The Cardinals do not appear to be interested in another free agent move, and if they do make another move, the reporting has suggested it will be a bench bat. Which very likely means they will not be getting another starting pitcher, as this writer was hoping for. But free agency is not the only avenue to getting another starter. They could make a trade.
Now, there has been reporting, by Derrick Goold specifically, about what kind of starter that the Cardinals would seek if they did indeed get another starter. And I’m going to share the tweet and hope that... it’s wrong, because it makes no sense. I think the general idea of what Goold shares is accurate, but probably not the ordering. And the reason I say that is... well here’s the tweet:
A rough approximation of how #stlcards currently see their starting rotation:— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) November 11, 2021
Midseason arrival: Liberatore
For @stltoday from Carlsbad:https://t.co/bhXcysyAlC
They want to acquire someone worse than Jake Woodford? Again, I think that’s editorializing on his part or maybe the part of his source. But the idea that the Cardinals wanted a 3rd starter - Steven Matz as it turns out - and then another guy who can jump in is probably right. It’s a tough needle to thread though. You need acquire someone basically MLB ready but not someone so good that he needs an MLB rotation spot. This person... does not exist on the free agent market frankly. Hence, why a trade is possible.
However, I am clearly not going to be taking this article in that direction. Because it’s uninteresting. I don’t want to search for a 6th starter. I want to search for a starter good enough to be in the MLB right now. And the most obvious trade candidate is a cheap team with starters near free agency making millions they’d prefer not to pay to restock their system before they get nothing for them in free agency. I give you the Oakland Athletics.
The Athletics actually have THREE such pitchers theoretically available in a trade, though I doubt they’ll be cheap. 30-year-old southpaw Sean Manaea, coming off a 3.3 fWAR season, is set to make $10.2 million. 33-year-old Chris Bassitt, coming off a 3.3 fWAR season, is set to make $8.8 million. Both will be free agents after 2022. Then there’s 29-year-old Frankie Montas, coming off a 4.1 fWAR season, set to make $5.2 million and with another year of team control after 2022. All figures are arbitration estimates by MLBTR, as none have agreed to a contract yet.
There are two players that make sense for one team but not at all for the other to trade who will not be part of the return. Dakota Hudson makes sense to trade because the A’s pitcher coming back will be taking his spot. But the As’ presumably have no interest in a pitcher who is going to start making millions and in his first year of arbitration. That’s why they’re trading their own pitchers. Matthew Liberatore makes sense for the As, as a cheap, nearly ready replacement for who they’re giving up, but the Cardinals aren’t giving up six years for one or two years of a good, not great pitcher.
So let’s get to work. First let’s put a dollar amount on the Athletics’ pitchers value so that we can know what we need to send back. Manaea has a 3.1 projection by Steamer, but this is... less than satisfying. They have him pitching 179 innings, which he’s done once in his career, which was last year. He made 5 starts in 2019. There is no way you project him for that many innings. He made 11 starts last year for 54 innings, which is 4.9 per start, which would have been 157 over a full season. That’s about how many innings he’s thrown in normal seasons, aside from 2019. We’ll go with that. So he’s a 2.7 WAR pitcher.
What about Chris Bassitt? His innings are even more absurd by Steamer. Bassitt is projected for 186 innings, which is literally 30 innings more than he’s ever pitched before. Bassitt is tougher because until 2019, he was a fringe MLBer. He debuted in 2014, split his time equally between minors and majors in 2015, appears to have missed most of 2016 to injury, spent all of 2017 in the minors and split 2018 between majors and minors again. Then you have 2019 as a starter, the two month season and 2021. I’m going to give him 157 innings too honestly. I don’t see how you can project more than a career high personally. So he’s a 2.1 WAR pitcher.
Lastly, Frankie Montas. Montas threw 187 innings last year and is projected for 179 so at least in theory, he’s the first one that doesn’t seem ridiculous. But 187 is by far, and I mean by far, his career high. He was on pace for 154 if he made 32 starts in 2020, he threw just 96 innings in 2019, and between AAA and the majors in 2018, he threw 137 innings. He missed most of 2016 and some part of 2017 and spent at least half of his innings in the MLB bullpen that year. I would like ZiPS to figure this one out! I’m going to give him 160 innings and I honestly feel a little generous doing so. He just has SUCH a track record of injuries. He’s a 2.8 WAR pitcher.
What would they get on the open market, you ask? Manaea, worth 2.7 WAR and costing $10.2 million, is worth a surplus value of $14.1 million. Bassitt, worth 2.1 WAR and costing $8.8 million, is worth $10.1 million in surplus. And finally, Montas has two years left. Manaea got $5.9 million and Bassitt got $4.9 million their second arb years. Montas is between them with a projected arb number of $5.2 million. So we’ll give him that and $9.5 million in his last year of arbitration. So Montas, worth 5.1 WAR over the next two years with a salary of $14.7 million, is worth a surplus value of $31.2 million.
Good news and bad news. You should be able to get away without giving up a top 100 prospect for either Manaea or Bassitt. The 100th ranked prospect, which oddly enough at the time was Matthew Liberatore, was valued at $17 million by Fangraphs updated calculation of top 100 prospects by former VEB manager Craig Edwards. He also has an article on prospects outside of the top 100. It looks like Manaea is valued for a prospect just outside of the top 100 or a combination of prospects, while Bassitt is valued more for a prospect in the 130-150 range... or a combo of prospects.
Montas is... way out of the Cards price range. A $31.2 million valuation is a top 50 prospect. Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker are probably 55 future value prospects, so you shouldn’t have to give up them, but Liberatore and Ivan Herrera would qualify. Both would probably need something extra, a little in Liberatore’s case, a lot in Herrera’s.
Let’s formulate some trade packages. Okay I said Liberatore makes no sense to trade, but for two years of Montas, I really think he’s the only guy who could be in the trade. Which is why it won’t happen, but for a trade scenario, I got to do it. I can’t put an exact dollar amount on Liberatore, not having updated prospect lists, but I do think he’s a genuine top 50 pitching prospect. A pitching prospect given his future value of 50 can rank anywhere from the back part of the top 50 to out of the top 100. I think Liberatore is on the higher end, which is most, if not all of that $31.2 million surplus value.
But the highest 50 future value pitching prospect from Craig’s post is still just $31 million. Unless Liberatore is that, and he might be, you need a little bit extra. I’m thinking a $4 million value should do it. And that is a 40+ position player prospect. And we actually have someone the A’s could use. Matt Olson is a free agent in two years, which roughly lines up with Luken Baker’s arrival. They do have two other 1B prospects that ranked in their top 20 last year, but one is now 26-years-old and didn’t play in AAA last year, and the other struck out 33.1% of the time in Low A last year, so he doesn’t seem close. Baker provides them with a low cost replacement, who will be able to play at DH alongside Olson in 2023 and you can see if Baker can be a true replacement or you have to find someone else.
As I said, the other two do not seem to require a top 100 prospect (the Athletics might, but given the numbers I’m working with, they don’t). However, looking at the 2021 list, none of the $4-$8 million candidates seem to work in combination, because it’s outdated and none of them seem to be in the same spot, and therefore valued the same. Zack Thompson is probably a worse prospect now. Johan Oviedo, Jhon Torres, and Tre Fletcher probably all had bad enough years that they’re valued worse. Masyn Winn might be too valuable now. Depending on where Winn is on the prospect chart, if he’s considered just outside of the top 100, he is in theory just about the only trade I can see lining up. But I can’t see the Athletics accepting that.
So in lieu of a good prospect trade, the best avenue is probably Edmundo Sosa honestly. He was considering a 40 future value prospect, which is worth a grand total of $2 million. He has raised that obviously. The Athletics could actually use another middle infielder. Elvis Andrus is bad and also will be a free agent next year. Tony Kemp has a history of not being very good, so I would not trust him to replicate his 2021. Chad Pinder is their backup plan, but he’s also not great and is a free agent next year too. Nobody else is proven. They have a good SS prospect close in Nick Allen, but he had a 54 wRC+ in AAA last year. So he’s not ready right now. Sosa is exactly what they need.
How much is Sosa worth though? Steamer sees him as a 1.1 WAR player in 326 PAs. Which is exactly league average over 600 PAs. He has five years of team control and unless the rules change, will almost certainly qualify for Super Two. And if they do change, it’s not going to be a situation where they’ll pay less money for Sosa anyway. It’s rather tough to figure out his value. Either his 2021 was for real, he could become a full-time starter now, and be immensely more valuable than $14 million or... he’s like Greg Garcia, and will probably be let go before he reaches his six years.
Honestly, Sosa’s value is just not going to valued on the trade market like you might project him for. I think a good rule of thumb is to project a guy like Sosa for his league minimum years, but once he’s in arbitration, a team like the Athletics is always going to think about nontendering him. Sosa is projected for 1.1 WAR next year, he’s valued at $9.9 million. Not perfect, but I can’t think of a better solution. So that gives me needing an additional $4 million. We’ll throw in Luken Baker again.
Lastly, Bassitt. His value almost perfectly lines up with my value of Edmundo Sosa. I don’t trade for Bassitt though honestly. He’s a league average starter. He’s 33. I know it’s just one year, but I’m not comfortable trading him for the equivalent of $10 million. Definitely not for Sosa.
So there you go: three possible trades.
Frankie Montas for Matthew Liberatore and Luken Baker
Sean Manaea for Edmundo Sosa and Luken Baker
Chris Bassitt for Edmundo Sosa
Would you take any of these trades? I don’t think I’d actually be mad at either of the first two trades. I’m not the biggest believer in Sosa - I don’t think he could start full-time that is - and I really don’t care about losing Baker. Montas is what we hope Liberatore will be, albeit for a longer stretch of time. I don’t want Bassitt.
It’s not going to happen, but should these be moves the Cards make?