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Piscotty on the Block

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The Cardinals apparently made Stephen Piscotty available at the trade deadline, at least in one case. That seems like kind of a big deal, no?

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

There was an interesting little nugget that came out of the trade deadline. Nearly lost in all the hew and cry about the Cardinals doing nothing — and I’m right there with all you hewers and criers; I’ve been screaming sell since last year, so to see the Redbirds sit there and do nothing to change direction and try to extract value from the ridiculous pile of depth they’ve accumulated was borderline nauseating to me, so I’m not calling anyone out — was the tidbit Ken Rosenthal threw out regarding the Cardinals’ apparent last-minute interest in acquiring Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics.

Quick Note: even if you know what the story says already, I would personally appreciate it if you would all click on the link above to Rosenthal’s Facebook page, where he is currently doing his writing. Fox Sports, as you may or may not know, made the utterly idiotic decision to get rid of all writing on their website, going to an all-video format that, frankly, is just a disaster on so many levels. As someone who believes the printed word is both valuable and, frankly, important, anything we can do to drive up the pageviews on Rosenthal’s FB page to prove that written content is still useful to humanity would be very much appreciated by at least me, if no one else. Thank you, and I’ll step down off this very short soapbox I climbed up on now. — Aaron

It would seem that as the hours drew down to minutes and the Redbirds failed to get the sorts of deals done they were hoping for, they pivoted late to potentially adding a high-level starter to the organisation who was controllable for multiple years going forward. And the package the Cardinals put forth in their attempt to land Gray was one of either Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty, plus Stephen Piscotty.

Now, I think I should point out that the way Rosenthal reported the supposed offer leaves a little wiggle room for all parties involved to be both right and wrong, however one prefers to look at things. Maybe the offer was made by the Cardinals, maybe the package was demanded by the A’s, maybe that was a package discussed after the two sides had made their initial volleys. These things are always very hazy, usually because the teams have probably thrown a whole bunch of abstract offers at each other and just sort of narrowed things down from there. I could be wrong, and maybe the offers are more concrete right off the bat, but I have a feeling the neat, tidy hypothetical trades people like me cook up and present as straightforward are not very representative of how actual trade negotiations go. I’m picturing something more like two people haggling at a flea market. Yes, we all know that Mirro cookie press should have about three bucks on it, but that doesn’t mean the two sides aren’t going to carefully circle each other, playing the game to try and get that price to either $3.50 or $2.50, through the ancient contest of How-Much-You-Got-On-This/How-Much-Is-It-Worth-To-You.

I am, however, assuming Rosenthal has his facts mostly in order. I’m not a huge fan of Ken’s writing, but his actual reporting is about as good as it gets. If he says that package was in play, then I would bet pretty good money it was at least on the table for discussion.

Now, there has been some question, especially around these parts, of why, if that package was potentially in play, would Oakland have chosen to go with three completely untested players from the Yankees (albeit with serious ceilings), over the far more sure package of the Cardinals? While on the surface that certainly makes a lot of sense, as the Cards were offering a player who has already established himself as a solid major leaguer on a team-friendly contract and a top 50ish pitching prospect, regardless of which of Weaver or Flaherty would have gone. In reality, though, I could see an organisation preferring both the greater pure number of players coming from the Yankees, as well as the potential star-level ceilings of a couple of those guys. Add in the fact it’s the A’s. and they always seem to be getting trade returns that are a few degrees off what we expected, and I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that the A’s had to have liked the Cards’ package better.

Really, though, that’s not what I’m actually interested in right now. What I’m interested in is just one name in that whole potential deal: Stephen Piscotty.

I find it interesting Piscotty was possibly on the trading block for a variety of reasons, no the least of which is that, just a few months after signing the Stanford man to a six-year extension, the organisation appears to have been willing to move him.

There’s a secondary point of interest here, though, and that’s the fact that, when I was concocting hypothetical trades in my head at work a couple weeks ago, one of the moves I thought often about making was Stephen Piscotty to Oakland. And yes, that is what I do when I’m supposed to be doing my actual job, or paying attention to loved ones. I think about baseball. It’s why I’m so bad at my job and none of my loved ones really want to be around me at this point, I would imagine. On the upside, I have lots of trade ideas. And this blog. That’s good, right?

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Anyhow, when I was dreaming up trades for the Cardinals to sell of half their team for down the road championships, Piscotty to Oakland was one I came back to time and time again. Why? Well, because the A’s are always looking for cost-controlled anything, the Cards have too many outfielders, especially of the future variety, could use some lottery tickets with big-time upside, and because, well, Stephen Piscotty’s situation has changed this year.

When Piscotty signed his six-year extension with the Cardinals a few months ago, he had no idea what the future held for him. Now, half a season later, we know things about his family situation we didn’t before, and there might very well be a reason Piscotty could want to be back closer to home. Home in this case, you might remember, is Northern California. You know, right around the region the Giants call home.

And the A’s.

Now, I’m not saying I believe the reason the Cardinals were willing to entertain moving Piscotty to Oakland is because he potentially has a personal motivation for wanting to be back closer to home and his mother. But I do find it very interesting that my hypothetical pitch of moving Stephen back home, to the one team in the area I know has real farm system assets and a love of cost-controlled long-term assets, happened to be remarkably close to an actual deal that was discussed.

What I’m wondering now is if the Piscotty offer was exclusive to the Athletics, or if Stephen is just simply the outfielder the Cardinals have decided they’re most amenable to moving. One wouldn’t think the second choice should be true, considering how recently they thought so much of him they handed him an extension long before they needed to, but maybe the struggles they’ve seen from him this year have convinced the club he’s going to fall short of what they believed was possible.

Personally, I would much, much prefer the club trade Randal Grichuk over Piscotty, though I admit that’s mostly just my own tastes talking. They generate their value in drastically different ways, but Piscotty and Grichuk have not been hugely different players in terms of their actual values to this point. I’m just too entrenched in the Randal Grichuk skeptic camp to move from this position at this point. I could certainly see someone going the other way, though.

Piscotty being at least somewhat on the trade block has some interesting repercussions in terms of what the club’s mindset would seem to be going forward. Obviously, they could have been willing to move Piscotty simply because the club already has a glut of outfielders, and it’s not getting any thinner in the near future. But there’s also the potential that the Cardinals had or have settled on the outfield as the spot where they’re making their big offensive upgrade (as in, something involving Giancarlo Stanton), and so were interested in clearing out a path to that upgrade, even if the corresponding move(s) would not be made until August or even the offseason. I don’t know how realistic that thought process is, but let’s face it: there aren’t a ton of offensive centerpiece type players out on the market. When one possibly shakes loose, you may have to do some things you weren’t expecting to make the room.

On the other hand, if Piscotty to Oakland was a more specific move, as in the Cardinal front office was looking to move Stephen to a spot he might have wanted to go anyway, we’re probably not looking at a long-term plan to snatch a big bat from somewhere. It does, however, make me wonder a bit if the Cards would be interested in trying to move Piscotty through the waiver wire, with the idea that Oakland would claim him, and the sides would then be free to work something out. Personally, I would deal Piscotty for something like Logan Shore, a righthanded changeup artist I loved in the draft, and Max Schrock, an undersized second baseman with tremendous hitting skills. If I could find a way to expand the deal out slightly and move a minor league piece for Nolan Blackwood, all the better. (I’m a sucker for a sidearmer.)

The A’s are sixth in line on waiver claims, which would make such an arrangement possible to pull off, with the rather large issue being that A.J. Preller’s San Diego Nightmare is even higher on the priority list, and if claiming a waiver guy just to fuck up someone else’s deal isn’t a Prellery thing to do then I don’t know what is.

The fact Piscotty was apparently on the block for at least this one specific deal is interesting to me, if only because I don’t entirely know what it actually means. Does it signal the Cards have already soured on the guy they were so recently excited to extend for half a dozen years? Does it mean they have a plan in place that would necessitate moving at least one outfield piece, and the right fielder (hint hint), is the one who would lift out the most easily? Or does it perhaps indicate, as it did in my idle fantasies, that there is an honest desire on the part of the Cardinal organisation to move a guy they were willing to commit to long-term back closer to home, closer to his family, and closer to the only chance he’ll ever get in his life to be there as his mother fights a very, very difficult battle?

I don’t have the answers to those questions, I’m afraid. If you’re looking for definites, this is the wrong column for you. But I did think that the inclusion of Stephen Piscotty in that Ken Rosenthal report on the packages being discussed was important, and somewhat overlooked.

Stephen Piscotty’s 2017 has been a disappointment, without a doubt. At the outset of the season, it was relatively easy to see that he was going to be a pivotal part of what the Cardinal offense looked like this year, and going forward. We knew Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler would get on base. Piscotty had a chance to put himself in that group of high on-base guys sitting in the top half of the lineup day in and day out with a step forward. The plate discipline improved, but the contact quality has gone all to hell for some reason. I’m not saying Stephen Piscotty not hitting is the reason the Cards’ offense has seemed to vulnerable to stalling out this year, but the lack of consistent bats in spots 3-6 in the lineup (and yes, I’m including the 5 spot, because I’m not a hack who sucks at my job), has certainly made the attack a stop and start affair.

So I think it’s important to note that the Cardinals were apparently willing to move on from Stephen Piscotty at the trade deadline this year. They were trying to move on from him in an attempt to pick up a high-level starting pitcher with team control left, yes (which, by the way, I am personally relieved they missed out on Gray, just because I’ve been scared of his arm action since Vanderbilt, which you could see in my scouting report of him if I could ever find things easily in the archives here at VEB Central), but they were willing to move on from him all the same.

Now we just have to figure out why.