the rest of the season. Still, I think a bullpen full of hungry relative unknowns could probably be just as effective as what the Cards are running out there nightly now, and would probably be more flexible as well.
Where I’m really looking to take a leap forward, though, is 2018, when I’ll have a new wave of pitching beginning to make its way ashore, and I forget how many pitching prospects who all threw 98+ I had to trade to put franchise cornerstones at two separate positions.
So that’s what I would do if I were GM of the Cardinals for a day. Or, rather, the entire month of July, since I couldn’t get everything I want done in a single day no matter how many 5 Hour Energy Jose Altuves I drank in said day.
What would you do with this team?