The trading deadline has come and passed and the Cardinals... did quite a bit more than they usually seem to do. It might very well be the best trading deadline the Cardinals have had since 2014, when they traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for a league minimum John Lackey. Which kind of says more about the relative lack of significant moves they normally make than anything else. Nonetheless, it’s still nice to exit the trading deadline with an improved team, with the major need being addressed.
I thought I’d take a different approach to analyzing the trades, mostly because a lot of what I could say was addressed in the VEB podcast mega episode. If not by me, then by either J.P., Blake, Skyricesq, or Heather. If you’re at all interested in something like that and you have time to listen, that’s the place you want to go.
No, I’m going to boil the trades down to one thing that is going to determine the success or failure of a trade. It will go without saying that flags fly forever and if these trades lead to a World Series by some miracle, then they won the trades. It doesn’t matter what anyone they gave up did. Let’s get that out of the way. Let’s for the moment assume that doesn’t happen.
We don’t even need to assume playoffs. None of the players the Cardinals gave up are very likely to affect their playoff chances. Harrison Bader seems like he’ll be injured too long to have had any significant effect on the Cardinals’ playoff chances, and Johan Oviedo’s contributions as a reliever in two months can only go so far. Malcolm Nunez, being in the minors, obviously doesn’t affect this year either. And to expand to the Edmundo Sosa trade, he probably wouldn’t play enough to affect them either.
So we’re just going to accept that Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery are going to give the Cardinals a better chance at the playoffs. For the sake of this post, it doesn’t matter if they make it or not. You could argue it does matter, but then that means the Cardinals needed to do more and to do so, give up more significant prospects and part of the beauty of this deadline is that they didn’t do that at all. Future intact, playoff odds improved. Plus I address this point in a roundabout way at the end.
Depends on: If Johan Oviedo becomes an effective starting pitcher
To me, there is no real way for them to lose the Quintana trade unless that happens. Malcolm Nunez’s success as an MLBer (or failure) has absolutely no impact on this trade. He was blocked. He was an excess prospect very unlikely to crack through what was in front of him. Him getting traded was inevitable.
He’s also kind of a longshot. He’s very young, at just 21-years-old. He’s shown excellent plate discipline and some good pop. But he still finds himself with just a 110 wRC+ in AA. He has seemingly converted to 1B. Everything rides on his bat. For a right-handed 1B who has never really had elite batting numbers, even at his age, most of these guys don’t really become elite hitters. If he does, good for him, it would not have happened here because he wouldn’t have gotten the chance in the majors.
But Oviedo becoming a starting pitcher and a good one at that would be a failure of the Cardinals’ pitching staff. Unlike Nunez, they could always use a good starting pitcher. It’s just that, it’s kind of hard to imagine. He hasn’t had good numbers as a starting pitcher since 33 innings in High A. He had a 6.70 FIP in 10 starts in AAA this year before he found success in the bullpen with the Cards. It’s a reasonably good gamble that he’s destined for the bullpen.
And I’m not going to regret trading a reliever for a better chance in the playoffs.
The Montgomery trade
Depends on: the success of the 2023 Cardinals OF
The Montgomery-Bader swap is remarkably fair, if you ignore the injury. Jordan Montgomery was projected for 2.8 WAR this year by ZiPS, Bader for 3 WAR. Next year, which does not factor in this year’s stats, Montgomery for 2.7 WAR and Bader for 2.6 WAR. I would venture to say both played about to expectations when healthy and it’s reasonable to assume these projections will mostly hold the same.
But well, Bader is injured. The Yankees don’t care about Bader’s performance this year, except in the playoffs. They are up 11 games in the AL East. They care about what Bader can do next year and in the playoffs. Bader, if he can stay healthy, is a better player than Montgomery. Because Bader’s projection is in just a little over 400 PAs. And that’s a fair projection given Bader’s history. Montgomery’s projection is based off 26 starts. A fully healthy Bader has more to gain in WAR than a Montgomery who makes 32 starts.
So to me, the success or failure of this trade rides on how the Cardinals can replace Bader in 2023. What is the difference in production between an outfield with Bader in it and without Bader? Essentially, what do the 3rd and 4th outfielders give the Cardinals next year? Carlson and O’Neill would have starting spots next year regardless so it’s more about what Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, or Alec Burleson would do. Or maybe another player who can play centerfield.
You can also add: how does Carlson hold up in centerfield over a full season? But even if he can, I think the success has more to do with who plays right field. Or who plays when Carlson or O’Neill are hurt. Compare their production to Bader. And if they come relatively close to Bader’s production (or exceed it), it’s a good trade. Montgomery is likely a pretty nice improvement whatever starting pitcher would be in his place in 2023, so it’s a matter of which spot the Cardinals end up needing more. It’s likely to be Montgomery but not guaranteed.
The JoJo Romero
Depends on: This trade literally does not matter
Yeah I mean maybe Romero becomes an effective reliever, but it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. Sosa has gotten one total plate appearance since being traded. This trade is absolutely not going to matter. The Cardinals middle infield depth of Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Brendan Donovan, and Nolan Gorman means Sosa was not needed. They took a chance on a reliever, maybe he can become another Packy Naughton, maybe he can’t. You just grab a bunch of these guys and hope one of them becomes a useful bullpen piece. It’s either a good trade or an inconsequential trade, but it’s not going to be a bad trade the Cardinals regret.
The lack of Juan Soto
Depends on: One of Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, or Masyn Winn become a star
When I say star, I mean a 4-5 WAR player. Essentially, the Cardinals passed up the opportunity to obtain a superstar because they were unwilling to give these guys up. And that’s not going to look super great if they all become 2-3 WAR players (or worse). But it’s going to look like a fantastic move if Walker makes four All-Star teams while under team control. It really only takes one guy. Just one of these guys. And I suppose you can throw Dylan Carlson into this group, although I still kind of feel like one of the other guys needs to be a special player.
And full disclosure: I say this as someone who is fine with not having traded for Soto. But they had a chance at Soto, they declined because they trusted these guys, and at least one of them is going to have to justify that trust. I kind of like the odds actually.