On Monday, A.E. Schafer wrote a piece suggesting the Cardinals should sell. He has been making this point for a few years now and the results haven’t exactly been proven his point wrong. But I disagree with him. I think the Cardinals stand to gain little by selling, but more importantly, they don’t really have the roster to sell, at least for the likely goals of teams who sell.
I’m going to seemingly talk in circles here to work through my logic on why selling makes no sense to me. So stick with me here. The one common complaint against the Cardinals is the lack of reliable elite players. Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Tommy Pham, and Marcell Ozuna have all flirted with being elite in the past, but they’re a little more uncertain than you’d like for whichever ends up being the Cards’ best player. Basically, you want a player that you can say “that’s the best player on the team.” The Cards don’t have that. Because they don’t have that, they’ve been a little closer to mediocrity than they’d like. Insert a Joey Votto on the team, they’re playoff bound.
So, following that logic, I think people want the Cards to sell because they want that Joey Votto type player. They want a prospect that can become Joey Votto level talent. Because that’s basically the Cards only missing piece in my mind. Look at the Cardinals starting 8 position players: Molina, Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Ozuna, and Pham are likely to end up above average, even if only slightly above average. I think Kolten Wong is likely to end up there too, largely due to his defense. Right field is a little more uncertain, but let’s say in this hypothetical Bryce Harper is there instead. Or if you prefer, put Chris Sale in the rotation instead of Luke Weaver. We’re probably easily a playoff team. And that’s my point. That’s the missing link.
Now, to bring things back, how can selling accomplish this goal? What player do the Cardinals currently have that would bring back elite talent? I presume most people want to compete for 2019, and the only way the Cards are getting elite talent for 2019 is free agency and that’s a completely unrelated thing to selling. If you look at the candidates for who to trade, they either are under control only for this year and not likely to bring much back, under control for the next few years to where trading them is antithetical to whenever the stated goal to be good again is, or underperforming enough that their trade value is too low to trade them now.
Amongst the trade candidates who are under contract for only this year, there’s Greg Holland and Bud Norris. Go ahead and trade these guys if you want. Wait until the last week before the trading deadline, see how many games the Cards are back, and what their record is and then determine the value you’d be willing to get in order to trade these guys. The closer you are to a playoff spot, the higher the price. For instance, if you’re two games back, and some mediocre prospect is the best offer, keep him. If you’re 10 games back, take the best offer you can get. Conversely, if you’re in first, and some team is offering you Gleyber Torres, trade him anyway. There’s not really a point to trading these guys to just trade them UNLESS you think a playoff spot is truly out of reach, and there’s a few games between now and the trading deadline to help us know that answer.
In terms of players who make theoretical sense to trade, but the timing isn’t really right, there’s a few players. Michael Wacha pre-injury would have made a lot of sense to trade in selling mode. With his injury, it is almost certainly a better idea to let him finish out this season, hope he finishes it strong and then trade him (if you’re insistent on trading him at least). Ozuna doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to trade, seeing as he’s having his worst season since 2015 as of this writing. There’s Dexter Fowler obviously, but I would be amazed if we got anything whatsoever of value for him right now. Wong of course applies in this section as well. It would make more sense to trade Wong at the end of the season when his batting line will surely look better than right now. Jedd Gyorko also has been a below average hitter thus far so why would now be a good time to trade him? Unless a team is desperate for one of those guys, and I’m really not seeing that happening, at the very least, waiting until 2018 is over will more likely than not help their trade value more than hurt it.
Now, onto the players where there’s no “lowest value” concern, there’s the players who are under control long enough to where it literally doesn’t make sense to trade them for prospects for the next good team. Because they will be on the next good team. The pre-arb guys won’t be traded, unless they are being traded for a superstar, but that’s obviously not what the Cards will do if they are selling. Jose Martinez is the lone exception, but I’m very skeptical he has trade value that would make him worth trading. If he does, great, trade him. But he’s another player in the “don’t trade him just to trade” guys. Some fans, but not you readers of VEB, like to say “We need to trade this guy now” but truthfully, if nobody is offering anything, you don’t do it. Trading Martinez to an AL team sounds great. How many are on the phone? Not zero, but probably pretty close to zero, and that team or teams are fully aware that hardly anyone else is interested so they won’t give you a high offer.
Onto to the guys with guaranteed contracts, there’s Matt Carpenter. I feel like trading Carpenter may have lost some traction with Jose Martinez not being able to play first base. When he was a bad defensive third baseman (and he’s actually looked pretty good lately), the Cardinals had replacements who would approximate his value. Now if you trade Carpenter, you have to make sure you have an idea for who to replace him with at 1B for 2019. Unless you want another DH at 1B, there’s nothing on the free agent market and I’m not betting on Luke Voit to equal Carpenter. Carpenter in a trade surely doesn’t return another Carpenter either. So I’m not really seeing a trade being smart here.
There’s Carlos Martinez, and this one truly makes no sense. He’s 26, he’s under contract for the next five years if you include the two team options, he’s had a bit of a down season so far, and he was hurt for a time. I’ll defend this more if I have to, but trading Martinez means you truly don’t think the Cards can be good again for a long while, which I don’t think even the most pessimistic Cards fans believe. But he also suffers from the “probably not his highest value so why trade him right now.” There’s Molina, which WOULD make sense, but come on, the Cards aren’t doing that. I think I’ve covered every player except DeJong. DeJong is young, signed to a long deal, looks for real, and we have no replacement for him at short right now.
I’m not opposed to selling in theory. I just don’t think it makes sense if you look at each individual player. Each player’s current situation would lead to a trade that wouldn’t be worth making the trade in the first place, either because I think they stand a better chance of providing value in the future than whatever their return would be, or because I think it makes more sense to trade them in the future than now due to their 2018 play. The lone exception is Norris, but really if you’re not trading anyone else, why not just keep him and hope 2011 happens again?