As the MLB trade deadline inches closer and closer more and more rumors circulate. With the St. Louis Cardinals in need of at least a roster retool, they have been at the forefront of those rumors with most discussing the names the club is going to sell off. However, there have been a few rumors to sneak through the cracks that detail some names the team might look to add to help in 2024 and beyond. The most intriguing of those names is Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Logan Gilbert. Gilbert, who is in his third year in the bigs, has a lifetime 3.81 ERA, 3.59 FIP and averaged 8.9 strikeouts per nine. Acquiring Gilbert would likely result in the Cardinals giving up one or two significant pieces and it would be a major statement by the organization as to what their intentions are for the 2024 season. But the main question for me is should the Cards actually trade for the Stetson alum?
Prior to this season Gilbert was touted as a good not great starter. I know he pitched to a 3.20 ERA last season, but the underlying metrics like a 4.11 xERA indicated that he was a bit lucky. This year, that has not been the case, he carries a 3.57 xERA (72nd percentile) and 3.66 FIP both of which are lower than his 3.88 ERA. Gilbert has always been a pitcher who excels at limiting walks with a walk rate of 6.4 percent or lower in every season (4.4 percent this year). He’s never been a strikeout artist with his highest k rate coming in his rookie season at 25.4 percent, with it being 24.4 percent (59th percentile) this season.
What Gilbert struggled with prior to this year was keeping batters on the ground. In 2021 and 2022 his ground ball rate was 33.4 and 37.8 percent. This year it has jumped up to 42.3 percent, still a below average number, but also still a notable improvement.
Gilbert isn’t a pitcher who possesses plus stuff as his spin rates are well below average across the board and his pitch movement is relatively average. His four seamer which is his most used pitch at 41.7 percent this season has an xwOBA of .340 against it which is marginally worse than his curveball which has a .336 xwOBA against it. There is a silver lining with his stuff though as he debuted a splint finger this season that has a whiff rate of 33.1 percent and has an xBA against of .166. He’s only thrown it 14 percent of the time this season but it’s a pitch that can grow in effectiveness and usage as he gets more comfortable with it.
What makes Gilbert a dynamic pitcher is his extension (how far he releases the ball from the mound). Overall, his extension is in the 99th percentile and his average four seam extension is 7.6 feet. The advantage of this is the closer the ball is released to the plate the less time hitters have to recognize spin and react and the higher the perceived velocity meaning his average four seam velo of 95.4 MPH likely looks like 97-98 MPH.
Gilbert is a super two player meaning he is eligible for four years of arbitration instead of the traditional three. This will result in Gilbert costing a bit more than the average arbitration player, but he will still be more than cost effective over the next couple of seasons. Because of his four years or arbitration Gilbert won’t be a free agent until after the 2027 season.
This is where things get tricky. Because of his contractual control and marked improvement this season, the Mariners are likely to demand a haul for him. It is almost a guarantee that Seattle would demand one of the Cardinals young, controllable outfielders as a part of the deal in Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar. Personally, I think the Cardinals would and should balk at including Nootbaar because of his ever-growing ceiling, so we will use Carlson as the headline piece in the deal. The next tier of the trade will feature one of the Cardinals better prospects to compliment Carlson and I think the Mariners would target Cooper Hjerpe to be that secondary piece. It would be difficult for St. Louis to lose Hjerpe, a 22-year-old lefty who has been decent this season, but he is no sure thing as highlighted by his 23 walks in 39 ⅓ innings pitched. The third piece in this deal would be Joshua Baez, a lottery ticket prospect that teams like to target in deals of this nature. However, I don’t know if that is even enough to get Gilbert as it is more than possible Seattle demands someone like Ivan Herrera or Max Rajcic to be the third player, but this does feel like the base structure for this trade.
Yes, the Cardinals should make this trade, even if it requires for them to include a better prospect in place of Baez. Gilbert is a young starter who at worst is going to be a contending teams third pitcher and will more likely be a solid two, especially if his splint finger continues to flash potential. Pitching as always is at a premium and St. Louis does not have much of it for next season. Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright are all set to become free agents this offseason and Matthew Liberatore has been awful this season across his 32 MLB innings. If they want any chance at contending next season, acquiring a pitcher like Gilbert is a must.