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The Cardinals Won the Trade Deadline

Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery may have been the two best trade deadline acquisitions in the league.

St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Perhaps this would be a headline best suited for an end of the season article but I can’t help but write it now. Every time I watch Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery pitch, I can’t stop myself from thinking the Cardinals won the trade deadline.

That’s a weird sentence to write. The Cardinals don’t usually win the trade deadline, unless you call trading for Jon Lester and J.A. Happ a win (I don’t). But that’s what the Cardinals usually do. They make low key moves to try and fill gaps without giving up too much.

If they have any big moves in store, those usually come at the end of the season. That’s why it shouldn’t have been surprising when the Cardinals didn’t land Juan Soto. Twitter may have whipped Cardinals fans into a fever, but all of us here at VEB tries to give more realistic expectations.

And not getting Juan Soto doesn’t mean this was a lost deadline. Quite the opposite in fact. Quintana and Montgomery have had a massive impact in a short amount of time and they didn’t come with a high cost. In fact, both pitchers have actually compiled more fWAR with the Cardinals than Soto has with the Padres.

If you add Josh Bell into the equation, it looks even worse for the Padres because he’s been worth -0.4 fWAR. So, in total, the Padres have received 0.5 fWAR from the duo while the Cards have gotten 2.6 fWAR from Quintana and Montgomery. That’s a huge win.

But I don’t just want to focus on the Padres and how none of their big moves seem to work out as they should. Let’s look at the rest of the league. Quintana and Montgomery have been great but have they outperformed the other pitchers that were traded at the deadline? Keep reading to find out!

Noah Syndergaard (Phillies) — 4.59 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 0.9 fWAR

Syndergaard has been fine since being acquired by the Phillies. There’s value in being fine and he wasn’t expected to be much more. The Phillies simply needed him to be a reliable mid-rotation starter behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and he’s done just that.

Syndergaard was someone I wanted the Cardinals to go after. He seemed to be their type as a starter who limits walks and has turned to a sinker. He also seemed to be in their prospect price range as a free-agent-to-be.

At the very least, I wanted the Cardinals to get someone like Syndergaard, even if it wasn’t Syndergaard himself. And they did just that. And they somehow found two pitchers who cost a similar price but could give much more production.

Syndergaard is the exact kind of arm that contending teams should look for to shore up their rotation. That was a good trade for the Phillies. But it doesn’t beat Quitnana and Montgomery.

Tyler Mahle (Twins) — 4.41 ERA, 5.56 FIP, 4.56 xFIP, -0.1 fWAR

The Mahle trade has been a bit of a disaster for the Twins. He’s made 4 starts and he hasn’t been effective in those outings. His 4.41 ERA is well below his 5.56 FIP and a shoulder injury will now cause him to miss the rest of the season.

He’s controllable for another season, but I don’t imagine this is what the Twins were looking for when they gave up 3 of their top 23 prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

The team went for it at the deadline, trading for the Orioles All-Star closer Jorge Lopez and Mahle, but they have gone 20-29 since the deadline and now lie in 3rd place in the AL Central with a sub-.500 record.

Teams can’t exactly plan for injuries like Mahle’s, but this still goes down as an unfortunate loss for the Twins. The Cardinals are definitely better off.

Frankie Montas (Yankees) — 6.35 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 4.68 xFIP, 0.1 fWAR

Speaking of disasters, the Frankie Montas trade has truly been a disaster for the Yankees, at least so far. He’s surrendered at least 4 runs in five of his eight starts and has an ERA over 6.

He was considered by many as the best starter on the market, which means the Yankees paid a hefty price to get him. That included theur 5th ranked prospect, 10th ranked prospect, and 20th and 21st ranked prospects.

To be fair, they got Lou Trivino too and he’s posted a 2.00 ERA and 3.62 FIP with the Yankees. Still, Montas was supposed to make the rotation better and he hasn’t.

Who would have thought replacing Jordan Montgomery with Frankie Montas would make the rotation worse? Apparently, John Mozeliak did.

Luis Castillo (Mariners) — 3.34 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.18 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR

Luis Castillo is the first real success story on this list and really the only other starter who has done well after being traded. He is averaging just barely under 6 innings per start in Seattle and just signed a 5-year, $108 million extension. It seems like a safe bet to say both parties are happy.

The Mariners did give up a hefty package of prospects to acquire Castillo’s talents. They gave up 3 of their top 5 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, including Noelvi Marte (top ranked prospect), who crushed High-A at 20 years old this season.

The Mariners also surrendered a 4th prospect who was unranked.

But if a team is going to give up that much talent, then the player it gets needs to be pretty good. Castillo is certainly that. And now they have him for another half decade and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The Cardinals were never going to give up this much prospect talent, but Castillo has turned out better than anyone else, except for maybe the Cardinals duo.

Jake Odorizzi (Braves) — 5.97 ERA, 5.32 FIP, 4.73 xFIP, 0.0 fWAR

Yet another flop. Odorizzi has been pretty terrible with the Braves, giving up a ton of home runs and seeing his walk rate move in the wrong direction. If the Cardinals were looking at cheaper options, Odorizzi could have been on their radar. In fact, it only took veteran reliever Will Smith to get Odorizzi from Houston.

The problem for the Braves is that Will Smith found his stuff again and Odorizzi has lost it. This trade did not go as planned. Odorizzi is averaging fewer than 5 innings per start in Atlanta and there’s almost no shot he would make the playoff rotation.

At this point, he might not even make the playoff roster.

Jordan Montgomery (Cardinals) — 3.12 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.16 xFIP, 1.1 fWAR

This is Luis Castillo level production and all it took was Harrison Bader. Yes, that may turn out to be a hefty price. I’m not slandering Harrison Bader by any means. I’m a huge fan of his game. But, at the time, he was hurt and the Cardinals needed pitching. Badly.

Then Jordan Montgomery allowed just one run in his first 4 starts (25.2 IP). In 6 of his 10 starts with his new team, he’s yielded one run or less. That’s lights out.

He hasn’t been as good recently, allowing 13 runs in his last 3 starts, but Montgomery has had a huge impact. He was exactly what the Cardinals needed.

Jose Quintana — 2.14 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 1.5 fWAR

A few games into their Cardinals tenures, Montgomery looked to be the better acquisition. Both started strong but Montgomery was otherworldly.

Here’s the thing, though. Quintana never faded. Where Montgomery has gone through a rough patch recently, Quintana has only gotten stronger. I wrote about that on Twitter the other day.

Two weeks ago, I might have been willing to consider leaving Quintana out of the playoff rotation. At least at the beginning. Now he should be a lock. He’s been the best starter on the team for at least 2 weeks and has recently begun showing some length.

After his first two outings, Quintana had a 5 game streak of lasting no more than 5 innings. In his two most recent starts, he’s thrown6 23 innings and 8 innings, respectively. He’s also walked just two batters in his last 29 innings (5 starts).

So, not only does he not hurt himself, but he’s also begun pitching deeper into games. With Mikolas, Wainwright, and Montgomery faltering in recent weeks, Quintana is the best starting option right now.

He absolutely should be in the postseason rotation, and at this point, he deserves #1 starter consideration.

But, let’s go back to the trade deadline. Not only has he been the best pitcher acquired, but he also didn’t have a steep cost. The Cardinals only surrendered Malcom Nunez and Johan Oviedo to get him.

Now, I didn’t say “only” because I think Nunez and Oviedo are bad players. I said “only” because their futures in St. Louis were murky at best. Nunez can only really play first base and third base and he was almost exclusively a 1B/DH type in Springfield this year.

The Cardinals have some guy named Paul Goldschmidt playing first base and another guy names Nolan Arenado playing third base. That didn’t leave a lot of playing time for Nunez to grow into. To his credit, though, he’s been great since going to Pittsburgh.

He’s always been more a hitting prospect than a defensive prospect. The Pirates have Ke’Bryan Hayes as a long term third baseman now, but Nunez could be an option at 1B/DH soon.

The other piece of the deal was Johan Oviedo. Gabe (stlcardsfan4) here at VEB has said it best. If Oviedo turns into a starter, this deal could hurt, but otherwise it’s great value.

Oviedo really is the only piece of this deal that could truly burn the Cardinals. Even if Nunez becomes a solid player, he was never going to play in St. Louis. They got something of value for him before he rotted in Triple-A with nowhere to go.

Oviedo, though, could hurt if he becomes a starter. I feel pretty good about that, though, because I think he’s a reliever even if he is coming off a 7 inning start in which he didn’t allow a walk or a run. Pittsburgh isn’t exactly known for developing pitching.

Oviedo seemed to put some things together this season and I’m sure he’ll get plenty of leeway in Pittsburgh to figure things out even more.

Still, I will argue that this trade was absolutely worth it and made the Cardinals a much better team.


The Cardinals got two of the three best starters on the market for a blocked prospect, a reliever, and an injured centerfielder. That’s pretty good. They did much better at the deadline than every other contending team, at least when it comes to the pitching market. The Mariners are really the only team that didn’t get burned, but even then, they gave up a lot.

The Cardinals somehow found a ton of talent without really giving up anything of immense value.

Credit must first go to the front office for finding the right guys and making the right deals. But credit must also go to the scouting department and coaching staff for making these guys work.

You might ask: What’s the big deal? The Cardinals traded for two guys who were having good season and then they came to the Cardinals and pitched well. That’s hardly surprising.

Take a look at this.

Pre/Post Trade Deadline Stats

Player ERA FIP Innings Pitched fWAR
Player ERA FIP Innings Pitched fWAR
Yankees Jordan Montgomery 3.69 3.91 114.2 1.3
Cardinals Jordan Montgomery 3.12 3.20 57.2 1.1
Pirates Jose Quintana 3.50 3.23 103.0 2.2
Cardinals Jose Quintana 2.14 2.62 54.2 1.5

Both pitchers were already good but they have gotten even better and that’s not an accident. You’ve all read how the Cardinals have Montgomery throwing more fastballs than he did with the Yankees.

Quintana has improved by throwing fewer changeups. That hasn’t gotten as much coverage but I wrote about it here at VEB after his first few starts.

Here’s what his pitch usage has looked like this season by month.

Notice how in the last two months (his time with the Cardinals), his changeup has become his least used pitch. He really started throwing it again this year after not throwing it much earlier in his career but the Cardinals clearly thought that was a mistake. And he’s become a better pitcher by simply not using it as much.

Sometimes pitching really is as simple as throw your good pitches more and your bad pitches less. That applies to both Montgomery and Quintana.

Credit is due to the Cardinals for being willing to tweak arsenals to squeeze more production out of a player. That’s a recipe for winning on the trade market.

Just how much more production are the Cardinals squeezing out of these pitchers? Have a look

Deadline Acquisitions fWAR per 32 starts

Pitcher fWAR per 32 Start Pace
Pitcher fWAR per 32 Start Pace
Yankees Jordan Montgomery 2.0
Cardinals Jordan Montgomery 3.5
Pirates Jose Quintana 3.5
Cardinals Jose Quintana 4.8

Finding undervalued or underproducing assets and then turning them into weapons is skill. It’s often been one attributed to the Dodgers, but the Cardinals seem to be stealing it for themselves.

They haven’t just done that this year either. They did it with T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia last year too.

I don’t think the Cardinals get enough credit for this. This gives them the ability to find high production on the pitching market at a low cost. This year’s deadline is simply the latest example.

Quintana and Montgomery have revitalized the pitching staff since the deadline. Now they may need to anchor it during a playoff run. The trade deadline was a huge win for the St. Louis Cardinals and they may have won more than any other team.