It's a question that has lingered over the Cardinals for at least the last month, both as an actual thing the organization is wondering and as a convenient, binary framework for a blog post: Should the Cardinals be buyers or sellers?
Theoretically, that's the decision all clubs make at this time of year. Should they push through and strive to win a playoff spot, or give up, cash-in their chips and try to re-tool for the future?
Bernie Miklasz got Bill Dewitt, Jr. on the record over the weekend, saying "we're not buyers or sellers, we're dealers." In just the last day or so, there have been reports of the team in talks to trade away free-agent-to-be Lance Lynn, while at the same time seeking to acquire Christian Yelich or Macell Ozuna from the Marlins.
Does it make sense to be both buyers and sellers? What would that look like?
I would argue that it absolutely makes sense, as long as you accept and the abide by one fundamental conclusion: The 2017 season is over, but this team could still be competitive in 2018.
This team is on-pace for 79 wins, and yeah, I know "Base Runs" shows them a little better than that, but they've pretty well maintained that slightly-below .500 pace for most of the season. The scuffling Cubs and maybe-not-quite-real Brewers present a mirage of winning the division, but the Cardinals are closer to dropping below the Pirates into 4th place than they are to either of those teams.
Making the playoffs this season is a long-shot. The bigger concern should be that this team doesn't look to be any better next season. Any moves that they make should be aimed at improving that 2018 club (and beyond), and that could very well mean both buying and selling.
If you accept that 2017 is a lost cause, the selling is pretty obvious: Lance Lynn and Seung-hwan-Oh will both be free agents at the end of the season. Given Oh's performance, I don't know that there's much of any market for him, but you may as well get what you can.
Lance Lynn, while he's had some ups-and-downs is his first year back from Tommy John surgery, should still bring a return in trade and should absolutely be dealt. He will certainly become a free agent at the end of the season, and with the Cardinals wealth of young pitching and Lynn's likely cost on the open market, it's fairly unlikely that the Cards would sign him anyway.
Trevor Rosenthal is another name that's often thrown out when we talk about selling, and even though he won't be a free agent until after 2018, I still think it would be a good idea to flip him if a decent market exists. The premium for relief pitching at the deadline is often high, and a bullpen is easier to restock than other parts of a team.
Two other names I'd throw into the potential "Sell" pile are Michael Wacha and Randall Grichuk. Both will be arbitration-eligible, and both may well have already seen their value peak. That's not a great scenario for the team, as their arbitration salary potentially puts the team on the hook based on their past value, which you may doubt they can recapture. (Of course, the suppressed market price in Year 1 and 2 of arbitration mitigates this.)
So that's your Sell pile: Guys who will either not be around in 2018 or who look to have little or at least diminished value in 2018. Who ya' gonna buy?
The Cardinals could be buyers on any player who will improve the team in 2018 and beyond. On the position player side, Mo's faceless army of 2-3 WAR players is simply not getting the job done. So while there may not be a desperate NEED at any one position, there is potential to upgrade ANYWHERE.
Yelich is signed to a pretty modest deal through 2021. Ozuna is under team control through 2019. Josh Donaldson - another name often bandied about - is under team control through 2018. Acquiring any player like this makes a lot of sense. Sure, you get the added benefit of that player maybe, possibly helping you eek out a very unlikely division win this season, but what you really get is an improved team in the year(s) to come.
What would not make sense at this point is to trade for a rental player, such as J.D. Martinez, who will hit free agency at the end of this season.
Acquiring a premium player would of course require giving up some of the club's top minor league talent, but the Cardinals system is pretty well-stocked at this point. In addition to major league ready arms in Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, they have a surplus of pitching prospects pushing through the middle-minors and approaching the upper-minors.
Carson Kelly also looks to me like an asset that makes the most sense spending in a trade. His performance in Memphis this season shows that he is major league ready, yet the Cardinals have Yadier Molina under contract for three more seasons after this year. Sure, some sort of time-share, hand-off is likely toward the end of that contract, but Kelly is ready now and the Cardinals do not have a spot for him.
Who knows if anything like these moves will materialize, but this seems like a reasonable framework for how the club should move forward, selling players who they don't need after this season, acquiring players to help them be competitive again as soon as next year.