Following games played on July 27, 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays had the second-best run differential in Major League Baseball, at +95, which led every team in the American League (only the St. Louis Cardinals had a better one). Yet their record stood at an even 50 wins and 50 losses. The New York Mets were above .500 with a negative run differential; the Chicago Cubs stood six games above .500 with a run differential of +2.
There was a sense, particularly among saber-friendly fans, that the Blue Jays were a better team than their record indicated (though it doesn't exactly take an encyclopedic knowledge of Bill James Baseball Abstracts to understand how a team's ability to score considerably more runs than its opponents is a hallmark of success). But they still stood seven games back of the New York Yankees. Even if there was reason to believe the Blue Jays were better than their record indicated, and there was, that deficit still existed.
But rather than sell off pieces or stand pat, hoping for a karmic revival down the stretch, the Blue Jays were the most loudly active team at last year's deadline. On July 28, the team traded for Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. On July 30, they traded for Tigers starter David Price. The next day, Toronto added Mark Lowe and Ben Revere, and starting on the day the team acquired Tulowitzki, they finished the season on a 43-19 run. Two-plus months of a 112 win pace, winning 69% of its games, did wonders to turn around the season.
But ultimately, were the moves worth it? This is where the 2016 Cardinals come up.
As of the time I write this sentence, on Thursday night, the Cardinals have among the worst luck in baseball. This is an actual statistic, by the way: They are ranked as a -6 by luck, meaning their Pythagorean record (essentially, what their run differential suggests their record ought to be) is six games worse than their actual record. And although the Cardinals only have baseball's 12th best record (perhaps it is a comment on Cardinals fan privilege that a 60th percentile record includes an "only" before it), they rank third behind the Cubs and the Washington Nationals in Pythagorean record.
The Blue Jays made two huge deals at the last trade deadline, but they were very different moves. When they acquired Tulowitzki, they acquired a top-tier shortstop who is under contract through 2021. He was not acquired as a rental; he was acquired as a franchise cornerstone. David Price was under contract only until the end of 2015 (and as it turned out, he signed with the Boston Red Sox after the season).
The season turned around for Toronto after the trades, but this was somewhat coincidental. The Blue Jays won the division by six games while Tulowitzki and Price combined by 3.8 Wins Above Replacement. Evaluating moves isn't quite as simple as adding or subtracting WAR from team records but given that the Blue Jays also dealt some MLB parts in the deals, the Blue Jays were probably going to win the division anyway, if by fewer games. Additionally, the team's bizarre usage of David Price during the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals made the case against the move that much more compelling,
Knowing what we know now, it is difficult to justify the David Price trade. While much of this is 20/20 hindsight, and none of the three prospects whom the Detroit Tigers acquired in exchange for Price have materialized (though as young pitchers, there is still plenty of time left for them to turn a corner), David Price produced little marginal improvement for the Blue Jays, even though he did pitch very well. Had he gone to, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, it is entirely possible he would have meant the difference between a Wild Card spot (and exit) and an NLDS appearance. Toronto, it turns out, did not need him.
But the Troy Tulowitzki trade looks about as good as it ever did. It helps that the oft-injured shortstop has remained fairly healthy with the Blue Jays, but even though his offense has not been quite as potent as it was with the Colorado Rockies (even adjusting for Coors Field Devil Magic), he has been an undeniable improvement to the Blue Jays lineup. And while the developments of Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco may eventually render the trade as a mistake, they will get many years of Troy Tulowitzki at a high but ultimately reasonable cost.
When it comes to this year's trade deadline, the St. Louis Cardinals could have made a smaller-scale version of the David Price trade (there are no upcoming free agents close to Price's star stature) with Aroldis Chapman. They could still make it with Rich Hill or Andrew Cashner.
But because this is a Cardinals team that has so distinctly underperformed its peripheral statistics, there is reason to believe that the Cardinals can emerge as Wild Card front-runners, if not NL Central contenders. And assuming, as many have, that the MLB playoffs are essentially a random championship generator, a one-year rental could easily be meaningless to the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals playoff equation.
A major move, which may not actually be possible mind you, that would allow the Cardinals to upgrade its 2016 roster but also improve the roster going forward makes more sense, even though the cost would certainly be higher. While Chris Sale's no-seriously-this-actually-happened-you-are-not-reading-The-Onion-right-now suspension has turned him into a bit of a running joke, he is also one of the best pitchers in baseball, and when rumors that the White Sox would consider trading him or Jose Quintana begin to circulate, any team should at least inquire. Even though starting pitching is not the most pressing need for the Cardnals, as with every team in baseball, the presence of a Chris Sale would improve the roster.
Other players have been mentioned as possibilities. The red baron alluded to Wil Myers of the San Diego Padres; others have mentioned Carlos Gonzalez, though Ben Markham has expressed doubts. While neither player has the cache of Troy Tulowitzki, they do follow the same spirit: acquire a short-term and long-term solution. Even if the cost is greater, if the player is a vital piece to the club going forward, it is worth the greater cost. Because the Cardinals may not need anybody new to make the 2016 playoffs, but they may need one going forward. And in the end, this may be the help for which the Cardinals should be trading.