It is no secret that the St. Louis Cardinals rotation has struggled since Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty went on the IL. The team’s starters rank 19th in FIP (4.45) and 29th in xFIP (4.61). Currently, the only reliable starter is the 39-year-old Adam Wainwright (3.99 FIP, 3.76 xFIP) while Kwang-Hyun Kim has at least been decent with a 4.17 FIP and 4.38 xFIP. John Gant (5.02 FIP), Carlos Martinez (4.52 FIP, 5.06 xFIP), and Johan Oviedo (5.15 FIP) have all had their struggles and seem unlikely to be part of a playoff-caliber starting rotation. There is hope that Oviedo could improve due to his youth and his high quality stuff. However, he has shown plenty of inconsistencies.
As a result, it is abundantly clear that the Cardinals’ rotation needs help. If Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty were healthy, then this would be a different story. However, since they hare on the IL for an extended period of time, the Cardinals need to make a move if they want to not lose too much ground in the playoff race.
With Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson under team control for a while, and prospects like Oviedo, Matthew Liberatore, and Zack Thompson nearing the big leagues, the Cardinals could pursue a rental at the deadline. This would be a cheaper option in terms of the prospect haul that would need to be surrendered.
Even if the Cardinals only acquired a cheaper, back-end starter (or two), it would be a huge lift to the team. St. Louis needs an arm that can provide quality innings and consistently pitch somewhat deep into games. Such a pitcher would be a marked improvement on Gant and Martinez, which would provide a significant rotation upgrade that would help stabilize the team’s rotation in the short-term and provide a more dependable back-end option when the rotation gets healthy.
Another starter would also provide the benefit of allowing Gant or Martinez (or both) to shift to the bullpen, where they have already shown a proven ability to pitch effectively. This would provide the benefit of solidifying the bullpen, which also needs some help. Besides the big three of Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, and Alex Reyes, the Cardinals have just one other pitcher with below a 4.78 FIP - Ryan Helsley (3.87 FIP, 4.31 xFIP). As a result, it is not surprising that the team’s bullpen ranks 15th in FIP and dead last in xFIP.
By allowing John Gant and/or Carlos Martinez to return to the bullpen, the team would get a pair of relievers who have proven to be strong relief options and would also be able to throw multiple innings. This would be an asset to the Cardinals, who have struggled to cover the middle innings of game and have struggled when anyone besides the big three is on the mound.
Trading for a starting pitcher, when a top option on the market or a veteran rental, would help fix the Cardinals’ rotation and bullpen. This should be the top priority for the front office when the trade market begins to heat up, and it should look to strike as early as reasonably possible in order to keep the Cardinals in playoff contention.