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The Gyorko deal and deadline thoughts

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There’s not really a coherent theme in this, I’m warning you.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Philadelphia Phillies James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

When I noticed that July 31st fell on a Wednesday, I was excited. I had the post following the trading deadline. That is an easy post. Just share my thoughts on what deals the Cardinals made. It’s a layup. Now I wish I had a different day. Because the Cardinals traded Jedd Gyorko and... did nothing else. And everyone is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Well not everyone. See, the Cardinals went into the trading deadline and were pretty open about not wanting to trade anyone on their MLB roster or Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman. Now try and make a trade to improve the team with those restrictions. You can probably trade something for the sake of making a trade, which I suppose would be better optics, but who cares about optics? Trust me, outside of getting a top tier starter, the majority of the fanbase would still be mad.

The one trade they did make - Jedd Gyorko trade - will not have Tommy Pham caliber consequences. Gyorko is a solid player. He’s the kind of player that won’t hurt you if he’s your plan to start, but if possible, you try to get a better player so he can become a very good bench player. Which is exactly what happened during his Cardinals tenure. He was never the plan, but he was the guy who filled holes when someone got hurt. It’s how and why he got between 400 and 500 PAs in his first three years wearing a Cardinals uniform.

It would have happened this year too, except this time he got injured. So they turned to Tommy Edman (and to a lesser extent Yairo Munoz). Edman has been fine, but first impressions go a long way and he made a hell of one. He made such a good first impression, lots of Cardinals fans think he’s a better option to start at 3B than Matt Carpenter, which is a discussion for another post, but I’m sure you can tell by my tone where I stand on that issue.

Anyway, it’s difficult to surmise what happened behind the scenes, but I think it is some combination of 1) the Cardinals want Edman to get as many MLB PAs as possible, and they expected Gyorko to return around the same time as Carpenter, thus not a whole lot of PAs for both 2) Gyorko wanted more playing time and was told that probably wouldn’t happen here and 3) the Cardinals do not believe this version of Gyorko, who has barely played and been injured all year, is the same version we got for the past three years.

It isn’t hard to see the logic in the latter point to me personally. Gyorko’s ZiPS projection for the rest of the season is 93 wRC+. In the trade update on Fangraphs, it says “Gyorko (back/calf/wrist)” which really tells you all you need to know about how this season has gone for him. It’s hard to say how many rehab games he would need, but he’d probably be in the majors for a month and half as a bench player, and the difference between him and Edman over that span of time is minimal. I’m just giving you the logic, don’t shoot the messenger. That’s the logic. Jeffry Abreu is a 19-year-old, 6’4, 200 pound pitcher currently striking out 28.2% of batters in the AZL (same level of competition as the GCL), while walking 7.1% and getting grounders 56.6%. Longshot yes, kind of interesting, I think so.

This trade is reminding me of the Mike Leake and Matt Adams trade. Leake because of the salary dump, though giving up on a month of a half of Gyorko is quite different than the Leake trade, and Adams because the return reminds me of the return for Adams, which was Juan Yepez, a 21-year-old in High A with a 133 wRC+ right now. It’s not quite the same. Yepez was 18 and in Single A already, but he was a 1B who didn’t walk and had little power. Abreu’s at a much lower level and younger, but does have better, more prospect geeky stats, and I personally would send him to Johnson City or State College right away, instead of keeping him in the GCL. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the Gyorko trade.

The ripple effects of the 2019 trading deadline will not be felt from what Abreu does. It will be affected by what the players who were not traded do for the Cardinals in the future. Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill in particular were bandied about in a rumor that the Mets would part for Zach Wheeler for one of them. Which full disclosure, I’m glad they didn’t do. Most people were not glad about that. They felt they were “expendable” given the glut of OFers. Yairo Munoz is getting regular playing time in the OF, but sure they’re expendable.

If Bader can play to his career numbers, which is a 90 wRC+ with a .317 BABIP, the Cardinals were right not to trade him. He really doesn’t even need to play that good in order to make the non-trade a good move. Because he’s been a 4.5 fWAR player over 779 PAs in his career, or a 3.5 one per 600 PAs. His defense is making that higher than it otherwise would be (he’s an elite defender, but even Kevin Pillar and Kevin Kiermaier aren’t +20 fielders in CF), but there’s a whole lot of wiggle room there before you even get to “average” player.

O’Neill meanwhile is still adjusting to the league. He was slow to adjust to AAA, but eventually he put up video game numbers down there. I’m not saying the same will happen here, but he has markedly improved as a hitter with regular playing time. He had a 46.2 K% and 2.6 BB% in his first 39 PAs while being a spotty bench player. Since he was promoted to replace Marcell Ozuna, he has a 28.7 K% and a 6.4 BB%. I actually expect more strikeouts than that, but I’m also hoping for more walks. He did have a 10.6 BB% in AAA last year. Point is, I also believe in O’Neill.

The irony here is that if one of them were traded, Wheeler did as expected with 1.2 fWAR, but it did not help the Cardinals win the World Series, people would get amnesia next year when, say Bader, started the first half with a 2 WAR season. Then they would post his stats right alongside Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty as to why the Cardinals are now bad at evaluating their own talent. I have never in my life been more sure of something that would absolutely happen without actually having an ability to have it proven.

So this trading deadline is obviously going to be judged by how the regular season ends and if the Cardinals manage to lock down a playoff spot, and even then, it will depend on if it’s a Wild Card or division title and how far away the wild card spot was from being a division title. If the Cards were to win the division, it’s going to be hard to argue they should have given up a Dylan Carlson or Bader or Nolan Gorman. Yes, they’ll probably lose in the playoffs, but that’s true with Wheeler too. Or any other addition. The playoffs are an uphill climb and just making it is more important than anything else.

Which is why the ultimate performance of Bader and O’Neill and the top two prospects will also determine the success of this trading deadline. It is likely that someone on the MLB roster or the top two prospects were needed in order to make a significant trade and we can only give them time to see if not trading them was the right move. Hopefully it was.