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Rebuilding doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals look stuck. A rebuild is not an option.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline was incredibly disappointing as the Cardinals continue to try and get better and fail. The team remains stuck at around an 85-win talent level, and with some bad luck over their first 100ish games that can easily lead to a below-.500 record. Being stuck at that level isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of teams that would love to be stuck right there, but with the resources the Cardinals have, that level feels like a disappointment, leading for calls to blow it up. It can’t be blown up.

Here are some position players on the Cardinals or in the minors, and their rest-of-season projections over a 600 plate appearance season.

ROS WAR/600 AGE in 2017 Controlled Through
Matt Carpenter 2.6 31 2020
Yadier Molina 2.5 35 2020
Jedd Gyorko 2.5 28 2020
Tommy Pham 2.5 29 2021
Aledmys Diaz 2.1 26 2022
Dexter Fowler 1.9 31 2021
Kolten Wong 1.9 26 2021
Carson Kelly 1.8 23 2023
Paul DeJong 1.6 23 2023
Stephen Piscotty 1.4 26 2023
Randal Grichuk 1.2 25 2020
Luke Voit 0.9 26 2023
Greg Garcia 0.7 27 2021
Harrison Bader 0.6 23 2023
Magneuris Sierra -1 21 2023

So let’s say you are rebuilding, who are you moving? Dexter Fowler and Yadier Molina have no-trade clauses. With the way the Cardinals are set up, they could get rid of anybody with value like Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko, maybe Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Kolten Wong. Now how many wins do you lose compared to what the team has now? Maybe 5, with an argument it is seven or eight.

You just took the Cardinals from an 86-win team on paper to a 79-win team, which is right where teams are when they decide to go for it and compete. So the Cardinals just traded away their good hitters to rebuild and they are already in a position to go for it to try and get back up to that 85-86 win area where you can contend. And after trading those players, the team frees up only about $20 million in 2018 salaries and if you go out on the free agent market that is only going to buy you a few wins.

You can take those prospects you just traded for, and then you just end up with players like the ones you just gave away. Now we haven’t talked about pitching yet so here’s some rest-of-season projections for potential starting pitchers over 200 innings.

ROS/WAR 200 IP AGE in 2017 Controlled Through
Carlos Martinez 3.9 25 2023
Adam Wainwright 3.1 35 2018
Mike Leake 2.6 29 2021
Lance Lynn 2.4 30 2017
Michael Wacha 3.3 26 2019
Luke Weaver 3 23 2023
Jack Flaherty 3 21 2023
Tyler Lyons 2 29 2020
Alex Reyes 22 2022

Wainwright and Leake have no-trade clauses and the replacements for Wacha and Lynn produce the same value on paper. That’s a reason why perhaps the Cardinals should have tried to sell Wacha and Lynn at the deadline for more prospects, but it doesn’t provide an argument to blow it up. The Cardinals could trade Carlos Martinez for prospects, but that still only the moves the Cardinals down a few wins, still in a position where they would be at the end of a rebuild and want to try and add players like Carlos Martinez.

Carlos Martinez and his contract were recently rated as the 13th most valuable player in baseball when contracts are included. The major league players around Martinez are not getting traded. A package of prospects like the one that netted Chris Sale is a reasonable return for Martinez, but given the depth the Cardinals have, that only makes the Cardinals present and 2018 and probably 2019 worse.

The Cardinals can try to contend with what they have in 2018 and expect an outcome somewhere between 82 and 90 wins. That might be good enough for the Wild Card and it might win the division if the Cubs have some bad luck and the Brewers still aren’t in it to win just yet. Trading away everyone for prospects doesn’t make the Cardinals bad enough to rebuild. It only makes them bad enough to try and contend and obtain the type of players they would trade away for prospects.

That leaves the Cardinals two options, for both the long and short term.

Do Nothing:

  • This probably isn’t a desirable option for anyone, but it is a legitimate option. The Cardinals currently have the 6th best odds of making the playoffs and the 4th best roster in the National League. That probably won’t be good enough for the playoffs this season, but they will head to 2018 with the roster intact minus Lance Lynn with minimal worries about aging and a team that should contend. If you believe that a manager can make a positive difference, you could placate a lot of frustration with both the fans—and perhaps some players—by making a move there to upgrade the team.

Make the Big Move

  • Because the Cardinals have so many players above who are decent, they need to get a very good player in order to upgrade their roster. They can package major league players with minor league players. They might need to involved multiple teams. THe Sonny Gray for Stephen Piscotty plus a pitching prospect rumor from Ken Rosenthal is the type of move the Cardinals should attempt even if it means giving up major league talent, a good prospect, and dealing to a position of strength. Gray would have been the best pitcher not named Carlos Martinez on the team and would have provided an upgrade to the rotation this season and next.

The Cardinals have money and prospects. They can use one or both to make the team better, and they might have that option this month. If they don’t want to stay put, big upgrades are the way to go, and they will have to pay for it. I know I’m a broken record at this point, but the Cardinals have paid market value for Mike Leake and Dexter Fowler for a slight upgrade. Free agency offers no major upgrades this winter.

Taking on money when a player might not be worth his salary down the line is uncomfortable. Trading players for short term gains with the long-term less certain can be a little dissatisfying. The last two times the Cardinals have done this, ti has worked out fantastically with Matt Holliday and Jason Heyward. This is an argument that the Cardinals should do this more, but also an argument that being prudent means fewer failures.

The Cardinals have backed themselves into the best possible corner to be in. They can stay the course and be okay, contend now and in the future and hope for some good seasons. That’s a pretty enviable position. If they want to get better, they will need to make some painful trades. It’s nearly impossible for the team to get worse which makes rebuilding a non-starter.