Roster Construction – The Expendables

What to watch for as trade rumors swirl around

If this year follows most other years, the Cardinals won’t swim in the deep end of the FA pool, leaving the trade market as the most likely source of talent to fill the few gaps they have on their roster. That has got me to thinking about who the Cardinals might be willing to ship off their roster. Like other avenues, trades tend to have knock off effects on the roster and are rarely isolated moves. For example, trading a Harrison Bader as he approached free agency made some sense, it opened up an OF spot that might fit Dylan Carlson’s offensive profile better, as well as plugging the obvious rotation hole with Jordan Montgomery.

I look at roster construction as a little like poker. In this case, you get 40 cards (pun intended), and you get to pick the combination you want to keep and identify the ones you can discard and exchange for new ones. Except there are lots of different combinations that can win, thus different combinations of cards you are willing to keep or discard. Later, you will have to sort the 40 down to the best 25 you will place your bet on.

In this exercise, will look at players that could be traded, but will constrain to players with value. Unlike poker, if you want good cards back, you must give up good cards. Or be willing to take on a big money contract. So, while Paul D. might be first up on the discard pile, no way he brings back any value, so we won’t really look at him.

Often, the best players for trading are ones where you have redundancy. If you have a credible option to fill a spot (such as Carlson in for Bader), that can make another player expendable. So, who do the Cardinals have that projects value AND who do they have as a potential redundancy? Another candidate is one who has potential value, but doesn’t really have an obvious spot to play … the proverbial "blocked" player. Who might these be on the Cardinal’s roster? Here are some thoughts…

First, full disclosure. I’m going to leave Tink Hence, Jordan Walker, and Masyn Winn off this list. Off the chart talents like this are 1) not blocked by anybody and 2) not redundant. They are the kind of players that make others redundant. A good draft and develop organization does not trade these talents. There are options, though, as the system has some depth.

1. Ivan Herrera – highly thought of catching prospect, will be blocked if the Cardinals achieve their goal of obtaining a quality starting C.

2. Nolan Gorman – high grade power potential. Converted 3B who was blocked by Arrenado. At 2B, Donovan is a better defender, profiles to have higher OBP, leaving Gorman blocked again, likely consigned to the short-end of a DH platoon. This is a guy that might actually have more value to another team than he does the Cardinals.

3. Juan Yepez – A hitter who is blocked at 1B by Goldschmidt at least for 2 more years, has an obvious spot as the primary DH but there are others who can fill this spot.

4. Alec Burleson – A LH hitter who probably isn’t adequate enough defensively to play a regular OF spot, he ends up like Gorman, consigned to short end of DH platoon. Seems like either Gorman or Burleson don’t fit on this roster together.

5. Tommy Edman – I am sure someone is coughing up their drink right now, saying WTF?! But listen and think. Edman has significant value and still has 3 years of control. The Cardinals have alternatives at both SS and 2B (DeJong, Winn, Donovan, Gorman). Once the major FA shortstops are off the board, a team needing a shortstop could do worse. What could the Cardinal’s get back for an established 3-4 win player?

6. Lars Nootbar – is made redundant by the emergence of Jordan Walker. That said, I’m squishy about putting him on this list because I see Nootbar as really good insurance as a 4th OFer, in a rotation that includes O’Neill, Carlson, and Walker. Nootbar might have the lowest ceiling of this group, but he may also have the highest floor, and thus be one of those players who has more value to the Cardinals than he might have in the open trade market.

7. Jordan Montgomery – is only redundant if the Cardinals were to re-up Jose Quintana. Matz and Quintana would likely be enough LH starting pitching depth. He is also a candidate for trade because he is a pending FA at the end of the year, and teams seem to prefer the value they get for a full year player than one traded at the deadline.

8. One of the young SP prospects - I did not put any starting pitching prospects (Graceffo, McGreevy, Liberatore, Hjerpe) on this list for the primary reason that it is hard to forecast any of them as redundant given than the Cardinals are looking at losing at least 4 starting pitchers at the end of 2023. Without picking one over the other, I would think that one of these would be available if the target acquisition was a starting pitcher coming back with multiple years of control (think: Lopez from Miami).

9. Jordan Hicks – on the list because he is coming to the end of his years of control, which makes him a trade target for a team needing a closer/high octane reliever. If you ignore his velo, his underlying peripherals are easily replicated by any of a dozen "bridge" relievers, so he checks the redundant box. But he does have closer pedigree, which provides value.

So, out of these 7 or 8 or 9 roster spots, is it possible to cobble together 3 or 4 of them that provide enough control and value to acquire 1) a higher end starting pitcher and 2) a good catcher? It is hard to say, as this article looks only at what the Cardinals have to offer, not at what other teams might need/want.

I think by the end of the off-season, I will be disappointed a bit if the Cardinals haven't re-aligned their roster a little bit to shore up their weaknesses by leveraging their redundancies. But it does take two to tango, so no guarantees they will pull it off. Have fun watching.