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MLB trade deadline: Do the St. Louis Cardinals actually need to make any deals?

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has moved from June to July, which means that Ye Olde Rumor Mill will be churning at full bore for the next four weeks, with baseball's gossip peddlers sharing anonymously sourced trade discussions and outright speculation. Here at VEB, we've already waded into the trade waters. RB has given us June surveys of the first baseman and starting pitcher trade markets. With Matt Belisle hitting the disabled list this week, it seems fair to wonder whether the Cards should add a righthanded relief arm to their shopping list.

The arguments in favor of the Cardinals bolstering their roster via trade are good ones.

Mark Reynolds is a bad ballplayer even if manager Mike Matheny can't seem to recognize the one-time slugger's diminishing hitting skills and inexplicably continues to bat him cleanup. Last year, Reynolds hit as poorly as Daniel Descalso, a player fans recoiled at horror when confronted with being forced to watch his bat as a first baseman. This year, Reynolds is hitting as badly as 2014 Reynolds and Descalso. He is far too bad a hitter at this point in his career to be an everyday first baseman.

The Cardinals have already lost Adam Wainwright for the year to a freak Achilles tendon injury. Their current rotation, as good as it has been (and it's been excellent), is filled with injury and workload questions. Lance Lynn recently completed a 15-day DL stint with the somewhat nebulously termed "forearm strain." Jaime Garcia has undergone Tommy John surgery, labrum surgery, rotator cuff surgery, and thoracic outlet release surgery—the last three within the last 26 months. John Lackey is a Tommy John survivor as well. Michael Wacha suffered a strange stress reaction in his shoulder last year. Carlos Martinez has never shouldered a big-league starter's workload in a single season; neither has Wacha. So why wouldn't the Cardinals hedge their bets and trade for some rotation insurance in the form of a veteran innings-eater?

Jordan Walden has been on the shelf for a long time and it's unclear when he will return to MLB game action or if he will be effective and healthy for the remainder of the season after doing so. MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch's reporting on Belisle's injury is about as upbeat as one could hope when a pitcher is placed on the disabled list with the foreboding diagnosis of elbow inflammation in their throwing arm. Adding a reliever that Matheny feels comfortable turning to in the seventh inning or later would mean the Cardinals would not have to turn to Miguel Socolovich or Marcus Hatley—who were simultaneously among the Cards' seven-man bullpen this week—if Walden or Belisle suffers a setback.

The goal of the regular season is to win the division, which allows a team to avoid the brutal one-game Wild Card play-in. A trade ostensibly puts the Cardinals in a better position to achieve that goal and ensure that their postseason competition has to beat them three times to end their year, not just once. Moreover, the Cardinals' chief competition to win the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, may very likely make a move to improve their clubs before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Improving the St. Louis club for the home stretch would help them maintain their distance in the standings from the Buccos and Cubbies.

Here's the thing, though. The Cardinals have been really, really good. Like, beyond-our-wildest-dreams good.

Entering play on Thursday, the Cards own a 51-26 record with a .662 winning percentage. The Pirates are running in second in the NL Central with a 44-33 record and .571 winning percentage that places them seven games back of the Redbirds. The Cubs sit in third place at 41-35 (.539), nine and one-half games behind St. Louis, and closer to the Reds (36-41, .468) than the Cards in the standings.

The Cardinals have +91 run differential that is the best in the NL and second-best in the majors behind the Toronto Blue Jays (+94). That run differential represents a 50-27 Pythagorean record. Baseball Prospectus has taken the Pythagorean record a couple steps further with Third Order Wins, which adjusts a club's expected win-loss record by taking into account the team's underlying statistics and quality of opponents. Third Order Wins pegs the Cards as a 46-30 club.

So the Cardinals aren't a true-talent .662 club? Of course they aren't. Virtually no team is that good over the 162-marathon that is MLB's regular season. That doesn't change the reality that the Cardinals have already banked 51 wins through their first 78 games. No matter how much Hackgate conspiracy theorists want to fantasize about the possibility, commissioner Bob Manfred is not going to strip the Cardinals of any of their 51 wins to date. Consequently, even if the Cards fall off their winning pace as the dog days of summer set in, they are still likely to finish with a very good record. The following chart shows what the Cardinals' record would be if they finish with various winning percentages in their final 84 games of 2015:

RoS W%

RoS W

RoS L

Total W

Total L

.650

54.6

29.4

105.6

56.4

.640

53.76

30.24

104.76

57.24

.630

52.92

31.08

103.92

58.08

.620

51.24

32.76

102.24

59.76

.610

51.24

32.76

102.24

59.76

.600

50.4

33.6

101.4

60.6

.590

49.56

34.44

100.56

61.44

.580

48.72

35.28

99.72

62.28

.560

47.88

36.12

98.88

63.12

.550

46.2

37.8

97.2

64.8

.540

45.36

38.64

96.36

65.64

.530

43.68

40.32

94.68

67.32

.520

43.68

40.32

94.68

67.32

.510

42.84

41.16

93.84

68.16

.500

42

42

93

69

.490

41.16

42.84

92.16

69.84

.480

40.32

43.68

91.32

70.68

.470

39.48

44.52

90.48

71.52

.460

38.64

45.36

89.64

72.36

.450

37.8

46.2

88.8

73.2

The Cardinals would have to suffer a collapse of 2011 Atlanta proportions to be in serious jeopardy of missing the postseason. For example, winning at a very bad .470 clip would give them 90 wins, the total they notched last year when winning the division. (A .640-to-.650 winning percentage from here on out would put them in the company of the MV3 Cardinals of myth and legend.)

Further, have  a look at the most up-to-date Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus playoff odds for the Cardinals:

  • Baseball Prospectus: 99.1% Playoffs; 88.2% Division; 10.9% Wild Card (updated July 1, 2015)
  • Fangraphs: 98.7% Playoffs; 79.2% Division; 19.5% Wild Card (updated July 2, 2015)

It's hard to imagine the Cardinals being better positioned for October qualification on July 2 than they are right now.

At the very least, general manager John Mozeliak need not be in a hurry to make a deal. He can let the playoff picture develop further as well as the club's needs. Reynolds will still be Reynolds come the last week of July and Scruggs will still be Scruggs of course. They may suffer another pitcher injury or an already-hurt reliever might be unable to return to game action and pitch effectively. But if the Cards are able to maintain a healthy roster and lead in the NL Central race in the weeks to come, the Cards' playoff odds (and division title chances) will only increase. The front office may find that they do not need to make a deal in order to qualify for the crapshoot that is the MLB postseason.

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