Arms, arms, arms.
First of all, you don’t have to tell me twice… I’m very aware that the St. Louis Cardinals are risk-averse, trade-averse, “make a big splash”-averse, and generally fun-averse at the MLB trade deadline. While John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt have made some big off-season moves (hello Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado), they’re typically conservative at the trade deadline. Last season they went out and acquired veteran lefties J.A. Happ and Jon Lester, who actually didn’t pitch terribly over the final two months.
Lester after being dealt from Washington to St. Louis on 7/30/21:
4-1, 4.36 ERA, 40 K’s in 66 innings (12 starts)
Happ after being dealt from Minnesota to St. Louis on 7/30/21:
5-2, 4.00 ERA, 45 K’s in 54 innings (11 starts)
The two of them pitched better than what they had a their previous stops, partially because of the talent that now surrounded them. Certainly two low-velocity, low-strikeout left-handers would benefit by being traded to the best defensive team in baseball. However, they were simply wet band-aids slapped over the gushing gash that was the 2021 Cardinals’ rotation.
Plus, I hate Jon Lester. Screw that guy.
Jack Flaherty has pitched 8 innings this season and Steven Matz (in the first year of a 4-year, $44M contract) has pitched 42. Dakota Hudson will return soon, but has a WHIP approaching 1.40 and has walked nearly as many batters (42) as he’s struck out (53). Adam Wainwright (6-8, 3.40 ERA) has been stellar and durable, especially given his age. But he’s got an ERA of 4.40 over his last seven starts and looks to be leaking oil a bit. The St. Louis Cardinals need to go out and acquire an arm or two by this time next week, and I don’t think it can be another Happ and/or Lester.
With Tyler O’Neill healthy and swinging the bat well, the Cardinals have a healthy 2-3-4 in the order that rivals most teams in the National League. But with Harrison Bader on the IL and his return date still cloudy, it wouldn’t shock me if St. Louis targeted an outfield bat as well. It’s not a priority, but it’s an option. I heard there may be a guy in Washington available, perhaps?
So here’ a rundown of six trades the St. Louis Cardinals could reasonably swing this week leading up to the deadline. This is my first time stepping away from the “game recap” realm, so let me know what you think in the comments below. Am I way off base here? Am I willing to give up too much? Am I not willing to give up enough? Who else seems like a reasonable target, beyond these six?
Mozeliak will need to strike a good balance this week between being willing to part with young talent for established talent, while also not overselling for short-term improvements.
Los Angeles Angels trade
Details: Cardinals trade Connor Thomas and Ian Bedell to the Angels for Noah Syndergaard
The Angels are 40-55 and completely out of playoff contention. Syndergaard signed a one-year, $22M deal with the Halos before the season started, and has pitched to a 4.00 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 14 starts. He’s averaging just over five innings per start, and the strikeouts aren’t what they were when he was with the Mets (7 K/9 this season is the lowest of his career), but the velocity hasn’t dropped much. He’s still just 29 years old, and will be owed a little under $10M left on that contract.
Thor doesn’t have the stuff he did a few years ago with the Mets, but the fastball still has some pep to it and he’s begun relying more and more on his sinker to induce weak contact. Could Syndergaard see his results improve a bit with better defense, including the amount of innings he’s able to give? Ironically enough, the pitcher that Baseball Savant compares 2022 Noah Syndergaard to is…. 2022 Adam Wainwright.
As for the return, the Cardinals should balk at giving up any key pieces for a two-month rental on Syndergaard. Winn, Walker, Liberatore, Burleson won’t even be considered. The Angels should be happy getting a couple young arms in this deal for a pitcher who they are going to lose in a few months regardless.
Washington Nationals trade
Details: Cardinals trade Dylan Carlson, Jordan Walker, Alec Burleson, and Michael McGreevy to the Nationals for Juan Soto
This one doesn’t need nearly as much convincing as the Syndergaard offer. Juan Soto is a top-five player in baseball, and those kinds of players do not become available via trade….ever. Acquiring Soto is going to require the St. Louis Cardinals to slash into their farm system and give up multiple top prospects, as well as at least one current major-league talent. In return, you get two-plus seasons of a future Hall of Famer, who will look very nice batting in front of your other two potential Hall of Famers in Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. If the Cardinals play their cards right, it means they get three Octobers of Juan Soto.
Soto will hit the open market after the 2024 season, and the Cardinals will not re-sign him. The money Soto will demand will triple the largest contract St. Louis has given out (Goldschmidt’s 5-year, $130M deal), and the Cardinals will not be interested in committing 15 years to one player. It simply will not happen. So they’re essentially making this trade knowing that Soto will wear the birds on the bat for 2.5 years, and then move on. That’s fine.
Assuming Bader gets healthy, the Cardinals would have an outfield of O’Neill, Bader, and Soto for the next two seasons. Losing Carlson will bite, but it takes big talent to get bigger talent. Walker, Burleson, and McGreevy could all wind up being very good major leaguers (Walker definitely will), but odds are none of them will wind up being Juan Soto.
You’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, and this is an omelet that would make the Cardinals World Series contenders for the next three years.
San Diego Padres trade
Details: Cardinals trade Paul DeJong and Joshua Baez to the Padres for Mike Clevinger
At 54-43, the Padres are trending in the right direction for the playoffs. But with Fernando Tatis yet to make his season debut and the trio of C.J. Abrams, Jake Cronenworth, and Ha Seong-Kim collectively underperforming, the Padres may look to the trade market to acquire another bat that can play up the middle.
Since being demoted to Memphis in May, DeJong has hit 15 homers and driven in 49 runs over 49 games and has an OPS of .829. His strikeout and walk rates aren’t exactly where you’d like them to be for a former All-Star trying to work it out at Triple-A, but they’re not ghastly. Plus, the Padres will only need DeJong to contribute until Tatis completes a minor league rehab assignment — which unfortunately is looking like it could be several more weeks.
In return, the Cardinals could target Clevinger. A free agent at year’s end, Clevinger has pitched well over a small sample size for the Padres (2-3, 3.50 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) this season after missing all of last season with Tommy John. He’s punching out over a batter per inning, is getting swings and misses above the league average, and has been running his fastball into the mid-90’s again. He’s a legitimate third starter in most rotations, when healthy. Plus, the Padres have the pitching depth to replace him, with Nick Martinez and Mackenzie Gore waiting for their shot.
Miami Marlins trade
Details: Cardinals trade Juan Yepez and Masyn Winn to the Marlins for Pablo Lopez
Lopez led all of baseball in ERA for April and a good chunk of May before coming back down to earth in the summer. He’s still pitching well, though, with an ERA of 3.14 and a WHIP of 1.09 over 109 innings this season. Lopez’ fastball only tops out around 93 mph, but his money-maker is a nasty changeup that falls off the table at the last second. Batters are hitting just .188 off his changeup this season.
The Marlins control Lopez through the 2024 season, and he makes $2.45M this year. Through arbitration that will go up in 2023 and 2024, but that is still incredibly cheap for a top-20 pitcher in baseball. But with the Marlins only five games out of the wild card, it’s still to be seen if they’d be willing to move Lopez.
In return, the Cardinals will have to give up some position players. The Marlins are chock full of pitching, with Edward Cabrera, Max Meyer, and Sixto Sanchez all hoping to claim a rotation spot in 2023. But the same Marlins also just went 30 straight innings without scoring, so any trade for Lopez will certainly focus on MLB-ready hitters.
Yepez has been a boost for the Cardinals, but unfortunately for him he’s blocked positionally at first base and both corner outfield spots. He could DH, but St. Louis should be willing to move Yepez if it means acquiring a pitcher like Lopez — you can always find another DH.
Winn would sting even more than Yepez, as he’s flashed some pop this season (.847 OPS) and has also proven that he’ll be a demon on the basepaths when he makes it to the show (58 stolen bases between 2021-2022). But again, to acquire top pitching, the Cardinals will have to be willing to part with top talent. I don’t think it would take Walker to land Lopez, but the Marlins will likely ask for one of St. Louis’ other most coveted prospects.
Detroit Tigers Trade
Details: Cardinals trade Tink Hence to the Tigers for Joe Jimenez
The Cardinals’ bullpen doesn’t look nearly as sturdy as it did a few weeks ago. Consecutive shaky performances from Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos (that one Dodgers game really….you know the one) made it clear that St. Louis could use one more reliable arm in the pen, especially given the state of their rotation. Jimenez makes just under $2-million this season and is arbitration-eligible next season. Through 31 innings, he’s got a career-low 3.16 ERA while establishing a career-high in K% (34%) and a career-low in BB% (5.6%). He’s also under team control for one more year.
I’m not sure if the Cardinals would be willing to part with Hence for a relief pitcher, but he’s the type of guy the eternally-rebuilding Tigers would love to add to their system. His numbers this season in A-ball are eye popping (0.99 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 48 K’s in 27 innings), but he’s still two or three years away from contributing at the big league level. With Goldschmidt and Arenado in their prime, the Cardinals need to be thinking about right now before they concern themselves with 2025.
Colorado Rockies trade
Details: Cardinals trade Luken Baker and Freddy Pacheco to the Rockies for Chad Kuhl
I’m including this deal against my better judgment, because I don’t think Kuhl is a good pitcher. His fastball sits in the low 90’s, he does not strike out many batters, and he’s got a WHIP that’s sitting at 1.40. Yuck.
However, the Cardinals need arms and the Rockies are one of the dumbest professional sports organizations. All-star first baseman CJ Cron will become a 33-year old free agent in 2023, and don’t we all want to see Luken Baker hit some bombs at Coors? In return, the Cardinals get a back of the rotation arm who should be able to eat at least 5 innings every fifth day and keep them in games more often than not.
The Cardinals can send the slugging first baseman to Colorado so he finally has a chance to hit bombs, and the Rockies can send a cheap rental arm back to St. Louis. However, if Kuhl winds up being the only arm the Cardinals acquire, I’d be massively disappointed.