Should the Cards trade for a #2 starter?

There are a lot of rumors floating around about who the St. Louis Cardinals might be interested in to be a solid #2 starter behind Adam Wainwright.  Cardinal scouts have been watching Jake Peavy, Ervin Santana, James Shields, Bud Norris and a few others.  Norris is having a fine year for the Astros in the AL West without the benefit of beating up on the Cardinals (although the Cards have played better ball against Norris the last few years).  If the Cards do make a move to acquire Norris, it would be interesting to see Norris working with Yadier Molina and how good of a pitcher he could become.

It’s hard to get a feel for how good Norris really is.  He’s only 28 and has played for some awful teams in Houston.  The 1.40 career WHIP has a bit of a buyer beware attached to it, but he does have durability and some life on his pitches.  He’s not as bad as many seem to think.  Now in his 5th full year, he’s played on teams that have won 74, 76, 56 and 55 games.  The Astros are 34-68 this year.  The thing to really like about Norris is his career 8.4 SO/9.

I’m mentioning Norris because I don’t think the Cards will go beyond that.  Peavy is nowhere near the pitcher he once was.  The Royals are going to ask for too much for both Shields and Santana.  The Cards don’t want to deal Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams and many others.  Another player I’d like to see the Cards hang on to is Tyler Lyons.  I really think Lyons has a bright future ahead in MLB as at least a solid #4 starter and maybe a bit better.

Dealing for Norris allows the Cards to do business with former Cardinal Jeff Luhnow.  In 8 years with the Cards, Luhnow moved up to the VP of scouting and player development, and is partly responsible for many of the current players on the 25 man roster and the Cards #1 farm system in MLB.  Now, as the GM of the Astros, Luhnow might find more value in some of the players he drafted that other teams wouldn’t be quite as aware of.

I think the Cards could stand pat at the trading deadline and cruise into the playoffs.  More importantly, I think the Cards could stand pat and win the World Series.  It doesn’t appear Chris Carpenter is coming back after suffering another setback.  The Cards were also without Carpenter in the 2004 playoffs, and made it to the WS with a rotation of Matt Morris (not the ace Morris either, the Morris with the 4.72 ERA in 2004), Jason Marquis, Woody Williams and Jeff Suppan.  In 2006, the Cards won it all with Jeff Weaver, Anthony Reyes, Suppan and Carpenter.

In 2011, the Cards won it all with Edwin Jackson, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Carpenter.  The point is, the Cards have a top 5 starting pitching staff in 2013, and I don’t feel that trading away what could be a huge piece of the future for a chance to go for it all in 2013 is worth the risk.  That is, unless they can swing a deal where they don’t give away the top prospects mentioned before.

If you were a regular reader of mine, this might seem to contradict everything I’ve ever said.  I have, and always will talk about pitching, pitching and more pitching.  Dominant pitching wins in the playoffs.  Go back and look at the last 20 World Series winning teams and you’ll find that the Cards SP’s of ’06 and ’11 were among the bottom in strikeouts.  Power pitching wins championships.  The thing is, the Cards have that in Lance Lynn (8.5 SO/9), Shelby Miller (9.6 SO/9) and Adam Wainwright (8.1 SO/9).  More than likely, someone is going to emerge out of Lyons, Wacha and Martinez to be that next guy in line.  Joe Kelly probably won’t be starting much longer, and I certainly don’t see him as a starter in the playoffs.  I’m not ripping on Kelly and I think he has a bright future, but nothing about him screams dominance.

When you have the ability to go for it all, the argument can be made that you make every opportunity to do whatever it takes to do so.  That applies to most teams.  The 2013 Cards are not one of those teams though.  The Cards have a plan that will put them in the mix every year for the next 5-10 years.  Martinez is commonly referred to as the “little Pedro”, meaning Pedro Martinez.  I understand that line of thinking, but to say it’s a bit premature is an understatement.  If the Cards really do feel that way though, trading him for anyone at all makes little sense.  If nothing else, since the Cards have limited his innings this year, I think they should go ahead and slide him into that 5th starter’s spot and see what he can do.

I’d like to see the Cards roll into the postseason with a rotation of Wainwright, Miller, Lynn and one of Lyons, Wacha or Martinez and see what they can do.  Getting their feet wet in October baseball, regardless of the outcome, would go a long way the next time they get there.  With the current plan they have in place that they’re sticking with, that’ll be in 2014.  What the Cards have is something very special.  Not many teams that are contenders every year are able to build up a farm system like the Cards have because of picking so low in the draft.  The Cards are doing it in the draft and have a great plan that is working in South America as well.

For all of those who are screaming for a trade just for the sake of the Cards making a trade, I ask you to reconsider.  If the Royals would happen to part with Shields, it won’t be for a bag of balls.  He’s the best of the bunch, but how much further can he really take the Cards?  He got the nickname “Big Game James”, but if you look at his postseason stats, there’s nothing great about them.  In 6 GS, he’s 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP and 25 K’s in 34 1/3 IP.  If trading away what could be a cost controlled future ace for that is worth the gamble to you, I’d like to hear why you feel that way.

Would I like to have Shields…you bet.  However, I just don’t think the risk is worth taking.  Not with the cost of pitching, the time it takes to develop them, how often they get injured and the long term potential of what the Cards have in the pitchers like Martinez, Wacha, Lyons as well as the newly drafted ones who will be knocking on the door soon enough.  Some of you will call it a pitching surplus, and I’ll continue to say there’s no such thing.

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