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If the Cardinals Make a Big Move, Expect It At the Trade Deadline

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After the signing of Kwang-Hyun Kim, the Cardinals appear to have addressed the most obvious hole on the roster. Kim’s left-handedness was something that was appealing to the Cardinals, while his ability to either start or relieve allows the team to add depth and provides insurance for the rotation. While there are some other questions that surround the Cardinals roster, it is unlikely that they will be answered through either the free agent or the trade market this offseason.

With the pitching situation resolved (or at least better than it was), the next obvious hole is in left field, as it appears likely that Marcell Ozuna will join another team this winter. However, with the lack of rumors seriously linking the Cardinals to any of the free agent outfielders — not to mention the general lack of high-end talent — it appears unlikely that the Cardinals will wade into the market again. Instead, the team is better off giving its glut of young outfielders the chance to stake their claim on a starting spot. There is a good chance that one (or a tandem) of the outfielders could provide at least a similar amount of production to any free agent outfielder at a much cheaper price.

Since this appears to be the likeliest course of action for the team, the rest of the offseason will probably be quiet in St. Louis. However, when the season begins, the Cardinals may start shopping. Once the team figures out who it wants in the outfield long term, it can trade the other MLB-ready young outfielders that don’t have a fit in St. Louis. This would hardly hurt the Cardinals outfield depth, as there are some promising outfielders at the lower levels of the minors that are progressing as well.

There are some advantages to waiting until the trade deadline to make such a deal. Hopefully, by this time the Cardinals will have figured out their long term plan in the outfield. Once one of the young outfielders sticks in left field, and another one in center (Harrison Bader?), there will be nowhere for the rest of them to play with any sort of regularity. Waiting until July will allow the Cardinals the time that is necessary to figure out which outfielders are surplus without making an guess based on minor league production. It is possible to make the wrong choice when judging a sample as small as half a season, but it is better than making such an important decision without even that much data.

Also, it is likely that a team will be more desperate to trade a player on an expiring deal as the trade deadline approaches. During the offseason, there is no need to force a trade; at the trade deadline, when confronted by the possibility of losing a key player for no return, teams are willing to make tough choices. And if it works out as we hope, the Cardinals will have the upper hand in negotiations. This does not mean that the Cardinals will be able to rip off another team. It simply means that when time is running out, it is likely that a player’s price on the trade market will drop.

While there is a disadvantage that players acquired at the trade deadline only get to play for less than half a season, that is something that the Cardinals will have to accept. It is likely that the Cardinals will at least be in the running for a playoff spot at the trade deadline, so any acquisition at that point would be beneficial. Also, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will make a trade for a key player on an expiring contract, unless they feel somewhat confident in their ability to re-sign him. If this happens, then missing out on half a season of value becomes less important to the overall picture.

The Cardinals have a wealth of depth, particularly in the outfield, and appear to be in prime position to use it to improve the team. Even though some fans criticize the front office for not being willing to make the big move, it would not be surprising to see the Cardinals swing an impactful trade during the season.

So, even though it appears that this will be a quiet winter for the team, there is hope of the horizon. The Cardinals will have opportunities during the season to better the club. I expect the Cardinals to take this opportunity to trade from a position of depth to improve the team, either in the rotation or at third base, during the season.

Just because the offseason has been quiet does not mean that the front office isn't trying to improve the team.