The trade deadline came and went, without the Cardinals making a major acquisition to bolster the team.
It’s been obvious that the rotation, touted as a potential strength coming into the season, has been lackluster. Cardinal starters have totaled 5.3 fWAR in 2019, ranking 22nd in the majors.
The cycle has featured a little injury, a lot of Michael Wacha moving back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, some attempts at speeding up Génesis Cabrera’s development that went poorly, and a back of the rotation that boasts a FIP above 5.00.
Per the Post-Dispatch, John Mozeliak said something pretty similar to what we’ve heard from deadlines past: They couldn’t find the right deal.
It’s a message that gets pretty tired, when coupled with the emphasis the front office placed on 2019 while speaking with media in the offseason.
The Athletic reported that the Cardinals were checking in on Zack Wheeler, but the asking price was “Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill,” and the front office deemed that price tag to be too high.
Opinions may differ on that front, but it’s worth noting the Cardinals have nine outfielders inside their top 30 prospects per FanGraphs, with four of those at or above AAA and one (Dylan Carlson) ranking inside the top 100 in the majors.
Either way, it would be remiss to focus on the one target who didn’t move where we heard specifics and ignore the trades that did happen. Five pitchers moved before the deadline who currently have fWAR totals higher than the Cardinals’ best starter by the metric this season, Miles Mikolas (1.7 fWAR). The returns weren’t that outlandish for some of them.
We’ll start at the top and move down the list. There won’t be a huge dive into the individual aspects of the prospects moved; it’s going to be more of an emphasis on position, future value and team/league rankings, as determined by FanGraphs. It’s more to show that the Cards had the talent to pull off some of these deals, tweaking the packages as necessary.
Zack Greinke, 3.7 fWAR (9th overall)
Free Agent: 2022
- Corbin Martin, RHP | FV: 50 | Level: AAA | Age: 21y, 7m, 4d | Rank: team–5, ovr–113
- J.B. Bukauskas, RHP | FV: 50 | Level: AA | Age: 22y, 9m, 21d | Rank: team–8, ovr–121
- Seth Beer, 1B | FV: 45 | Level: AA | Age: 22y, 10m, 14d | Rank: team–14, ovr–N/A
- Josh Rojas, 2B | FV: 35+ | Level: AAA | Age: 25y, 1m, 2d | Rank: team–46, ovr–N/A
This is one trade that might’ve very well been too rich for the Cardinals’ blood, just from a lack of organizational depth at the positions the Dbacks were prioritizing.
After the moves for Zac Gallen and Mike Leake, along with the return in this trade, it’s pretty clear Arizona is putting an emphasis on pitching. The Cardinals don’t have a pitching prospect with a future value of 50 in the system right now.
There are three at or above that mark at other positions: Nolan Gorman (FV 55, 3B), Dylan Carlson (FV 50, OF) and Andrew Knizner (FV 50, C). Knizner is needed on the active roster as depth, and trading the heir apparent as Yadi loses durability would be pretty crippling.
I’m averse to moving a prospect like Gorman, one who hasn’t been in the system for a while now, but there’s no doubt the Dbacks would’ve shown interest. If Bader and O’Neill were off the table, it would seem logical that the team was making Carlson untouchable as well.
Still, the Snakes are still eating some of Greinke’s salary in the deal, and maybe shouldering all of the cost of his monster contract would’ve made a difference in the return. But spending more isn’t really ever the front office’s Plan A.
Marcus Stroman, 2.8 fWAR (21st overall)
Free Agent: 2021
- Anthony Kay, LHP | FV: 45 | Level: AAA | Age: 24y, 4m, 11d | Rank: team–6, ovr–N/A
- Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP | FV: 45+ | Level: A | Age: 18y, 10m, 5d | Rank: team–5, ovr–N/A
This is where it starts to sting a little.
Stroman, much like Chris Archer for so many years, was a pitcher the Cardinals were rumored to be both interested in and a great fit for. The Blue Jays and Cards have hooked up on many deals in the past, and Stroman isn’t a rental, being arbitration eligible in 2020.
He’s been really great this year, with a sub-3.00 ERA and a 3.52 ERA pitching in the scary AL East. And the asking price doesn’t seem to have been crazy.
The Cardinals have nine pitchers with a future value of 40. One is listed at FV 40+. The highest-ranked is lefty Zack Thompson, FV 45, at High-A. Five of those are at AAA, meaning they’re nearly major-league ready, similar to Kay.
That’s not to mention the Cardinals have pitchers like Dakota Hudson and Daniel Ponce de Leon currently in the majors, who would offer some control to the Blue Jays and would be well worth giving up for 1.5 seasons of a three- to four-win pitcher.
Trevor Bauer, 2.7 fWAR (27th overall)
Free Agent: 2021
- (CIN) Yasiel Puig, OF | FA: 2020 | 2019 wRC+: 96, fWAR: 0.8
- (SD) Franmil Reyes, OF | FA: 2025 | 2019 wRC+: 117, fWAR: 1.4
- (CIN) Scott Moss, LHP | FV: 35 | Level: AA | Age: 24y, 9m, 26d | Rank: team–N/A, ovr–N/A
- (SD) Logan Allen, LHP | FV: 50 | Level: MLB | Age: 22y, 2m, 9d | Rank: team–5, ovr–110
- (SD) Victor Nova, 3B/OF | FV: 35+ | Level: R | Age: 19y, 6m, 26d | Rank: team–40, ovr–N/A
The three-way trade that happened before Tuesday night’s Cincy brawl is hard to parse, in terms of how the Cardinals could make it work. The haul that Cleveland got is pretty crazy, acquiring two serviceable major league outfielders—one with considerable control—and a few low- to mid-level prospects.
The Cardinals would’ve definitely had trouble pulling this deal off alone, as it likely would’ve required one of Bader/O’Neill/Carlson and another serviceable major leaguer before tacking on the others.
If they were to just contribute what Cincinnati did to the deal, it would’ve really hurt. Heading back to San Diego in the deal was outfielder Taylor Trammell, a 21-year-old AA outfielder who sits at 30 on the FanGraphs top 100. At a future value of 55 and his talent level, Gorman would’ve probably been discussed heavily.
Tanner Roark, 1.8 fWAR (44th overall)
Free Agent: 2020
- Jameson Hannah, OF | FV: 45 | Level: A+ | Age: 21y, 11m, 22d | Rank: team–10, ovr–N/A
Roark is a definite rental, but he’s one who has pitched pretty well in an offense-heavy ballpark in the competitive NL Central. The Cardinals are familiar with Roark, so one has to wonder if they either saw something they didn’t like or either were resistant to trading within the division.
An aversion to trading inside the Central really doesn’t benefit either party, but neither does this type of speculation. Ultimately, it didn’t happen. And the cost was minimal.
Hannah was a second-rounder in 2018 and has been above average at the plate. He’s still pretty early in his development, though, and offers a lot of volatility being nearly 22 and still having a ways to go before being major-league ready.
You know what the Cardinals have in excess? Outfielders.
They have a lot.
Like, a lot a lot.
As mentioned earlier, the Cardinals outfielders rank largely in the FV 40 range, but they’re near the top of the system and many are outperforming their current scouting.
It’s really hard for me to imagine the Reds wouldn’t have taken the bait on any of the Cardinals’ outfield depth, especially after trading away both Puig and Trammell. Investing in Bauer like they have means they’re prepped to fight for contention in 2020 in a big way, and an outfield prospect ready to sit on a major-league roster is much more beneficial to them than someone in High-A.
Justin Williams is an outfield prospect who’s bounced back in a big way in his short return with Memphis this season. He hits from the left side, like Hannah. The Cardinals have to be willing to part with some of the players clogging the outfield grass throughout the system.
Andrew Cashner, 1.8 fWAR (52nd overall)
Free Agent: 2021 (vesting option for 2020)
- Elio Prado, OF | FV: N/A | Level: R | Age: 17y, 8m, 3d | Rank: team–N/A, ovr–N/A
- Noelberth Romero, 3B | FV: N/A | Level: R | Age: 17y, 7m, 27d | Rank: team–N/A, ovr–N/A
The Cashner trade is included, just off of fWAR totals, but there are arguments to be made that it might not have been a great move. Since coming to Boston, Cashner has made three starts, giving up 12 earned runs over 17.2 innings. Still, it doesn’t get more low-risk than the return the Orioles got.
Prado and Romero are both 17-year-old position players out of Venezuela in their first professional seasons. They don’t have FV evaluations yet. Romero’s numbers have been pretty bad to this point, while Prado is touting a 130 wRC+.
But when you’re looking to win now, for low-cost, low-risk acquisitions that could have immense payoff, this trade comes into play. Cashner is having a much better season overall than he had in 2018. Aside from his Red Sox tenure, it’s made his first season with the Orioles look like an outlier.
The Orioles even ate half of his already meager salary, sending $2 million back to the Red Sox. The two rookie-ballers are gambles. They could obviously work out and be a big deal, but it’s going to be long, long after 2019 before they’re on the radar.
Mozeliak expressed frustration with the outcome in his comments to the media, acknowledging a responsibility to fans and to the team. But those messages get a bit tired when an obvious weakness isn’t addressed. There will be talks of the trades that didn’t come to fruition, of asking prices clearly being too high with players like Bumgarner and Wheeler staying put.
But, looking at the roster composition of this Cardinal team, there are a lot of question marks moving past 2019. There was an exclamation point placed by team leadership on this season. At the deadline, we were given an ellipsis. We’ll see how the remainder of the season is punctuated.