Saturday, I wrote about how the Cardinals acquiring Manny Machado could be difficult despite the apparent good fit between St. Louis and Baltimore. Today, in a flurry of only-writing-about-one-thing blogging reminiscent of Stantonmania (with, let’s hope, either a better or at least less enraging outcome), I’m writing about Machado again. Last time I wrote to address the difficulty of getting him in the first place. This time, I’m writing to address the difficulties that would arise afterwards if they did.
The thing about a team like the Cardinals acquiring a guy like Machado midseason is that he’s going to push guys aside. For the ordinary team, this wouldn’t be a big deal; an incumbent in the starting lineup who probably isn’t that great anyway (hence the trade) moves to the bench, and somebody from the bench moves to the minors. For the Cardinals, it wouldn’t be a huge deal, but it’d be slightly more awkward than the typical story. The Cardinals are unusually deep with infielders.
Machado would presumably keep playing shortstop, which is where he wants to be in his walk year. That would leave three infield spots to be split up among Matt Carpenter, Jose Martinez, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong, and (in July) Paul DeJong. That’s not impossible — Wong and Gyorko would mostly serve as luxury backups, I’d guess — but it is awkward. It means Yairo Munoz sits in the minors, which doesn’t hurt anything, but he’s good enough to help a MLB club in a reserve/utility role. Oh, and Greg Garcia’s out of options. So unless they want to expose him to waivers (they don’t) or carry seven infielders on the roster (they could, but really can’t if they intend to keep giving Matheny his eight-man bullpen), adding Machado officially brings the Cardinals into Too Many Good Infielders territory.
That’s difficulty #1. Difficulty #2 requires you to take a bit of a leap with me, but I think it’s a reasonable leap. The reason (as I wrote Saturday) that the Cards and O’s might have trouble getting a trade done is that it’s really hard to peg the main guys Baltimore would love to target (Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, and Luke Weaver) with trade values. Are they priced as prospects, or as established MLB-level talents? The waters are muddy. The easiest path to clarity here is what creates Difficulty #2. The easiest path for the Cardinals to acquire Machado — and the one I think they’ll realistically have to take to get a deal done — is to build the deal around Jordan Hicks. An evaluation of that deal on the merits is a topic I’m going to blatantly skip (that’s my privilege as the author here), but it leaves us staring at Difficulty #2: what does the Cardinals bullpen look like right now without Jordan Hicks?
It looks bad, is how it looks. It already looks pretty bad anyway, so far, but without Hicks it’s bad. The Cardinals went out and threw medium-quality volume at the ‘pen in the offseason, but Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone are out with arm troubles until who knows when, and Greg Holland is out with a case of being terrible and is on a similar timetable. Right now it’s Bud Norris and a rotating cast of who-knows-who out there... plus Hicks. Hicks scuffled early in the season (though a fluky low BABIP and strand rate helped him disguise those struggles), but he throws a billion miles an hour and has gotten better results lately. Losing him would be a hit to an already shaky relief unit.
So, let’s tackle these problems (having too many good infielders, and too few good relievers) together. You already see where I’m going here. And, for the record, let’s say the Machado trade package was Hicks, Dakota Hudson, and a third guy I’ll discuss later.
Step 1: don’t trade anybody yet
The Cardinals just lost (in this scenario) a fireballing young RHP with only one developed secondary pitch and iffy command; he’d been working as a starter in the minors until the team decided he really had a reliever profile anyway and that he could be useful right now in the bullpen. Fortunately, the team has another one (or three) guys like that. They’re just not on the 40-man roster. Let’s fix that. (Note: Machado takes Hicks’ 40-man spot, so we need to make a spot for anybody we add.)
- First up: Ryan Helsley. He’s got a classic reliever profile in the first place (the Trevor Rosenthal arsenal, basically) and is a guy I think would contend for a late-inning role right away. And Steve Baron (sorry Steve) serves no purpose on the roster after Yadier Molina is back, so that’s an easy spot to open up.
- Next: Daniel Poncedeleon. He appears fully recovered from the scary injury he suffered last year, striking out guys by the pile in AAA as a starter, albeit with a few too many walks. That’s a reliever. These guys are relievers, can they just be relievers?, etc. Either Ryan Sherriff (superfluous if they’re going to give Austin Gomber looks as a reliever) or Derian Gonzalez (why is he taking up a 40-man spot if he’s not part of the bullpen shuttle?) is the cut here.
Step 2: okay, now trade somebody
It was always going to be you, Kolten.
I’m not excited about trading Kolten Wong — I’ll always have a soft spot for him, personally. But the simple fact is as a defense-first player, he’s going to be the odd man out in this group as long as Mike Matheny’s making the calls. Run free, Kolten.
- Trade Wong to SURPRISE HE ALSO WENT TO BALTIMORE! I cheated. I had him in the Machado trade; he’s the unidentified third guy. He’s tacked on in order to get Baltimore to tack on RHP Mychal Givens. Baltimore maybe has to include a mid-tier prospect to true the value up here, but that’s just details. For their part, Wong provides a solid and cheap player to replace Jonathan Schoop (another near-lock to be traded this summer), and a good buy-low candidate to be flipped later during their rebuild.
- Trade Jedd Gyorko to Texas for Mike Minor and OF prospect Bubba Thompson. The lefty was nails out of the Royals bullpen last year, and Texas made a bet on him as a starter. That bet’s gone terribly. The Rangers shed the rest of his contract and acquire a successor to Adrian Beltre, and St. Louis bets on Minor as a relief ace again. They also get a high-risk, high-ceiling prospect in the 19-year-old Thompson.
The 2018 Cardinals are left with an infield that goes (probably) DeJong-Machado-Carpenter-Martinez on most nights, with Yairo Munoz and Greg Garcia filling in as necessary. The bullpen features Norris, Givens, and Minor at the back end, with a mix of Helsley, Poncedeleon, Sam Tuivailala, Brett Cecil, Tyler Lyons, and whoever isn’t hurt and is pitching well getting in there as appropriate.
The 2019 Cardinals... they’ve got a hole to fill. They’ve also got a bunch of money to spend. And, hopefully, they just gave Manny Machado a taste of the going to the playoffs wearing red. Who knows.