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Exploring Pitching the Cardinals Could Acquire

(All statistics are as of May 12th, 2022)

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Cardinals pitching staff is strong, certainly, but it does have its holes. Steven Matz’s and Dakota Hudson’s spots in the rotation are areas of concern, with both of them having xERA’s hovering around 5.00. It is unknown to this point if the Cardinals will continue to utilize Jordan Hicks as a starter or eventually move him back into the bullpen. If that is the case, assuming every starter is healthy, the Cardinals will have three reliable options in Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright and two less reliable options (Matz and Hudson) at the back end of the rotation. The bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, with a cumulative ERA of 3.06. Nonetheless, as the postseason shows us every year, you can never have enough relief pitching. With these factors in mind, I explored some of the names the Cardinals could look to acquire as the summer progresses.

Cardinals acquire: Frankie Montas

Athletics acquire: Dakota Hudson, Joshua Baez, Ivan Herrera

It is anybody’s guess as to what the A’s do with Montas. It looked all but certain that he would be traded before the start of the season, but they opted to hold onto him. There have been rumors that they might not even trade him come the deadline and, instead, wait until the winter. In Montas, the Cardinals would be getting a well-above-average pitcher who ranks in the 71st percentile of xBA, 72nd of xSLG%, 74th of xWOBA and xERA, and 91st in chase rate. Montas also brings a solid track record, with only one year since 2019 with an xERA of 4.00+. Montas’ best pitch is his split fingerr, and it has not been as lethal in terms of producing whiffs. Montas’ splitter is only at a 26.1 percent whiff rate, compared to last year's number of 51.4 percent, but the pitch has an xWOBA against of .188 and an xBA against of .147. His go-to pitch to miss bats this season has been his slider, which is producing a 48.1 percent whiff rate.

Montas is under club control through the 2023 season. This is especially important with Wainwright strongly considering retirement after this season. The Athletics might do this trade because they are in an odd position as a franchise. Despite building a rather competitive team, they ultimately did what they always do and traded away their young talent by shipping off Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Manaea this offseason. My proposed return for them makes sense, as they get a starter in Hudson who could replace Montas in the rotation. Then, a catcher, who can be a great first-base option to Sean Murphy and their starter whenever they decide to trade him. Lastly, in Joshua Baez, they get an 18-year-old prospect who has massive power and an extremely strong arm. Baez is relatively raw and needs to work on his swing and miss, as he had 28 strikeouts in 76 at-bats in rookie ball last season. However, he is the type of high-ceiling prospect that makes sense for Oakland in a trade of this magnitude.

Cardinals acquire: Wil Crowe

Pirates acquire: Austin Love and Tink Hence

Crowe has a one-two punch between his four-seam fastball and slider to be an elite reliever in this league. Currently, Crowe throws five pitches with his changeup being his most used, throwing it 32.6 percent of the time; he throws his slider and four-seamer 25.7 and 21.4 percent of the time, respectively. He also has a sinker and curve that he throws for a combined 20.3 percent of the time. There is zero reason for him to be throwing five pitches as a reliever; he should focus on his slider and four-seamer, as both of them have elite spin rates. His four-seam spin rate ranks in the 81st percentile, and his slider has the 26th best spin rate among all pitchers with at least 25 plate appearances against. Crowe’s slider also has above-average break, with its vertical movement being 36.9 inches and horizontal movement being 6.1 inches. If he can focus on mastering these two pitches, they could improve even more in both movement and accuracy. As a whole, Crowe has been largely elite this year. His chase rate is in the 82nd percentile, average exit velocity against and xBA are in the 88th percentile, xWOBA is in the 90th and his xSLG% against is in the 97th percentile. This all does come in a small sample size of only 52 batted ball events; however, Crowe’s stuff does not lie.

After this year, Crowe has four more years of team control. This might make this a difficult trade to pull off; however, it is not impossible, considering how often the Pirates trade off controllable pitching. Last summer, they traded Clay Holmes for a small return, and Holmes has since developed into one of the best relievers in baseball. I am not saying Crowe will take that kind of jump with the Cardinals, but they could definitely give him the ground to get working on that. In getting Austin Love, the Pirates are getting (at minimum) a good reliever and potentially a starter, if he can clean up some of his issues with his command. Tink Hence is the main reason they do this trade, due to him having a high ceiling as a starter. He is only 19 years old, but his fastball and curveball grade out as plus, making him an intriguing trade piece.

Cardinals acquire: Mychal Givens

Cubs acquire: Julio E Rodriguez

Givens is another reliever who could provide the Cardinals with further stability in the back end of their bullpen. Givens has struggled to prevent hard contact, ranking in the bottom 31st percentile in exit velocity, allowing an average of 90.1 MPH per batted ball. He also walks too many batters, allowing a 10.9 BB rate this season. However, outside of those areas, Givens is well-above average, all around. He ranks in the 69th percentile in xERA and xWOBA, in the 92nd percentile in xBA, and 95th in strikeout percentage. Givens’ spin rates are above average, with his four-seam spin rate of 2441 ranking in the 92nd percentile and his slider having the 90th best spin rate among qualified pitchers. His movement is below average, but it is largely up from last year. His slider’s vertical movement has jumped from 33.1 inches to 37.2, and its horizontal movement has increased from 6.1 to 6.9. His changeup’s vertical movement has crept up from 42.4 inches to 42.9, and its horizontal movement has gone from 8.9 to 10.3 inches. His fastball has improved vertically going from 18 to 19.6 inches but regressed in horizontal movement going from 8.8 to 5.7 inches.

Givens is a low-cost rental option that makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals. His base salary of $3,500,000 will be significantly reduced come the trade deadline, and his contract has a mutual option at the same price for 2023 with no buyout. The cost in terms of a prospect is extremely cheap, as Rodriguez projects to be a backup catcher who is reliant on his glove and arm. In giving up a bottom-30 prospect, the Cardinals do not need Givens to provide much to come out on top in this deal. If his quality of contact numbers fall back to his career average of 86.6 MPH for average exit velocity, this trade would become a steal for St. Louis. Givens could slot perfectly into the sixth or seventh inning role. The Cubs do this trade because their organizational depth at catcher leaves a lot to be desired, especially if they trade Willson Contreras this offseason.