Now that the All-Star game has passed, it’s officially baseball’s trade season. This year promises to be an interesting one, with MLB having removed the waiver deadline. July 31 now stands as the hard deadline, forcing teams to choose to buy or sell 30 games sooner. Additionally, 15 of the 30 teams have at least a 15% chance of making the playoffs using the FanGraphs playoff odds page. The next few weeks are going to determine whether or not a lot of teams buy or sell. Let’s review what you need to know about the Cardinals as they enter the crucible.
Areas of Need
After a mediocre first half of the season, it’s not easy to identify one specific area where the Cardinals need help. There are multiple.
- The rotation needs help. Michael Wacha isn’t performing, with a first half FIP that’s fourth worst in baseball amongst starters (min. 60 IP). Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty were meant to be stalwarts, but have been erratic. Carlos Martínez is probably in the bullpen for the remainder of the season after the injury to Jordan Hicks. Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright have been fine, but the team needs more. At least one more starter would go a long way.
- The offense has been one of MLB’s worst since May 1st. In fact, Craig Edwards recently noted that their June was one of the worst months they’ve had going back to 2002. Their plate discipline numbers have been fine, neither good or bad in the extreme on BB% and K%. However, they’ve had a massive power outage, a total dearth of extra base production with the 27th worst ISO league-wide since May 1st. Almost every regular falls well below the league-wide ISO of .187 since then. That list includes Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Harrison Bader, Yadier Molina, José Martínez, Matt Carpenter (though he’s closest at .172), and- most damningly- Paul Goldschmidt. Somehow, the Cardinals must find more extra base pop to reach October.
- The bullpen was a first half strength. However, the Hicks injury opens up one high-leverage slot. Additionally, Tyler Webb has had issues as the second lefty out of the bullpen. That said, it’s worth noting that Webb’s work strictly as a LOOGY has been above average. His wOBA vs. lefties is .258, 25th best out of 75 lefty relievers (min. 15 outs against LHBs). You can never have enough relievers and it would be wise to insulate against heavy early-season usage for John Brebbia, John Gant, and Giovanny Gallegos. Another lefty would be useful.
Frequent Trade Partners
Going back to 2015, the Cardinals have made more than one trade with seven different franchises. They are the Mariners (4), Braves (3), Blue Jays (3), Marlins (2), A’s (2), Rangers (2), and Cleveland (2).
None of the trades with Atlanta happened with current General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. One of the Cleveland trades happened in 2015 with current Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro. One of the Marlins deals happened with a previous administration, and the other happened in the middle of a transition into the new administration. The two Rangers deals were minor, with Sam Freeman and Patrick Wisdom as the centerpieces of the two deals.
Strictly by recent history, that leaves Seattle, Toronto, and Oakland as the most frequent trade partners.
Baseball Trade Values, recently featured in the Effectively Wild podcast, is a fun new website that uses surplus value as a baseline and adjusts it for multiple factors to determine each player’s trade value. You can see the methodology here. It gives us a great starting place for determining what kind of trade value the Cardinals have on hand. Here’s a table featuring the median surplus value for the players most likely to be dealt, either in a buy or sell situation.
Cardinals Median Surplus Trade Value (millions)
For what it’s worth, I suspect these values were generated before the season and could stand to be updated. For instance, Tyler O’Neill’s value has likely slipped while Dylan Carlson’s has possibly risen. I would also guess that Edman, Ponce de Leon, and Woodford have enhanced values while Montero’s may have dipped. Perhaps I’m wrong. It’s hard to know for sure. One other note- John Mozeliak identified Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson as “two guys we aren’t willing to talk about in trades” in a KMOX interview with Tom Ackerman earlier this week. It seems they aren’t going anywhere.
As you cook up trade proposals in your head, you might keep these values in mind, as well as the values of your intended trade targets.
The good news is that there are at least a few internal options that should be suitable solutions. Marcell Ozuna’s return from injury will help the power profile. Paul Goldschmidt almost certainly isn’t going to keep running up the .126 ISO he’s had since May 1st, and Paul DeJong is another prime candidate to see his power return. Those three alone should be able to return the offense to at least average. Matt Carpenter is a bit of a wild card, but he’s certainly another hitter with a demonstrated ability that exceeds his actual performance thus far.
From the farm, Tommy Edman has earned his new nickname- “The Microwave”- with an impressive first month as a Cardinal, at least making himself a solid bench option down the stretch. Randy Arozarena is forcing his way into the conversation as another bench option thanks to a scalding .349/.434/.538 slash line this year across AA and AAA. Finally, Ozuna’s injury gives Tyler O’Neill yet another chance to translate his minor league power.
Daniel Ponce de Leon continues to show he belongs in some capacity and in the very least could help replace some of the lost Hicks innings. That’s not to say that he’d move to high leverage, but rather that he could eat up the earlier innings while Gallegos, Miller, Brebbia, Gant, and Martinez move to the higher leverage innings. Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez could also absorb some of the bullpen innings. Jake Woodford and Genesis Cabrera are acceptable depth options, though neither seem poised to solve the rotation riddle.
One rotation spot remains the most glaring need without any obvious internal solutions. Helping the offense further than positive regression from internal options is a bonus.
Returning to an exercise I performed a few weeks back with starting pitching targets, let’s look at the MLB Trade Rumors top 50 candidates. We’ll include the starting pitching options from that last article, plus a few left-handed relievers. On the position player side, we’ll operate under the assumption that the only players they’d acquire to boost the offense would need to be true game-changers and not depth options. Off of the MLBTR list, that’s... Whit Merrifield and nobody else. Finally, on the off chance that the loss of Hicks makes them nervous, I’ve included some of the other right-handed relief options (excluding division rivals and the contending Padres, since those seem unlikely to happen with the Cardinals). Here are those players and their listed surplus value from Baseball Trade Values.
Trade Targets, Median Surplus Value
There are some major discrepancies on a few players compared to what I did a few weeks back- specifically Boyd and Bumgarner. I suspect this is because of the aggressive way I projected Boyd moving forward, and a bump added to Bumgarner by BTV for the likely buzz his name could generate on the open market.
What Should They Do?
Unless they completely collapse in the coming weeks, the Cardinals should be buying to bolster their chances. Starting pitchers like Wheeler and Stroman still make the most sense, while Bumgarner offers a budget option. Boyd is an effective option, but the asking price will vary greatly based on how his performance is projected. If he’s truly available at a $34.4M surplus value, you have to pursue it, particularly since he addresses future needs. Bauer would be great, but it’s highly doubtful that Cleveland is willing to make a deal like that.
Bullpen additions are helpful so long as they don’t happen at the expense of other upgrades. Diekman, Dyson, and Givens are all intriguing budget options if the Cardinals don’t trust Ponce de Leon or Fernandez or simply want to augment what they already have. Will Smith makes the most sense if the team opts to go all-in on a shutdown bullpen. However, it’s not the best use of resources considering how many other options they already have in-house.
Merrifield is of course intriguing, but it’s questionable how much the Royals would want to trade him. It’s also hard to see a Merrifield deal happening without Carlson or Gorman moving across the state, which means it almost certainly isn’t happening.