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Cardinals Continue Hoarding Prospects

Exploring why the St. Louis Cardinals retained all of their prospects instead of cashing them in for immediate assistance at the trade deadline.


The Cardinals were connected to several players including starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Cliff Lee, shortstops Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar, and catcher Dioner Navarro. Ultimately, John Mozeliak decided that asking prices were too high and was only involved in one deal, which was selling off Marc Rzepczynski to Cleveland. An unusually slow trade market only saw one of the above names moved: Jake Peavy to Boston.

At Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindbergh pointed out how only nineteen trades were made in July 2013 compared to an average of thirty since 1998. This can partially be explained by the addition of a second wild card, which leaves more teams believing they have a shot at the playoffs. Under the old wild card system, at least two teams from the AL (Yankees and Royals) and an extra from the NL (Diamondbacks) would have likely been "sellers." But then again, the art of buying and selling has changed for reasons explained by Charlie Wilmoth at MLB Trade Rumors, Alex Skillin at Beyond the Box Score, and Derrick Goold at STL-Today.

The new compensation system prevents teams from collecting draft picks through the acquisition of players about to hit free agency. The sting of trading prospects hurt a little less when teams knew they could replace said prospect with another draft pick in the following season. In June, Goold detailed how the Cardinals thrived under the old system. It's how they turned Mark DeRosa into Seth Blair, Octavio Dotel into Patrick Wisdom, and Edwin Jackson into Steve Bean.

There's also an ever-growing reluctance for teams to include their own prospects in trades. The Cardinals have shown a willingness to rely on the farm system to provide a push down the stretch in recent seasons by dropping starting pitcher prospects into the bullpen such as Lance Lynn in 2011 and Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller in 2012. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha could meet the same fate this season. There's very little risk in this type of approach as these players are likely to provide value in future seasons even if they are non-factors in the current one.

Another reason for the slow trade deadline is the growing trend for younger players to get signed to long-term deals which reduces the free agent pool and, in turn, leaves fewer candidates on the trading block. Even the smaller market teams can now afford to keep their superstars because of increased revenue generated by gargantuan deals with cable companies.

Even as all of these factors were working against the Cardinals' chances of making a trade this July, there were at least a couple of pretty decent arguments in favor of Mozeliak pulling the trigger on a deal. For one, there's added importance in winning the division as it allows teams to skip the do-or-die play-in game that now kick-starts the playoffs. And the Cardinals had suddenly lost their title as division leader thanks to an uncharacteristic stretch that left the NL's leading offense with only ten runs in seven games.

Goold had a quote from Mozeliak about not letting the horrible seven game slide color his decisions:

"If you had asked me six days ago, I would have felt like our team is playing very good baseball and I feel like we have a good team, and I still feel that way. What we didn't want to do was make a decision in a six-game vacuum. In the end, we felt like we would be a better team and play to what we're capable of doing. When you look at how we can improve our club, we just didn't have a lot of access to those pieces that would have made a difference."

According to Bernie, teams were asking a lot of the Cardinals when it came to making deals:

When Mozeliak explored trade possibilities, teams almost always asked for one or more of the organization's elite prospects: pitchers Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, outfielder Oscar Taveras, second baseman Kolten Wong. Or they asked for the Cardinals' blazing reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, or impressive young starting pitcher Shelby Miller.

Prior to the season, prospect ranking sites (Future Redbirds, Baseball America, Minor League Ball, and Baseball Prospectus) were unanimous in ranking those six names as the Cardinals' best six prospects. Demanding one or more of them seems like a steep asking price given the names that were in play. Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller were obviously off-limits as parting with either of them would immediately downgrade the quality of the major league roster, which is exactly the opposite of what the Cardinals wanted to do.

Perhaps I could have stomached the idea of a package including Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, or Kolten Wong for Cliff Lee if it wasn't for the $25 million price tag he'll carry into 2014 and 2015. But sacrificing that much of the future in talent and in payroll makes little sense when current Cardinals pitchers already lead the NL in FIP (3.31) and xFIP (3.59).

I think it's only natural for fans to be disappointed when the trade deadline comes and goes without moves being made - especially when the Cardinals habitually underspend in the winter so they can afford to acquire talent in the summer - but I appreciate the measured approach that seems to characterize this front office. The Cardinals are as well-suited as any team to overpay for immediate help, but they refused to give in to a stubborn market, and consequently, their elite farm system remains intact.