It’s July 1st and the Major League Baseball trade deadline now stands 31 days away and we are entering the beginning of trade season. There is one question that every member of the Cardinals’ front office should be asking themselves: what can they do to make this team better?
Something important to note is that this trade deadline is unlike the previous trade deadlines. In past years, you could still make trades in August if the players cleared waivers. And you could even still make trades in September, but those players would be ineligible to play for your team in the postseason. However this year, July 31st will be the one and only trade deadline. Waiver claims can still be made after that date, but no trades.
As terrible as the Cardinals’ play has felt over the last two months and, as much as Mike Shildt would like to argue about it, it’s felt terrible, they still find themselves just 3 games out of the division race at 41–41. And at 13-13 they were tied for the best June record in the NL Central.
They’re right there, but this is a team that feels like it needs a nudge to get some traction and turn the season in the right direction, but what can the front office do about that?
I saw arguments over the weekend that the Cardinals should sell over the next month, but the problem with selling is that you have to have players other teams want. And I don’t see enough of that kind of player on the roster. The players who would be most attractive in a trade are the players you want to keep around for the future. The most likely player with sale value is Marcell Ozuna, who is now hurt and probably won’t be ready to play by the deadline. And hand injuries are notoriously hard to come back from anyway.
The only real option is to either reconfigure the roster or try to close up some smaller holes. So where should they focus?
Since opening up the season 19–10 through April, they are 22–31 since May 1st just barely better than the hapless New York Mets over that stretch. But for all the talk that May was bad, June was worse for the offense.
Since May 1st, the Cardinals offense is last in batting average (.228), 29th in runs scored (208), and 29th in weighted runs created plus (77). It’s been pretty ugly.
The best hitter over that stretch with at least 40 plate appearances is the aforementioned Ozuna with a 105 wRC+, which really isn’t that great either. No other Cardinals hitter with 40 or more plate appearances even comes in as an above average hitter over the last two months.
Looking at the way the Cardinals are built, the two easiest targets for improvement are center field at second base.
In center field, Harrison Bader has struggled to take a step forward after an impressive rookie season. I know I’m the purveyor of “distracted Mozeliak” memes, but having hit .198/.298, .351 over the last two months, Bader’s about at the end of his leash, in my opinion. There are a couple internal options in Tyler O’Neill or Lane Thomas here, but I don’t see any truly intriguing options on the center fielder market.
At second base, Kolten Wong has become the speedy, defensive player many believed he could be once he got out from under Mike Matheny. What’s missing is his offense. Wong had a strong April, a terrible May, and a decent June. But if Tommy Edman keeps impressing in his opportunities, you could explore dealing Wong and and giving Edman the regular gig at second base.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinals are really in a box. Paul Goldschmidt is in the middle of a by far career worst season and is still owed $130 million after this year. Matt Carpenter was prematurely extended and is owed at least $39 million or as much as $57.5 million. Mix in $33 million still owed to Dexter Fowler and this team’s success is based on those three guys doing what they were paid to do. And until they are, it’s going to be hard for this team to win consistently.
If there’s one part of the team keeping the Cardinals in the hunt, it’s the pitching staffs.
Keeping with our May 1st start date for this discussion, the starting rotation is 9th in ERA (4.11) and 10th in wOBA (.308)
The success of the rotation the past two months has been carried by Dakota Hudson and his 2.66 ERA and .294 wOBA. But it’s also worth noting the two starts by Daniel Ponce de Leon with a 0.90 ERA and .206 wOBA.
Unlike the lineup, there are obvious opportunities to upgrade the rotation. Michael Wacha‘s 4.78 ERA and rotation worst .358 wOBA make him a good target, but he’s also gone 6 innings and allowed 2 runs or less in three of his last four starts. There’s also Jack Flaherty and his rotation worst 5.13 ERA. Flaherty could be sent to Memphis to figure things out.
The only issue there is that the pickings are slim. Madison Bumgarner is more or less a left handed version of Adam Wainwright at this point. He’s either good or his bad, with little in between. Andrew Cashner with the Orioles might be of interest outside of a hitter’s park. Marcus Stroman would be a good longer term play.
The bright spot of this team has been the bullpen, by far, over the last two months. They stack up 12th in ERA (4.18) and 4th in wOBA (.290). It’s success being led by Giovanny Gallegos‘ 2.22 ERA and .223 wOBA, bullpen bests on both accounts. But he’s joined by Jordan Hicks, John Gant, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Webb, Andrew Miller, and Genesis Cabrera with better than league average wOBA over the last two months.
Even with Hicks’ injury and subsequent surgery last week, I still believe that this bullpen has enough talent in it, and available at Memphis for it to carry on. The needs are in other areas of the team.
Looking at it on the whole and looking at lists of potential trade candidates this summer, I don’t see a lot of obvious moves for the Cardinals. The Cardinals find themselves now in a box.
And they’re even deeper in the box after the extension for Matt Carpenter. I felt that a team that values roster turnover as a way to change parts and pieces and has mostly left it’s veteran leadership group intact, would have made that it’s first target to begin changing if the 2019 Cardinals continued to slide.
The box reminds me of 12 years ago. The Cardinals were in a box thanks to underperforming and injured veterans and a lack of trade chips to improve the team. There was a front office turnover after that season. Their new GM’s first acts were to trade key members of the team’s most recent run of success in Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to get out of the box and begin building for the future.
Now that same GM has made a box of his own and there is no clear way forward. So what next?
Stat of the Week
Last season the Cardinals were +40 defensive runs saved over the course of the entire season. As of last night’s game against the Padres, they are now +40 defensive runs saved through 82 games this season.
Play of the Week
For the play of the week, we’re going to roll with Matt Wieters’ two run home run in the 11th from last night. Why? Because it was the first multi-run home run in just over a week for the Cardinals.
To the upper deck of the upper deck ☄️ pic.twitter.com/NQEnG2YqtP
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) July 1, 2019
Here’s a look at the top Cardinals hitters over the last 14 days by wRC+ and their MLB ranks among players with at least 30 plate appearances.
- Marcell Ozuna, 112 wRC+ (T-105th in MLB)
- Jose Martinez, 92 (T-153rd)
- Matt Carpenter, 85 (T-164th)
- Dexter Fowler, 69 (T-197th)
- Yadier Molina, 58 (T-213th)
The Cardinals are 41–41 this season and that maintains them at 87–75 over their last 162 games.