During the off-season, the Cardinal’s must acquire 3 starting pitchers, all of whom need to be higher performing than what can be reasonably expected from Mikolas and Matz. I’m not convinced the free agent market will produce more than one of these three. The trade market seems to be where the real action will be.
I’ve seen a lot of articles discussing potential trades, and most seem to start with who the Cardinal’s shouldn’t trade. I don’t understand this approach, as I sense that these are the players other teams will require to part with the kind of pitcher the Cardinals need. Here’s a look at potential trade-able assets, but more from the perspective of who can return the most value.
I group and list the Cardinal surpluses, and then rank the potential value each player in that group can return. I focus on the kind of players that will get me a premium pitcher, so you won’t see Richie Palacios, Mathew Liberatore or Luken Baker in this list. Each has a little note explaining what makes them valuable (or not) to other teams (which might not be what makes them valuable to the Cardinals). The higher the ranked player, the greater the return.
1. Herrera – Top 100 prospect, maybe even top 50 by the time off-season re-ranks are done. 6 years of control remain. Although, he is out of options, which diminishes his value.
2. Contreras – Reasonable contract. .800+ OPS. Sketch defense.
3. Knizner – No obvious value. Replacement level performance.
1. Donovan – Outstanding OBP, with positional flexibility. Improved slug increased value. Versatility mildly helpful. 5 years of control. Current injury rehab diminishes value.
2. Gorman – Showed significant advancement in first full year. Great power potential, improving defense at 2B. May even be average now. Athleticism under-rated. 5 years of control.
3. Winn – Top-100 prospect. Plus, if not plus-plus defense. Good athleticism and speed. Premium position. Probably not ready for MLB yet. May not be even an average hitter. Some (ie. rebuilding) teams might prefer Winn’s profile to Donovan’s, although less proven.
4. Edman – Proven. Great glove. Good speed, overall average to above average good player. Can play premium defensive positions, has value mostly at SS, where his offensive limitations are not a major factor and his defense is a plus. Only two years of control, entering age-29 season.
1. Nootbar – All around outstanding player. Plus defense, excellent OBP, good fundamentals. Projects to be a 4 WAR player (which don’t grow on trees) with 4 years of control remaining. Everyone will ask for him.
2. Walker – Offensive upside almost unlimited. Entering age 22 season. With full 6 years of control remaining. If defensive limitations can be overcome, might project to 5-6 WAR player. Some will prefer this profile to Nootbar’s, but less proven and defensive position is at the lower end of the spectrum.
3. Carlson – Strong defense, middling offense. Age 25 season. Profiles as average to slightly above average player in 3 WAR range. Inability to hit RH pitching a drag on profile. His lack of balance and leverage while hitting LH raises questions about overall athleticism and adaptability. 3 years of control, arb eligible. Injury prone.
4. Edman (yes, he appears in this group too) – Proven. Great glove. Good speed, overall average to above average good player. Can play premium defensive positions, appeared very projectable in CF during 2023, where his offensive limitations are not a major factor and his defense is a plus. Only two years of control, entering age-29 season.
5. O’Neill – That 2021 season. Was it a fluke or a hint? Combination of outstanding defense, speed, power and demonstrated ability to put up a 5-6 WAR season (again, these don’t grow on trees). Only 1 year remaining, injury prone.
(NOTE: it is hard to view the Cardinal’s MiLB talent as surplus right now, and harder still to consider trading pitching when they need….pitching).
1. Tink Hence – Has reached AA in age 20 season. Didn’t do well in his first go-around in that league, but it is an offense heavy league where a 5.00 ERA is about average. Top 100 talent. Is at least another year plus away, in terms of innings, age and development.
2. Tekoah Roby – Did well at AAA late in season. AFL may show how ready he is for MLB. Projects as mid-range starter, may crack top 100 in end of season re-ranks. Innings limits and injury history diminish value.
3. Zach Thompson – Improving K-BB ratio, 5 years of control, moving from prospect to proven. Entering age 26 season. Projects as Low-end LH starter, or possibly high leverage LH reliever.
That is what I see as the tradeable talent that could return the pitching the Cardinal’s need. I’m unenthused at the idea of trading pitching to get pitching but suspect that most rebuilding teams will want both position player(s) and at least one of these pitchers to part with a good-to-great starter.
I look at this off-season less a question of which of these guys do I NOT want to trade, but more as, I’d rather be good without them than be mediocre with them. I’ve already seen that product. It is not pretty.
My view is, the Cardinal’s (and their fans) need to expect to trade 1 or even 2 players from each surplus if they want to acquire the starting pitching talent they need. They also probably need to expect to deal from the top of these decks, not the bottom. Example: Nootbar and Walker would bring a lot more back than any of the other OFers.
Probably the only exclusion I’d accept is they shouldn’t trade both Edman AND Winn.
I’m willing to see any of these guys traded. Pitching and Defense wins.