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Evaluating a Wild Trade Deadline By Outcome Tiers

The trade deadline has come and gone. With the dust settling, how did the club do?

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

A week ago – an eternity ago – I wrote an article entitled “Three Tiers of Trade Deadline Outcomes”. It was my most creative headline of the season. (Insert sarcasm font.)

In that piece, I laid out my view on what it would take to make this trade deadline a successful one for the Cardinals. I ranked potential outcomes in three tiers, plus a bonus worst-case scenario for you negative nancies. My prognostication was based mostly on whether the Cardinals’ roster needs for 2024 and their stated desire to compete again next season matched up with the talent acquired at the deadline.

The trade deadline has come and gone. It’s been a wild and fairly exhausting few days.

The Cardinals traded away 6 players. They added 10 new talents to their system.

What are the results? Did the Cardinals’ succeed? That’s what we’re here to find out! And we can use my pre-published tiers to help determine the answer.

Before we do that, a word of caution. I know some claim that you shouldn’t evaluate trades for several years. Players, particularly prospects, need time to prove who they are and reach their potential. Generally, I agree with that sentiment. But not in this case.

Every player the Cardinals moved was going to be gone after the season. There’s no “coulda been” with these guys. What they do from this point forward is pretty much irrelevant to our trade analysis. Jordan Montgomery could throw 8 consecutive perfect games for the Rangers (I want to see this happen) and the Cardinals still should have moved him.

So, we’ll just analyze these trades based on the information we have today. And we’ll hope everything works out tomorrow.

Let’s start by looking at each of the tiers I put forward. Then we’ll slide the prospects and players acquired in the deadline trades (including the Genesis Cabrera deal) into each tier and see how the Cardinals did.

Tier 1: “I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw!”
1. A Cost-Controlled #2-3 Caliber Starter
2. A MLB-Ready Contender for the ’24 Rotation
3. 1-2 Bullpen Contenders
4. Position Player Depth
Odds: <15%

Tier 2: “That’s a Winner.”
1. A Roster-Lock Starter
2. A MLB-Ready Contender for the ’24 Rotation
3. 1-2 MLB-Ready Bullpen Contenders
4. Position Player Depth
Odds: 50%

Tier 3: “So Long From the Ballpark.”
1. Settling for Qualifying Offers for Montgomery and/or Flaherty
2. 1-2 Cost-Controlled MLB Bullpen Arms
3. 1-2 MLB Ready Swing/Rotation Arms
4. Position Player Depth
Odds: 35%

A Cost-Controlled #2-3 Caliber Starter

RHP Tekoah Roby: Roby is a hard one to place. With just a handful of starts at AA and an injury, I can’t list him as an “MLB-ready contender for the ’24 rotation”. He should start at AAA next season and find his way into the rotation at some point but he probably doesn’t have much chance of breaking camp with the club as a starter. That places him ahead of someone like Tink Hence in the rotation depth chart but well behind more experienced arms in Graceffo or Liberatore.

So why did I place him in this category? Despite being a full season away, Roby has clear #2-3 caliber stuff. Maybe better; I’ve heard a few people speak those magic words “top of the rotation starter” about Roby. And 2025 isn’t that far away. That’s within Mo’s announced target range for arrival time. With a high-level upside but a bit of time to reach it, this seems like the best landing spot on my somewhat restrictive tiers list. So here he sits. But I also acknowledge that he’s not the kind of plug-and-play #2 or #3 starter that I implied in my post. That spot remains unfilled for next season.

Because of that, there’s no way that this trade deadline can reach “I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw” status.

A Roster-Lock Starter

The Cardinals desperately need to fill out their 2024 rotation. While they acquired multiple peices who are likely to contend for a spot next season, none of them fit the monicker “roster lock”. That does push a lot of pressure to the offseason. Trades and free agent signings are now imperative. But they have a lot of new depth, all of their cost-controlled talent, and the needed budget space.

MLB-Ready Contender for the ’24 Rotation

RHP Sem Robberse – I’ll admit that I’m having trouble placing both Robberse and Kloffenstein (see below) on this list. Robberse is just 21. He has 23 starts at AA in his pro career and the Cardinals seem set to promote him to AAA when he arrives. He’ll enter next season with about the same level of AA/AAA experience as Graceffo. That means he is unlikely to fight his way into the rotation out of Spring Training, but is very likely to have a shot at MLB starts all season long. Prospect ranking sites see him as a solid 4/5 caliber starter on a contending team. In my oft-mentioned list of MLB-ready SP contenders for next season, I would place him third. Graceffo has the most talent. Liberatore has the most experience – and will get a shot to sink or swim over the next two months. As of today, Robberse slides in ahead of (in no particular order) Thompson, Pallante, Kloffenstein, and Rom. There’s still a better-than-average chance that Robberse sees the bullpen instead of the rotation next season – and maybe for his career. But as of today, he’s almost exactly the kind of player I was thinking of for this classification. A very nice get for the Cardinals!

MLB-Ready Swing Arm

RHP Adam Kloffenstein – Kloffenstein is also heading to AAA. He is a full year older than Robberse, but still just 22. He has 35 AA starts under his belt. He can move up on the Cardinal’s depth chart very quickly. His performance is also better than Robberse at AA. So, why doesn’t Kloffenstein fit above him? Why list him as a “swing” arm? The difference is found in the prospect rankings for both players. MLB, for example, has Robberse listed 6th in the Cardinals organization. Kloffenstein is 23rd. Most other respectable prospect sites agree. A few place Kloffenstein higher. That’s a gap that’s too hard for me to ignore without scouting both players more extensively. Based on what I’ve seen, I would place Kloffenstein higher than that, but it’s enough of a reason for me to temper expectations.

For now, I think Kloffenstein fits pretty comfortably into the role that Jake Woodford or Daniel Ponce de Leon have filled in the past. I can understand if you don’t like those names, so maybe try Andre Pallante or perhaps Austin Gomber (in StL) on for size. The Cardinals never cleared space for any of those arms to stick in the rotation. There were always better prospects or more expensive free agents ahead of them. As the 5-6th best candidate for the 5th rotation spot next year, Kloffenstein could find himself always on the outside looking in but always right there when he’s needed. That’s the definition of a swing arm. And those players can prove very valuable for a contending club.

LHP Drew Rom – Fair warning, I’m writing this up 45 minutes after the Flaherty trade broke, so this is a very fresh and raw opinion. With 18 starts in AAA in ‘23 and 7 last season, 123 innings total, Rom is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get arm. What I see is not an arm I like in the ’24 rotation. Yes, he has some solid results. A 4.21 FIP in AAA at age 23 is ok. Especially when he had a 3.16 FIP last season in a small sample size. Better is the 10.47 K/9 and 25.1% K rate this season. What troubles me is his 11.5% walk rate. And I just can’t get over the “30” rating that Fangraphs places on his fastball. Maybe I just have Liberatore fatigue, but I’m skeptical about a lefty with an underwhelming fastball and a good command profile that hasn’t translated into low walk totals. Rom looks like a bullpen arm to me. Shorter outings would allow his average velocity to play up to its peak and make the most use out of his quality breaking pitches. Still, with all of those AAA starts and holes in the rotation right now, I can’t list him in the “bullpen contenders” line. He fits as a swing arm for now.

Position Player Depth

INF Thomas Saggese – Saggese perfectly fits the profile that I was thinking of with this category. He’s a high-floor, contact-oriented player with some power and average walk ability who has played second, third, and some shortstop. He’s exactly the kind of talent that the Cardinals have consistently turned into quality Major League players. Personally, I don’t like the comparisons some are making to Brendan Donovan; Donovan’s hitting profile centers too much around his batting eye. If I stick to past Cardinals for a comp, then I would throw out Adam Kennedy without the defensive peak. Or Jedd Gyorko with less power. (Maybe that player is Craig Paquette, as suggested by Kyle Reis.) Regardless of the comp you prefer, that’s a very Cardinals addition!

INF Cesar Prieto – Prieto, like Saggese, is another player who fits perfectly into this classification. He’s an extreme contact bat, with limited Ks and BBs. He has some power – mostly gap doubles – and average defensive ability. I don’t have a ton of information on him at this point but if I had to comp him to anyone in the Cardinals’ past that our average reader would know, it would probably be Aledmys Diaz. And not just because Prieto is a Cuban defector. Their profile coming out of Cuba looks similar. Prieto probably has a better hit tool and likely can’t play much SS, but otherwise, they have a similar skill set. Prieto could reach the majors this year with Donovan heading for arm surgery and his presence should eliminate the need for a player like Jose Fermin in years to come. That’s exactly the kind of player I asked the Cardinals to get. They did. No complaints.

C Sammy Hernandez – Hernandez was acquired in the trade that sent Genesis Cabrera to the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s a 19-year-old catcher drafted in the 14th round of the 2022 draft. He’s a long way from the majors but has an intriguing defensive profile. The organization can never have enough catchers and all it takes is a little offense for a catching prospect to provide Major League depth.

Bullpen Contenders

LHP John King – King hits the bullpen immediately and will help with innings for the rest of the season. Beyond that? Well, the team has a few years of control over him but he doesn’t have an encouraging profile. His FIPs have been solid – career 3.86. That comes with an underwhelming 16.3% K rate that’s dropped over the last few seasons. King is a depth arm who could pitch his way into contention for next year’s pen. Or wait in AAA until needed. I kind of hope that’s the case.

RHP Matt Svanson – Svanson is old for a A/AA prospect at age 24. He’s a pure reliever. He has good velocity and has been able to generate Ks in the low minors. Even though we haven’t seen him at AA or above yet, I have a reasonable level of confidence that he can reach the majors and do that fairly quickly. If you’re a bullpen arm with swing-and-miss stuff, you’re going to find yourself in the roster-churn mix. What will Svanson be when he gets there? Who knows! He could be the next Kodi Whitley. Or the next Gio Gallegos. That’s the way of relievers. Either way, it’s a fine acquisition for a player in Paul DeJong that many wanted to trade in the offseason or DFA out of Spring Training.

Bonus Baby Prospect

RHP Zack Showalter – I didn’t mention this category in the article as it really wasn’t something that was going to make or break the deadline. However, once the Cardinals added quite a few names to the top of the minors on Sunday, it seemed like a good idea to try to add some kind of high-upside talent to spread the system out on Tuesday. That’s exactly what Showalter is. He’s just 19. He’s already generating Ks against A-ball talent. He has pretty dynamic stuff. He’s no Tink Hence, but the Cardinals don’t have a lot of guys doing what he’s doing at his age. It’s hard not to love adding that to the system for an exiting free agent.

Final Evaluation: “Get up, baby! Get up!”

With a trade deadline this complex, it would have been some kind of feat for the Cardinals’ return to fit perfectly within my prescribed tiers. Even though I can drop some names into each level, I’ve already eliminated my best-case “I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw!” scenario. Yes, Roby looks like a potential #2-3 starter but he comes with a risk assessment and timeline that just doesn’t match my original intent. As I said in the previous post, it was going to take a cost-controlled position player going to another team in such a deal and that’s nearly impossible at the trade deadline. The Cardinals will have to find that player in the offseason. And they have all their trade chips plus a bunch of new ones to use to get it done.

In the end, the Cardinals added ten talents to their system for players who were exiting the team in one form or another at the end of the season. Of those players, I project that 8 of them have a high probability of contributing to the MLB team in the next year and a half. The other two are further away but have upside we can’t ignore.

“That’s a winner” of a return. Yet, it still lacks the one thing they need most: a “Roster-lock MLB starter”. Drew Rom, the closest starting pitcher prospect to the majors, doesn’t fit. Roby, the best starting pitcher prospect, doesn’t fit either. While they might have added to the competitive talent for next season, I would prefer if the Cardinals approach the offseason planning for none of these arms to break camp in the rotation.

So, the best I can do is suggest a new descriptive tier for what the Cardinals’ accomplished: “Get up, baby! Get up!”

With a large influx of players with a high probability of reaching the majors, the Cardinals need to translate that into talent that can impact the MLB roster to contend in ‘24. These players need to move up — by maintaining their performance through promotions in some cases, or by making some necessary adjustments to improve their standing in others. Quantity isn’t always quality. But it increases the odds of finding quality. The club can also “get up” their rotation talent by turning some of these newly acquired players into proven pitching in the offseason, probably in a deal that includes a cost-controlled talent. I strongly anticipate such a move now. It’s clear they’ve laid the groundwork for a future Dylan Carlson trade.

Either way, the Cardinals need this trade deadline to “get up!” Right now, it was a successful deadline. If this talent plays up? Then the 2023 trade deadline will be a full-on Mike Shannon-approved homerun.