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A look at the returns for the Montgomery and Hicks trades

Hard to complain about the return honestly

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Amarillo Sod Poodles v Frisco Roughriders Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images

It is truly a bizarre feeling to learn about the Cardinals making two trades immediately upon waking up from a long nap, the type of nap where you feel out of it 30 minutes after waking up. It was information overload. First thing I did was groggily find the names involved in the trade, which was surprisingly unhelpful because I realized “oh yeah I don’t know other teams’ prospects, this information means nothing to me.”

But now that I’ve properly digested the trade and learned everything I could about the players the Cardinals received, it was a very good day for John Mozeliak. The one complaint one could possibly deliver at him is that they didn’t receive an MLB ready now 2024 rotation piece, but Jordan Montgomery, Chris Stratton, and Jordan Montgomery were never going to return that. We also have, at the time you’re reading this, one day and some amount of hours to still do that. Not that I expect it.

Let’s break down the two trades.

Jordan Montgomery, Chris Stratton, and international bonus pool money for RHP Tekoah Roby, IF Thomas Saggasse, and LHP John King

First things first, you can basically ignore the John King part of this trade. The Cardinals need to fill out an MLB roster to finish out their season and the Rangers may have considered DFA’ing King, so this was probably just removing some extra steps. King is an extreme groundball pitcher, with a 61.7 GB% and that’s about his only good quality. He doesn’t strike anybody out - career 16.3 K% but it’s been 13% the past two seasons. He walks a below average amount of hitters, as I would certainly hope given the strikeouts.

With all that said, he does have a career 3.86 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, and 3.52 SIERA. So that’s not terrible actually. He also will have an option year remaining after this season. He feels like a guy the Cardinals will and probably should nontender after the season, but I do like that he has an option remaining if they do decide to bring him back for the 2024 season. But his inclusion is merely a sidenote, as I highly doubt he factored into the transaction value whatsoever other than just giving the Cardinals someone who can pitch in the bullpen to finish 2023.

Roby comes from the 2020 draft and his main drawback is injuries. He made just six starts in 2021, though he struck out 38.9% of hitters in Low A at 19-years-old which are the stats you want to see if someone is only making six starts. He was put in High A at 20-years-old the next year, and held his own. He struck out 28.4% of batters and walked 7.9%, and his main flaw was allowing a ton of homers (19 in 21 starts, due primarily to an 18.1 HR/FB%). He’s made just 10 starts so far this season in AA and his advanced stats are more or less the same as High A, just without the home run problem and with a higher ERA (thanks to a 62.5 LOB% and .349 BABIP).

But you can’t only scout the stat line. Fangraphs helpfully shared the Texas Rangers top prospect list earlier this month and he was ranked 5th in their system. They give him four average or better pitchers (60 fastball, 55 slider, 70 curve, 50/55 change) with average command (50/55) and a 50 future value. Money quote:

“From a stuff and pitch execution standpoint, Roby was where it was expected Jack Leiter would be when Leiter was drafted. He looked like a slam dunk impact starter and one of Texas’ better deadline trade chips before the injury. The 2024 season is his 40-man evaluation year, so unless he comes back this year and kicks the door down, we’re more likely looking at a 2025 debut.”

Here’s what Keith Law had to say about Roby:

“Prior to (his injury), he was 92-96 mph with a plus changeup, 50/55 slider, and a yakker of a curveball that he started throwing way more often than the slider, presumably because it was so effective. It’s better control than command right now, although his control keeps improving and he didn’t walk more than one batter in any of his last seven outings. He projects as a No. 2 starter, although there’s a ton of variance here with his shoulder issue this year and an elbow injury in 2021 that didn’t require surgery. He should return before the end of August.”

Basically, he’s a potential top of the rotation starter who is only not a better prospect because of injuries. Which is not a small thing. But that is an incredible get for Montgomery.

The other piece of the trade, Saggasse, seem to be the “grab the best value you can” mantra. Saggassee has played primarily 2B this season along with some starts at SS, but he played a fair number of games at 3B last year as well. The last thing the Cardinals need is an infield prospect. But value is value and he might either get traded or a spot will open up from trades. Plus there’s this:

I would expect him to get some games in at outfield this year then if that’s really how they feel. Saggasse was also drafted in the 2020 draft, is also 21-years-old, and is also in AA. For as close to the majors as these two players are, they are some young guys for a two-month rental. Saggasse has done nothing but hit in the minors. In the 2021 season, at 19, he had a 127 wRC+. He had a 127 wRC+ in High A the next season, and he has a 133 wRC+ in AA.

From an offensive standpoint, he’s not really like Donovan at all. He’s willing to take a walk, but I wouldn’t expect a great walk rate (8.2% in AA). He hasn’t had problems striking out, but he’s not especially adept at avoiding it (22.8% in AA). But on the bright side, he’s shown way more power than Donovan did. He had a .179 ISO in High A last season and that’s his lowest mark as a professional. He also hasn’t posted a BABIP lower than .351 at any level he’s been at, so I imagine his contact tool is pretty good.

Let’s go to the scouting reports. From Fangraphs, he ranks 17th in the Rangers’ system:

“Saggese has a very old school baseball vibe about him: no batting gloves, a simple, wristy swing that sprays fastballs the other way, and sound infield defense reliant on effort and feel more than athleticism. Saggese is best at recognizing and punishing breaking balls. A majority of his extra-base hits so far in 2023 have come against sliders, which he tracks and whacks with robot-like precision”

And maybe take these scouting reports with a grain of salt because Law directly contradicts what FG wrote about him here, which I found amusing:

“Infielder Thomas Saggese has taken a significant step forward at the plate this year with a .314/.380/.514 line for Double-A Frisco as a 21-year-old, already matching his career high in homers. He’s split his time almost evenly between second base and third base and should be able to play either position at an average level. He’s aggressive at the plate but doesn’t miss too often, having some trouble with breaking stuff since he got to Double A. I wrote this winter that I thought he’d peak around 45/50 power, but it looks like I was wrong as he’s already there and should get to at least 55 power. I think he’s a solid regular with a chance to be something like a 4-WAR guy in his best years. Saggese alone would be a nice return for two months of Montgomery”

So.. is he good against breaking balls or not? Law had the more glowing review so either way, he seems like a very good get.

All in all, the Cardinals get a high upside starting pitcher, a very Cardinals prospect in Saggasse, and a you could do worse reliever for two months of Montgomery and Stratton.

Jordan Hicks for Sam Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein

So the Montgomery trade was good, no doubt, but I do feel like that was basically a fair return. I’m going to have difficulty accepting this trade is anything but a steal. For two months of Jordan Hicks - and maybe 0.5 fWAR - the Cardinals got two legitimate starting pitching prospects. And when I say legitimate, I mean has a chance to stick at starter. I’m just one of those people who has a lot of trouble wrapping my head around how much relievers go for at the trading deadline.

Like I’ve read online and Blue Jays fans seem happy with it, and there’s not a lot of criticism about the Blue Jays making the trade, but I’m having an incredible amount of difficulty thinking this is a fair price for Hicks. He is finally actually having the results match his stuff, but I still feel like he’s just as likely to be a replacement level reliever as an elite one over the next two months.

Here’s how much I like the trade. Usually when the Cardinals make trades, I wish I could root for who leaves, but I have trouble doing so because I am very tired of the fanbase making a big deal out of anybody succeeding elsewhere. The sample size does not matter. Genesis Cabrera is already being cited! But with Hicks? I want him to do well. Because pretty sure the guys the Cardinals got back can make this trade look like a success.

Here’s Law on Robberse:

“He was signed at 16 out of the Netherlands as a highly projectable pitcher with a great delivery and command for his age, but who was working in the mid-80s. He’s still mostly just 90-92 mph, topping out at 94 mph, with a 55 slider and curveball as well as a solid-average changeup, which should make him a back-end starter … but hitters get on his fastball, hitting nine of the 14 homers he’s allowed this year off the heater, and that propensity for hard contact keeps him from projecting as a starter right now. He won’t turn 22 until October so he’s young enough to find another 2-3 mph somewhere. That might make him a mid-rotation starter, whereas now he might just be an emergency call-up.

Interestingly, he says his stuff hasn’t progressed at all from last year, which I find interesting because - and I don’t know the hitting environments of either league - he had a 4.12 xFIP last year and a 4.11 xFIP. Obviously, xFIP isn’t the greatest stat, but to my eye, it looks like a similar pitcher to what he was last year at a higher level, and repeating the same stats at a higher level is generally a good thing. Also, he’s insanely young as he points out, 2023 was his age 21 season. Seriously, the Cardinals got some serious youth in these trades.

As for Kloffenstein, I think he’s extremely underrated by the prospect writers. I cannot figure out why he’s 23rd in MLB Pipeline’s updated rankings, and from a Baseball America writer, in the top 15 by him.

Again I’m probably more of a scout the stat line guy than is probably wise, but I do feel like stats + age + level gets you a long way towards knowing how desirable a player is. And a 22-year-old with a 27.6 K%, 8.9 BB%, 51.3 GB%, 3.24 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 3.36 xFIP at the AA level who is also by the way 6’5, 243 pounds and has a good mix of pitches I mean what am I missing here? He misses bats, gets groundballs, seems to have the ideal starter build, like how is he not a better prospect??

He’s the worse prospect of the two pitchers, but I kind of like him more? I don’t know, I love this return for Hicks.

For purely scorekeeping purposes, I have a question. So in a comment recently, I noted that the Jose Quintana trade has aged well. Malcolm Nunez has had a lost year in AAA and Johan Oviedo has pitched like a slightly below average starter. In all, the trade did what it was supposed to do: Stratton and Quintana were worth 3.1 fWAR in the last calendar year, Oviedo was worth 1.9 fWAR. Current for future value.

The trade tree continues but Stratton is not the main piece of this trade. So if you were to try to follow the scorekeeping aspect of that trade, how much credit does Stratton get for however this return performs? It does not matter, I am happy with the Quintana trade and the Montgomery trade, but if, say, the return gets 10 WAR while under team control, how much of that is Stratton? Any idea?

This is pretty likely not the end of the trading deadline, but it’s a very good start. I am curious if the Cardinals are tempted to keep Jack Flaherty just because they expect him to accept the qualified offer (or think there’s a good chance), but there’s just about no chance they don’t make at least one other trade before the deadline is up.