The St. Louis Cardinals rotation is in a weird spot. At the top, it features Miles Mikolas who is coming off of a strong 2022 season. Behind him is Jordan Montgomery who flashed in the second half of the season with St. Louis and Jack Flaherty who hasn’t been healthy much the last few seasons. After them is Steven Matz, a good but not great starter, and Adam Wainwright who is set to start the season on the IL.
One of Dakota Hudson or Matthew Liberatore will likely fill in for Waino with the other next in line if anyone else was to go down, which is concerning. As a result of the lack of depth and question marks in Flaherty and Waino, the Cardinals will likely need to at some point bring in a starter who can slot into the team’s front 3. That’s difficult to find at this point in the off-season as most teams are looking to add rather than subtract pitching depth. However, the Miami Marlins have depth and are always looking for bats which the Cardinals have in spades.
The trade - Miami Marlins receive Dylan Carlson - St. Louis Cardinals received Jesus Luzardo.
Now I know on BaseballTradeValues.com this deal is very one sided with the Cardinals giving up way too much. However, I believe the site overrates Carlson as to them he is worth more than Emmanuel Clase as well as Triston McKenzie. And needless to say, there’s about a negative percent chance either of those players are worth less than Carlson or would be swapped for him.
Why does Miami do it?
Well, for starters they are in desperate need of bats. The organization has already traded starter Pablo Lopez and two minor leaguers to the Minnesota Twins for reigning batting champ Luis Arraez and are reportedly eyeing more hitters. Even after that deal, the Marlins are still organizationally deep with pitchers as four of their top five prospects are pitchers. Then at the MLB level they have reigning NL CY Young winner Sandy Alcantara, a future ace in Edward Cabrera, and a reliable vet in Johnny Cueto.
On the flip side, their outfield depth organizationally is very poor. They have Jazz Chisholm Jr. a star in his own right in center, but outside of that it is rough. Former top-100 prospect Jesus Sanchez struggled last season and Avisail Garcia and Jorge Soler are uninspiring veteran bats who could be moved at the deadline. Then in the minors just 3 of their top 30 prospects are true outfielders, which means the Marlins need another outfielder and badly.
Enter Dylan Carlson. He is coming off of a second consecutive poor season, which is enough to give some people understandable pause on this trade idea. However, he checks off multiple boxes that every team likes. Switch hitter, check, pre-arbitration, check, solid defensive center fielder, check, prospect pedigree? Also, a check. Now both Luzardo and Carlson are set to become free agents in 2027. However, Luzardo, unlike Carlson has four years of arbitration, with this year being his first meaning he will cost significantly more in the long run.
Lastly, no matter how much Carlson struggles at the dish, his glove and base running are always going to bring value highlighted by his combined 5 WAR the past two seasons.
Why St. Louis does it?
First off, as highlighted above, the Cardinals need another pitcher and preferably one who can slot into the middle of the rotation which Luzardo can. Importantly as well, Luzardo brings four years of team control, and the Cardinals badly need long term, affordable starters. Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty are all set to become free agents this offseason, meaning St. Louis must address this issue before it becomes an actual problem.
Additionally, excluding Carlson the team has a surplus of potential outfielders for this season in Lars Nootbaar, Jordan Walker, Tyler O’Neill, Juan Yepez, and Alec Burleson, meaning they can afford to let Carlson go.
What does Luzardo bring to the table?
An elite slider
2022 stats - .167 xBA, .282 xSLG, .236 xwOBA, 41.3 percent
Spin rate - 2,325 RPM, 39.6 inches vertical movement (1.3 inches above average), 1.1 inches horizontal movement (5.4 inches below average)
Luzardo’s slider is not impressive when it comes to its spin rate or movement, but it has been a weapon for him. He threw it 30.1 percent of the time last season, a 1.3 percent uptick from 2021 and I would expect that number to grow again this season. It holds up well as a back foot slider to righties and one that runs away from lefties. The active spin on this pitch is very unimpressive as it was at 14 percent last season, so if he can get that number up a bit, this pitch might truly take off.
A four seamer that plays up in the zone
2022 stats - .226 xBA, .400 xSLG, .303 xwOBA, whiff rate 16.2 percent
Spin rate - 96.3 MPH, 2,207 RPM (35th percentile), 14.7 inches vertical movement (1 in below avg), 13.5 inches horizontal movement (5.8 in above average)
Like his slider, the movement and spin rate numbers on this pitch do not jump off of the screen. However, this is a pitch that produced solid expected metrics last season and if located properly it can become a strong number 2 pitch. With its velocity needs to be thrown at the top of the zone or away off of his slider. It is never going to become one of the more dominant fastballs in the league, but he does not need it to be so. He threw this pitch 28.8 percent of the time last season, and I would expect that number to be around the same, with maybe a slight increase in 2023.
A solid changeup
2022 stats - .219 xBA, . 346 xSLG, .297 xwOBA, whiff rate 44.9 percent
Spin rate - 1,900 RPM, 27.7 inches vertical movement (2.5 inches below average), 15.6 horizontal movement (1.3 inches above average)
I really like this pitch for Luzardo and what it brings to his repertoire. It gives him a pitch at a different speed than his slider and four seamer as well as a pitch that runs away from righties and in on lefties. In 2023 I would like to see him up the usage of this pitch from 22.6 percent somewhat heavily as I think it plays off of his upper 90s fastball really well.
Luzardo also features a sinker, but the metrics are poor on it and have been for the past two seasons. Personally, I think if he were to scrap it completely it would help out his repertoire quite significantly.
I understand there is going to be some concern in acquiring Luzardo due to his injury history. However, I think he has enough of a ceiling that it makes him worth the gamble. If Luzardo stays healthy over the course of a full season, he could be a solid number 2 starter on a championship-caliber team which is exactly what this Cardinals team needs.