With the St. Louis Cardinals eight games behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers and two games below .500, it is difficult to determine what the Cardinals should do at the July 30 trade deadline. On one hand, the Cardinals could make a push for the playoffs and buy, but this would cost prospects. On the other hand, the Cardinals could sell, but there are two problems with this approach. The first is that the organization lacks upper level depth at various positions and would likely be forced to play somebody at the major league level who should remain in the minors. The other problem is that most trades would weaken the team beyond the 2021 season.
As a result, the best option for the team is to stand pat. The Cardinals do not have any obvious trade candidates. The starting outfield is young and should remain intact. Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Yadier Molina are going nowhere. Tommy Edman and Paul Dejong may be struggling at the plate, but both are controllable for more than a few years. As a result there are no obvious trade candidates in the lineup.
It is worth mentioning that the Cardinals will need to figure out what to do in the middle infield with Nolan Gorman in Triple-A. The top hitting prospect seems likely to play second base in St. Louis since Arenado is locked into third base. Additionally, neither Edman nor Dejong seems likely to block Gorman when he is ready for a promotion. This does create a bit of a logjam, and could make someone in the middle infield expendable. If the team was going to choose between Edman and Dejong, Dejong would likely be the odd man out. However, another option could be to move Edman to a utility role, which would require no one to get traded.
Thus, if the team wants to sell, it could look to move Paul Dejong. While this is unlikely, Edmundo Sosa would be able to fill in at short for the rest of the season. This would also seem to declare an early 2022 timeline for Gorman to reach St. Louis. At this point, it is a bit early to force such a timeline onto Gorman, which makes a DeJong trade premature.
On the pitching staff, the only possible trade candidate, without making the team worse in 2022, is Kwang-Hyun Kim. It is unlikely that the team will consider trading him, though, considering the lack of suitable replacements at the Triple-A level. It is not worth risking the development of a prospect just to get a return for Kim. It would also not make sense to trade anyone in the bullpen as the relievers are either controllable or not worth enough. Again, there is simply not enough quality pitching depth in Triple-A to replace any outgoing pitchers.
It is clear that selling is not the solution if the organization believes the team can be competitive next season. This seems to be the case since the Cardinals have a strong roster when the entire pitching staff sans Wainwright is not hurt.
The Cardinals also should not buy since they do not have the prospect depth to afford any substantial acquisitions.
The best option is to see how the team does coming out of the All-Star break. If the team performs well, then maybe adding a cheap (in terms of prospects) but reliable reliever to support the bullpen is an option. Another option could be seeing what kind of a player Justin Williams/Lane Thomas could get in return. The front office should not do anything besides that.
The Cardinals still have a chance of clawing their way back into the playoff race, although it is unlikely as Fangraphs currently gives the team a 2.3% chance of making the playoffs. Next season, though, the team will once again be in a strong position as division contenders.
As a result, the front office should let this team play out the season without sacrificing any prospect depth or 2022 contributors. In the offseason, the team should focus on adding depth where needed, while allowing the pitching staff to reinforce itself.
Considering how the Cardinals have played this season, it may be frustrating to watch the team do nothing. However, buying weakens the team in the future without guaranteeing the playoffs this season and selling means getting worse in 2022 as well as in 2021.