The Cardinals’ ability to outspend other teams has never been the Cardinals M.O., and while this has undeniable downsides, it has mostly worked out for the best that they haven’t. And while things could potentially be different this offseason, the Cardinals can still get an ace-level pitcher without having to outbid other teams in money. They would just need to outbid them in terms of trade value.
That sounds harder and more painful, but there are two pitchers on the trade market - at least we think they are on the trade market - were it shouldn’t be too bad in terms of return. Most teams all value players’ the same way, so there’s not as much of an arms race aspect to it either. Will they have to give up more value than their surplus value? Decent chance. But since both pitchers’ surplus value is not particularly high, even surpassing that wouldn’t demand top prospects.
Contract: 1 year, $25 million
Trading for Glasnow puts the Cardinals in a weird spot. He has the distinction of being an unbelievably risky bet if all your chips are on him becoming the staff ace in 2024 while also simultaneously being a drastically better #2 option than anyone should reasonably expect if they manage to land one of Aaron Nola or Yoshinobu Yamamota.* That’s what happens when a pitcher is always good when healthy, but never healthy.
*I’m already not a fan of getting Snell, but I’m really not a fan if the Cardinals trade for Glasnow due to Snell’s lack of innings.
Since 2019, Glasnow has thrown 332.2 IP and been worth 9.3 fWAR. That’s 4.2 fWAR per 150 innings pitched. To give you an idea of how good that is, Aaron Nola has been worth an average of 3.5 fWAR per 150 innings pitched since 2019. But you can’t ignore the innings difference, namely that Nola will not be expected to throw 150 innings. He hasn’t thrown fewer than 180 in a season in that span, aside from the shortened season. Nola has legitimately thrown 500 more innings in the last 5 years than Glasnow has. At an average of 100 more innings per year, that nearly matches Glasnow’s career high of 120 innings. In fact Glasnow has reached 100 innings just twice.
But well he did just match his career high in 2023. In order to determine a 2024 projection - and we’re a few months away from getting his updated ZiPS - I need to do some guesswork. Since ZiPS has a 2024 projection, but without the input from the 2023 season, the best way to do this is see how different his 2023 was from the projection. And he definitely outplayed his projection.
His 2023 projection was a 3.37 FIP over 57.3 IP. His actual performance was a 2.91 FIP over 120 innings pitched. I’m assuming, since he hasn’t had an FIP over 3.00 in the limited innings he’s thrown since 2020, this was based on sort of a “rust” adjustment. Because the season after, ZiPS actually saw him improving his FIP to 3.29 and his innings to 79. Since the rust is shaken off, I expect his FIP to see a significant drop from that 2024 projection.
Just because his 2024 projection improves by 8 points doesn’t mean we can simply take his 2023 performance and improve that too. Because his 3.37 FIP was a significant downgrade from his history (even though his career FIP is 3.58). That’s because since 2019, his FIP is 2.89. If you ignore his Pittsburgh tenure, he essentially pitched to his career levels. One wouldn’t assume an improvement on that.
So in other words, especially with the increased offensive environment of 2023, I think you can pretty much take his 2023 level as the expectation for 2024. So my preliminary projection for Glasnow for 2024 is a 2.91 FIP over 100 innings pitched. The projected WAR for this is easy, since he has the same performance as 2023. 2.7 WAR, 100 innings.
At $10 million per win, let’s just round that up and say his surplus value is ($30-$25) $5 million. So for those pushing the Tyler O’Neill for Glasnow straight up, technically O’Neill is an overpay. Not that any of us would complain, but Glasnow does not have that much trade value.
In reality, I would be surprised if the Rays don’t want a prospect. And they can kill two birds with one stone if they add a reliever to the trade, one of their five arbitration eligible relievers: Shawn Armstrong (1 year team control, 1.38 ERA/2.54 FIP in 52 IP), Jalen Beeks (2 years, 5.95 ERA/3.82 FIP), Colin Poche (2 years, 2.23 ERA/3.34 FIP in 60.2 IP), Jason Adam (3 years, 2.98 ERA/3.99 FIP in 54.1 IP), or Andrew Kittridge (1 year, 3.09 ERA/3.43 FIP in 11.2 IP).
Of that group, Kittredge doesn’t make sense because I doubt he’s actually adding any value to the deal, and I’d avoid Poche who had a 4.55 xFIP. Of the other three, Jason Adam would make the most sense from the Rays’ perspective - he’s already projected to make $3 million next year in his first year of arbitration and he’ll be 32 next year. But he also looks more like just an average reliever so I’d hope he wouldn’t increase the return much. From the Cardinals’ perspective, I actually think Jalen Beeks makes the most sense. Doesn’t add much to the value, underlying stats still look solid, two years of a lefty reliever. Still has an option year remaining.
Looking through the Rays’ system, they are pretty weak at outfield, which is slightly scary. You’d think they’d need an infielder with the Wander Franco news, but no, they have three top 30 prospects (according to Fangraphs) at infield in their system. As in top 30 in baseball, not in their system. Two of them got MLB ABs this year, and the other is in the AFL right now and will be in AAA next year. They do not need a 40-45 future value infielder whatsoever. Which would pretty much leave one of: Alec Burleson, Victor Scott II, Chase Davis or Won Bin-Cho.
In theory, Burleson probably has too much trade value. In theory. I’m not completely bought into the stat but his DRC+ was 135. Despite his negative WAR, given his DRC+ plus his status as a former top 100 prospect, his trade value probably exceeds the 40-45 future value position player the rest of this group is in. 90 percent of you would be happy to make this trade, so please dear god do not say a single word if Burleson breaks out with the Rays. Which you know will happen.
As for the rest, I don’t think Cho has enough value. Scott II would be terrifying to trade and I kind of think his trade value should reflect that of a top 100 prospect personally. Which would be an overpay. Chase Davis kind of makes sense actually. I should be more scared to trade him than I am. Both Burleson and Davis make sense for different reasons, Davis probably has the potential you want in a trade for someone like Glasnow. So here are my two trade offers:
Tyler Glasnow and Jalen Beeks for Chase Davis
Tyler Glasnow and Jason Adam for Alec Burleson
There’s also the possibility that the Rays throw in money for a better prospect, but that is not a Rays move at all. My reliever idea is a way for the Rays to slightly boost Glasnow’s value without needing to pay for part of his contract, and it also helps accomplish the Cardinals’ goal of adding bullpen arms. The Rays have also been incredibly good at finding relievers and have never treated relievers like indispensable pieces of their team.