ST. LOUIS – Tis the season for excessive social media scrolling, baseball fans. The clock is winding down on the MLB trade deadline.
It’s that time of the year when the St. Louis Cardinals usually find themselves busy making moves, though the chances of pulling off a blockbuster vary each season. Occasionally, the Cardinals will pull the trigger midseason on a highly-touted piece, like a Matt Holliday, Scott Rolen or Mark McGwire, in hopes to boost their chances of a Red October.
As days turn to hours before the deadline, the trade market could shrink even more and fewer top targets might become available. Heading into August, the top prize remaining on the market is undoubtedly Juan Soto, a 23-year-old outfielder for the Washington Nationals widely considered among the top hitters in baseball.
The St. Louis Cardinals have until 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Aug. 2 to complete any potential trades for Soto or with Major League Baseball’s 28 other teams. Though there is no guarantee the Cardinals will land him or another big-time name before Tuesday, the team’s approach to the trade deadline will be worth monitoring.
“I just want to get it over with and see what’s going to happen,” said Soto via MLB.com on Sunday. “I mean, just go over that day and start over [with the Nationals] or wherever I’m at.”
Earlier this month, Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals that would have made him the highest-paid player in MLB history, per reports. Turning down a nearly half-billion-dollar offer is quite a statement for someone with a polished resume at a young age, which includes a .291 career batting average, 118 home runs, 357 RBIs and a 2019 World Series championship.
Very rarely does a player of that stature become available, but that looks like a strong case as the Nationals enter August with an MLB-worst 35-68 record and a bottom-10 MLB Pipeline farm system. Moving Soto could help the Nationals speed up a lengthy rebuild if the team isn’t confident he would sign long-term.
In addition to this season, Soto currently has two more years of team control remaining until he can become an unrestricted free agent. With that luxury in mind for bidders, the Nationals would most likely be able to best maximize their return by Tuesday.
The timing of the situation is certainly intriguing from the Cardinals’ perspective. St. Louis just wrapped up a three-game series against Soto in Washington, marking the team’s final game action before Tuesday’s trade deadline. John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations for the Cardinals, traveled with the team to Washington.
During the road trip, Mozeliak made several phone calls and was caught on a national baseball broadcast Sunday shaking hands with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. As baseball fans took to Twitter and began forming their own theories of what that means, Mozeliak joined the regional broadcast on Bally Sports Midwest to elaborate on his mindset ahead of traded deadline.
“Like any trading deadline, obviously we are looking to try to add something to our clock,” said Mozeliak during Sunday’s broadcast. “We’re engaged with a lot of things, and I know sometimes these talking points get old and irritating, but we’re going to keep trying.”
Beyond that context from Mozeliak, here’s where things appear to stand. Jim Bowden, a MLB analyst and former baseball executive, reports the Soto sweepstakes have trimmed down to three teams: the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. Offers from the Cardinals have reportedly involved a combination of MLB talent and prospects, while offers from the Padres seem to be prospect-driven.
Recent reports from The Athletic suggest several rookies, prospects and young players could be in play if the Cardinals go all-in for Soto. There are hints a possible package could include some, but not all, of current Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez, Matthew Liberatore, Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Alec Burleson, Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo.
“The simple answer is, we just want to find ways to get better,” said Mozeliak during Sunday’s Bally Sports Midwest broadcast without hinting at any potential trade deadline offers. “We have some resources that we can use to acquire talent and they can’t go everywhere. We still want to keep an eye on the future. … It’s really just trying to understand what the assets might be or what are the requirements to get a player, and that’s what we’re going to sit through.”
If the Cardinals feel they could string together a package, Soto would be a huge boost to an outfield decimated by injuries and an offense that was shut out five times behind a collective .241 batting average in July. Several oddsmakers say the Cardinals could be among the favorites to land the star, but give the team mixed chances of making that happen.
(NOTE: Some of these odds were released in mid-July and have not been updated as of Aug. 1)
- Oddschecker.com: +350 (7/2 odds), 3rd best among MLB teams
- SportsBettingDime.com: +650 (13/2 odds), 4th best among MLB teams
- Bookies.com: +650 (13/2 odds), 4th best among MLB teams
- Gambling.com: +850 (17/2 odds), 4th best among MLB teams
- TheSportsGeek.com: +700 (7/1 odds), 6th best among MLB teams
Soto or sans Soto, wherever the fortunes fall for the Cardinals by Tuesday’s deadline could be a telltale sign of the franchise’s future for this season and beyond.
Do the Cardinals feel confident in their offensive depth without adding one more signature swing? Will the Cardinals move one of their young bats to address their pitching inconsistencies? Or will the Cardinals keep most of their lineup and farm system intact by staying pat or making relatively minor moves?
There’s no easy answer on how to handle the Soto situation, hence why it might take all the way until the final hour to get something done.
In preparation for this piece, I asked about the Soto sweepstakes via Twitter and collected hundreds of responses as to who Soto might play for once the deadline passes. Among the poll responses…
- 69% believe Soto will be traded to the Cardinals
- 15% believe he will be traded to the Padres
- 5% believe he will be traded to the Dodgers
- 11% believe he will remain with the Nationals
If the Cardinals are unable to land Soto, the team could shift its deadline focus to pitching. Adding another arm could work wonders for a rotation that struggled to pitch deep into games consistently, aside from Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas. Bringing in experience could mean relief for a Cardinals staff taxed with the ninth-highest ERA (4.09) and second-fewest strikeouts (176) among MLB teams in July.
Like Soto, bringing there’s no certainty the team would bring in another pitcher. However, the following arms are among the most likely remaining trade targets that the Cardinals could choose to pursue.
- Frankie Montas (Oakland Athletics)
- Noah Syndergaard (Los Angeles Angels)
- Jose Quintana (Pittsburgh Pirates)
- Tyler Mahle (Cincinnati Reds)
- Zach Plesac (Cleveland Guardians)
- Tarik Skubal (Detroit Tigers)
- Andrew Chafin (Detroit Tigers)
- Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins)
- Jordan Lyles (Baltimore Orioles)
- Alex Colome (Colorado Rockies)
Coincidentally, the Cardinals found themselves in a similar situation with their rotation last year and added veteran pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ, two southpaws who provided valuable innings before the Cardinals rode a 17-game winning streak in September to a National League Wild Card berth.
The final countdown is on for the trade deadline. Sit back, relax and wait for deals, whether involving Soto or not, to unfold.