Exploring Possible Trade Routes for the Cardinals

It’s crunch time. The final week before the one-and-only, July 31st trade deadline. The old August waiver trades no longer provide a backdoor “we could still do something” excuse for not being aggressive in July’s final days.

2019 matters, or so they said.

Now is the time to prove it.

The given roster has done everything they need to do to prove that they are worthy of investing in at the deadline — as if that should even be a thing, always supplement if you’re contending — as they are on the cusp of the division lead. The front office wanted to see if they could pull away from .500 in the first few weeks after the All-Star break. The team has gone 10-3 so far.

The question should no longer be if, but rather when and who.

So I want to combine some of the smoke that has risen from the rumor mill, the team’s needs, and a dash of my own (meaningless) speculation to explore some of the avenues that the team may travel down.

Starting Pitching

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher / Dan Hamilton — USA Today Sports

This is a priority, and move that requires little in the way of roster management and role displacement. If they were to acquire a hitter, some other hitter would need to be moved, demoted, re-positioned…whatever. With the rotation, Ponce de Leon is already serving as a substitute for Wacha, so inserting and acquired starter and returning Ponce to the bullpen or AAA is about as close to easy as it gets with roster management.

So who to acquire?

I went more in-depth with my first two options last week, I’ll hit the highlights here.

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets – The big thing with Wheeler is making sure he is healthy as he returns from the IL on Friday. His 4.69 ERA isn’t good, but he also pitches in front of a bad defensive team that just fails to make plays to support him. His FIP, Strikeout Rate and Walk rate are all in line with his excellent 2018 season, meaning he is generally pitching the same, but getting unfortunate results. He would stand to improve pitching in front of the Cardinals defense, especially their infield. Outside of ERA, he would lead or be 2nd on the Cardinals staff in most categories. His 2.6 fWAR stands high above Miles Mikolas’s team leading 1.4 mark, and his 6.26 innings/start would also lead the Cardinals. He is a rental, but would provide a significant upgrade. Rumors have linked the Cardinals and Wheeler.

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays – Stroman is a proven pitcher and is turning in an excellent season. He comes with the bonus of being under team control for 2020, so he isn’t just a rental. His groundball rate hovers around 58%, which is just a touch lower than that of Dakota Hudson. We have seen the success Hudson is turning in with that groundball rate and the Cardinals infield, so bringing in a similarly groundball-heavy, yet far more polished, pitcher would seem to signal continued success. The he won’t come cheap. At least one rumor has linked the Cardinals with Stroman.

Mike Minor, Texas Rangers – The Rangers have hit a really bad stretch of losing and have faded from the Wild Card picture, making Minor — who was already a usual suspect in trade rumors — even more expendable. Minor comes with an addition 2 years on his contract beyond 2019, so the Rangers will be looking for a haul because of the combination of production and control. He has been excellent this season, but the success isn’t limited to 2019. After starting slow in a return from injury, Minor has posted a 3.09 ERA, 23.2% K%, 7.5% BB%, and held opponents to a .220/.284/.379 slash line, while averaging 6.12 innings/start in 38 starts since June 1st of 2018. To my knowledge, there has been no real rumor regarding the Cardinals and Minor, but he fits their need and the additional years of control fit their M.O..

Any of these 3 starters would provide a major boost to a rotation that needs solidified more than anything else. A consistent level of performance — or at least expected performance — from 1 thru 5 will go a long way for this team. I stopped short of including Trevor Bauer here, because Cleveland is starting to turn it on in the playoff race after idling for much of the season, he seems to valuable to them to trade. Regardless, others are available and the Cardinals must come away with one.

Relief Pitcher (Specifically Left-Handed)

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Tim Mayza (58) throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during ninth inning American league baseball action in Toronto on Tuesday, August 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Any bullpen in any given season can use reinforcement. The 2019 Cardinals are no different. However, as far as outside acquisitions go, left-handed relief should be the focus. I believe there is enough in-house on the right side — with the guys already in the majors and with Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez in the minors — that they don’t need to spend assets on a mid-tier RH reliever. They do need to upgrade the 2nd Lefty role.

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants – Smith is a stud. He holds a 2.44 ERA, has 24 saves, a 38.9% strikeout rate. He would instantly turn the Cardinals bullpen in a force and provide a fall back, or serve in tandem at closer with Carlos Martinez. He is a free agent after the season, but would be well worth the impact in 2019. The biggest question surrounding Smith is the Giants willingness to deal after a recent hot streak has elevated them into the playoff race. Rumor has it that the Cardinals attempted to acquire Smith in the winter prior to signing Andrew Miller, so it leaves the door open for talks to resume if they Giants are willing to move him.

Tim Mayza, Toronto Blue Jays – Maybe we could be looking at a packaged deal with Stroman? Hard to say, but Mayza would be a solid pickup. His 4.50 ERA and 11.4% BB% are on the high side this year, but he has a solid 26.6% K% and is holding LH hitters to a .197/.300/.295 line. He would likely benefit from getting away from the extra-hitter-friendly ballparks of the AL East, and he is not eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season. He also still has two minor league options remaining. John Mozeliak specifically mentioned left-handed relief with options on a recent Scoops With Danny Mac podcast, so that makes Mayza a fit from the roster management side. There have been some whispers of the Cardinals interest in him in past seasons.

Stephen Tarpley, New York Yankees – Credit to my Bird Law podcast co-host, Adam Butler, for spotting this guy. Tarpley has just 13.2 IP in the majors this year, and just 22.2 total over the last two years, but that is more a product of the Yankees being ridiculously stacked with relievers than it actually has to do with his pitching. He has faced 24 LH hitters in the the majors this year and allowed just 3 hits againt 11 strikeouts. His minor league strikeout-rates have been 28.2% and 27.3%. He has minor league options remaining, but his limited experience makes him a wild card of sorts. However, as Adam points out on our last podcast, Giovanny Gallegos has taught us not to fear acquiring relievers the Yankees don’t have room for.

Beyond these three, other names of interest could be Tony Watson and Andrew Chafin, though I won’t dive into them here. There are certainly others out there flying under the radar. Much like a starting pitcher, the Cardinals must come away from the deadline with an upgrade over depth-lefty Tyler Webb.

The Trifecta

I saved a couple pitchers for this section, both of whom could be trade targets individually. For the moment I want to get out little out of my lane and have some fun dreaming up a blockbuster.

A recent tweet from Jon Morosi named the Cardinals as potential suitor, should the Colorado Rockies decide to shop CF Charlie Blackmon. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch seemed to dismiss the premise by stating that they’ve traveled down that road before. Still, I want to explore it a little.

First of all, the Rockies are bad, so selling is definitely on the table.

Now, imagine this package coming to St. Louis:

Charlie Blackmon, OF
Jon Gray, SP
Jake McGee, LHP

This addresses all of offense, starting pitching, and left-handed relief.

Jul 2, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jake McGee (51) pitches in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing with Charlie Blackmon: his home and road splits are extreme, he is 33 years old, and he has 4 years and $75M worth of guaranteed money left on his contract. The first issue, the splits, usually level off when a player no longer calls Coors Field home. What I mean by that is, looking at road splits will not tell you how a player will perform once away from Coors permanently. Coors not only elevates numbers at home, but the constant change in elevation has been shown to negatively road numbers in more than just a not-at-Coors way. When guys move to a normal travel situation, the home numbers drop and the road numbers rise, with production falling somewhere in-between.

All this to say Blackmon would probably perform just fine with the Cardinals, despite his mediocre career numbers away from Coors. If so, he provides an option at leadoff and in CF. Blackmon would be an old-fashioned salary dump acquisition, the likes of which the Cardinals used to love to chase.

The age is a concern, but that money would be part of the trade leverage because…

Jon Gray wouldn’t come cheap. Gray is a good pitcher, despite middling numbers. He has actually been slightly better at Coors, but there is no doubt in my mind that getting his stuff away from the elevation would improve his numbers. He becomes arbitration eligible after this season, keeping him under team control through 2022. He is only 27 years old. He carries a career strikeout rate of 24.6% and a solid BB% of 7.8%. He would look very nice slotting in behind Mikolas and Flaherty in the roation.

Jake McGee was a stud lefty prior to signing with the Rockies, and he can be again. This season, McGee has a 5.56 ERA and opponent slash of .341/.392/.636 at Coors Field. He is getting absolutely clobbered at home. However, on the road he has an ERA of just 1.32 and has held opponents to a .170/.200/.319 line. That is an extreme home/road split. He could be an under the radar get for the Cardinals. He is under contract for 2020 at a not-cheap $9M. However, those road numbers reflect the dominant pitcher that he was with Tampa Bay, which indicates to me that escaping Coors field is the remedy for him.

Now, this trade would not be easy to pull off. The Cardinals would have to part with some legit pieces. However, anyone short of Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman is fine with me. I won’t form an actual trade package, but an elite defensive CF like Bader would be intriguing at Coors Field, starting pitchers like Jake Woodford and Daniel Ponce de Leon would be names to consider. The host of outfielders such as O’Neill, Arozarena, Thomas. Really anyone in the system. There is enough talent to make the trade happen, especially if the Cardinals are willing to take the full $84M off the Rockies books that is scheduled for Blackmon and McGee. It could be done.

It’s not going to happen, but it was fun to think about.

But like I mentioned, even without the blockbuster, Jon Gray and Jake McGee are both players that the Cardinals should be targeting to fill the current needs, McGee especially.

Now let’s sit back and see what moves the Cardinals actually make. It will almost certainly be no one mentioned in this post, because that’s baseball.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks to FanGraphs for the stats. Featured image photo credit: Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

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