If you’ve been off the internet for the past 24 hours or so, you’ve missed a lot. The St. Louis Cardinals began their deadline moves by swapping a lefty for a righty after designating Genesis Cabrera for assignment and bringing in Ryan Tepera to take his place in the bullpen.
Beyond that, we have a whole lot of comments from John Mozeliak to break down. So buckle up, this article will cover a lot of ground.
Let’s start with the first move of the day. Genesis Cabrera is gone. And apparently he didn’t have much trade value because the Cardinals reportedly broached that option before settling for a straight DFA.
Genesis Cabrera’s gear has been cleared out. He’s been removed from the roster (DFA) following a discussion with management this weekend. Team had explored trade interest in him.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) July 17, 2023
Tyler O’Neill is not active today, though that decision is coming in the next few days.
As it turns out, it seems that Cabrera wanted more mound time and/or higher leverage situations and the Cardinals weren’t willing to oblige, which seems fair given his 5.06 ERA and 5.03 FIP.
Regarding Cabrera: Mozeliak and Marmol indicated it was time for “a change of scenery” for Cabrera. Cabby had grown frustrated by his usage and role and his recent performance was not going to change either area. #STLCards— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) July 17, 2023
So now Genesis Cabrera will find himself pitching for another organization. Or, at least, he’ll find himself somewhere other than St. Louis. And I gotta say, I’m a bit surprised that there wasn’t much trade interest in him. I get that the numbers have been bad this year and were bad last year but it still feels like somebody would be willing to take a chance on a guy who sits 96 and has two breaking balls with whiff rates above 40%.
Cabrera’s fastball simply hasn’t been good since 2021 but there’s a lot of pure stuff to work with here and it seems like a lefty with good stuff should be desirable around the league, regardless of his numbers. Perhaps teams knew they could hold out for a DFA instead of making a trade when the Cardinals called but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cabrera pitching for a new team pretty quickly. Whether that’s with a cellar dweller or a good pitching development team trying to fix his fastball remains to be seen.
For the record, I still think Genesis Cabrera can be an effective reliever but it simply won’t happen in St. Louis and I can’t blame the team for parting ways with him considering the circumstances.
There are repercussions for the Cardinals. JoJo Romero and Zack Thompson are now the only left-handed relievers on the roster and both now have the opportunity to earn a role as the top lefty out of the bullpen. We’ve seen Thompson pitch effectively in that role before but after a weird and disastrous stint as a starter in Triple-A for Thompson, it’s been JoJo Romero who has been quietly effective.
The reliever has pitched his way to a 2.93 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 15.1 innings this year, including 5 straight scoreless innings. For someone in his last option year, this could be a valuable opportunity for him to prove that he belongs on the major league roster next year. This is also a great chance for Zack Thompson to re-establish himself after being off the major league radar for the last two months.
Ryan Tepera is the one directly taking Cabrera’s spot in the bullpen, though, considering his handedness, he won’t be filling the same role. As you would expect from a reliever available to sign in the middle of the season, Tepera’s season has not gone well.
He’s surrendered 7 earned run (and 9 runs overall) in just 8.2 innings, giving him a whopping 7.27 ERA and 5.71 FIP. It’s worth pointing out that while those numbers are bad, 4 of those earned runs came in just one appearance in which Tepera recorded just a single out, so beyond that, he has a 3.24 ERA in his other 9 appearances. He also has a perfect ERA in 10 minor league innings this year.
There’s not really enough of a sample size to read into anything yet but Tepera is coming off a solid three year stretch and posted a 3.61 ERA and 4.21 FIP last year. Is that great? Certainly not. But it’s serviceable. Plus Tepera is only 2 seasons removed from a 1.6 fWAR season, which is highly impressive from a reliever.
He’s not likely to return to that form at age 35 but there may still be a solid reliever in him somewhere.
Tepera is a primary slider pitcher, and has been for a few years, which is uncommon but not that uncommon for a reliever and especially for an older reliever. What’s interesting about Tepera, specifically, is how he’s adapted his arsenal over the years.
In the early years of his career, the righty threw a lot of cutters, routinely using the pitch as his primary offering. That changed in 2021 when he morphed his cutter into a true slider and threw it 44.5% of the time while never throwing a pitch that registered as a cutter. He kept up that trend in 2022 but this year he’s added a sweeper to his slider.
The slider is still his primary pitch so far at 37.2% usage, but the sweeper is Tepera’s third most used pitch at 14.7%. Both pitches have about average movement but the cutter/slider has proven to be a bat-misser over the course of Tepera’s career, routinely posting whiff rates above 40%.
Throwing a sweeper, while trendy, may not be necessary for Tepera considering the quality of his regular slider. Now it may not hurt to throw the pitch and Tepera likely has the ability to make it an effective offering, but he’s probably fine focusing on his slider too. The fastball is really where Tepera could be optimized.
The reliever throws both a four-seamer and a sinker but it’s the sinker I prefer despite the four-seamer seeing heavier career usage. And the reason is simple. Tepera’s four-seamer has steadily lost velocity and movement with the pitch now sitting at 91.7 mph and 15.6 inches of drop. Not overwhelming stuff there.
His sinker looks much better, though. The pitch has weirdly been thrown much harder this year at 93.1 mph and it gets an above average 17.1 inches of run. To make things even better, the pitch gets a ton of axis deviation spinning at 1:00 out of the hand and spinning at 2:00 when it crosses the plate. That means that not only does the pitch get above average run, it gets a lot of late run.
The Cardinals really love sinkers and Tepera seems like a pitcher who can improve by throwing more of them. That’s a good match on paper. This may not be an exciting move but I’m a fan of taking a chance on an arm with a history of success and an opportunity to improve with a simple arsenal adjustment.
Plus the Cardinals will need innings if they are going to trade away pitching. It doesn’t hurt to take a shot on Tepera and see if he can fill a void.
This is where we turn our attention from the Genesis Cabrera/Ryan Tepera bullpen exchange to the extensive comments made by Mo yesterday. Let’s start with the outfield situation.
#STLCards manager Oli Marmol said the starting outfield going forward -- until the trade deadline, at least -- will be Tyler O'Neill (LF), Lars Nootbaar (CF) & Jordan Walker (RF).— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) July 17, 2023
Oli: "At the end of the day everyone's gotten an opportunity & we can feel comfortable about that."
Marmol conceded that a "blunt" conversation with Carlson was/is part of settling playing time over the next few weeks.— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) July 17, 2023
Bear in mind that a lot could change between now and August 2. Nootbaar and Walker will certainly both still be here. The other two? We'll see.
Yet again, Dylan Carlson is the odd man out. This could portend a trade for him. It could mean the Cardinals are shopping Tyler O’Neill and want to give him two weeks to showcase his talents and prove that he’s healthy. Who knows? At this point, though, it’s hard to be surprised that Dylan Carlson is the odd man out.
I am expecting at least one of the two to be traded. I’ve argued in favor of a trade for Carlson if the Cardinals aren’t going to use him, although I would prefer Carlson on the roster, and, specifically, in center field. Of the two, I still think O’Neill is the more likely one to be traded considering the injury history, the public frustration that the organization has shown with him at times, and the fact that he has just one more year of control left.
The Cardinals could also choose to hold onto everyone but that seems the least likely option to me with the team being committed to Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker.
And while we’re discussing players who didn’t exactly receive a vote of confidence, the topic of catching came up again, and, well, Mo apparently wasn’t very committal to the guy who just signed a 5-year deal.
Something to note: #STLCards are going out of their way to say intention isn’t to trade Arenado and Goldschmidt, but are stopping short on other forward looking commitments. One of those is Willson Contreras as primary catcher. Described as a topic better revisited in offseason.— Ben Frederickson (@Ben_Fred) July 17, 2023
It might not be a great look to hesitate to commit to a catcher in the first year of a big contract but, honestly, I’m okay with it. Ivan Herrera is good. He’s improved a lot this year with him crushing the ball and receiving a lot of credit for his defense progression. I’m okay with the Cardinals tabling the primary catcher discussion until the offseason to see what Herrera can do with the rest of this season.
And this comes after the news that Herrera will be the primary backup to Contreras, so I think it’s safe to say that it’s Herrera who will be getting the chance to play more, not Knizner.
I recently discussed Herrera’s trade candidacy and the point of that piece was that Herrera is too good to not get a real chance. At the time of that writing, I was unsure that the young backstop would get a chance to prove himself so I argued that if that would indeed be the case then Herrera would have more value as a trade centerpiece.
If Herrera is going to be the given an honest chance to play despite the presence of Contreras, then I would much rather have Herrera on this team. He’s a talented player who feels underrated and, as a bit of a post-hype prospect, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 23 years old. It’s fair to question the Contreras signing but I’m all for the Cardinals splitting time behind the plate between Herrera and Contreras next year if Herrera proves capable.
Trade Deadline Strategy
When it comes to what the Cardinals will do at the trade deadline, Mo made it clear - they’ll look for pitching and for guys who can help next year.
John Mozeliak spoke extensively to media today and confirmed the Cardinals are committing to selling this deadline and the focus will indeed be “pitching, pitching and pitching.”— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) July 17, 2023
More soon on @TheAthleticMLB. #STLCards
Mozeliak said the team would be seeking to return talent in trades "that we think can help emerge in 2024."— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) July 17, 2023
He "wouldn't rule out" 2025, but said, "2026 is a long way away."
Important because it implies that the club doesn't view compensatory picks for QOs as very valuable.
This makes sense. The Cardinals have a ton of bats. What they don’t have is a ton of good pitching. The bullpen has been bad, especially recently, and the rotation has a bunch of holes next year.
So given the two principles laid out above, I would expect to see the Cardinals trade from positions of depth to add controllable, MLB-ready (or near MLB-ready) pitching. And the players they shop are likely going to be the ones on expiring contracts or the ones who aren’t necessarily going to be a huge part of the team next year.
That’s Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery. Probably Jordan Hicks too. Chris Stratton and Drew VerHagen are firmly in that group as well, though VerHagen probably doesn’t have much value on the market. And that’s just on the pitching side. Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Paul DeJong, and maybe even Tommy Edman could see themselves playing in a different uniform as part of the Cardinals effort to bolster next year’s pitching staff.
I don’t know what the Cardinals are going to do but it’s starting to become clear that they’re going to do something. And this is where the last line of Jeff Jones’ tweet matters. If the Cardinals want help for next year, they almost certainly will trade Jordan Montgomery, their most attractive trade chip, instead of waiting to give him a qualifying offer in the offseason. The same is probably true of Jack Flaherty.
I would be surprised if both pitchers were still on the team on August 2nd. I would be less surprised if only one of them was on the team on August 2nd. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were both pitching elsewhere by then. Again, we’ll see what happens, but the Cardinals seem primed to be active.
And, they won’t stop there.
John Mozeliak, in nearly 30 minutes with reporters, says priority is to add pitching, pitching — at & beyond deadline.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) July 17, 2023
Says team will definitely have to sign a free-agent pitcher this winter. There’s no other way he sees to complete a retooling of the rotation to contend in ‘24.
I think it’s safe to say the Cardinals will bring in at least one pitcher at the deadline and at least one in free agency. That would give the team a rotation of two outside acquisitions, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, and whoever claims the fifth spot. I don’t think the Cardinals will be content with an open competition for the fifth spot either. Not after the way this year has played out. So, I could be wrong, but I’m expecting three starting pitchers to join the team via trade or free agency after hearing Mozeliak’s comments.
And what kind of pitchers will the Cardinals bring in? It’s becoming clear that the organization see the need to pivot from a pitch-to-contact oriented approach to more of a swing-and-miss approach.
It’s refreshing to hear the Cardinals acknowledge that their pitching philosophy needs to change and it will hopefully lead to an improved pitching staff next year, and a pitching staff that is less reliant on a defense that has faded dramatically this season.
Monday was an exciting day. The team switched around the bullpen a bit and made their goals clear. I may disagree with the way the outfield is being handled, but I do like that the Cardinals are open Herrera to giving Herrera a real chance and I do like that they see the need to add pitchers and change the overall philosophy.
This trade deadline is set to be different from any trade deadline we’ve even seen under Mozeliak and the president of baseball operations sounds determined to make sure it’s just a one time thing. Actions count more than words, though, and with the trade deadline coming up in two weeks, we’ll soon get to see if the actions fall in line.
Thanks for reading, VEB.