The Tortoise Deadline

John Mozeliak’s favorite fable must have been the tortoise and the hare, followed on closely by the grasshopper and the ant.  Again at the deadline, he’s gone for the slow and steady over the quick and impactful, while continuing to store up his prospects for winter.

I’m not here to disagree with that, though it’s quite a letdown emotionally to get hopes up about Juan Soto due to national reporting only to have the Cards bow out apparently earlier than we knew.  Getting a generational talent would have been an inspiring and exciting thing, but it also would have been a case of Mo going after the shiny object instead of staying focused on what needed to happen.  We can argue if it was the right decision but it’s clearly a justifiable one.

Anyone after that would have been a letdown, even an ace pitcher, but there weren’t too many aces on the market.  The Cardinals and Reds were never going to match up on a deal for Luis Castillo and I imagine the club was a little hesitant to go too overboard for Frankie Montas, given his recent health issues.  Of course the Cardinals will be the first team Montas faces wearing Yankee pinstripes so I guess we’ll get a good chance to wonder about what could have been (or, hopefully, feel like we dodged a bullet after the Cards put up runs against him).

It’s been a while since we’ve talked in this spot, so let’s take the three trades Mozeliak made around the deadline in reverse order.

The most surprising trade was the last one, where the Cardinals picked up Jordan Montgomery from the Yankees.  That part wasn’t terribly surprising, given the need for pitching, though I’ll admit that I was not aware of Montgomery before the deal was made.  What was surprising, however, was that the trade was a major leaguer for a major leaguer, with the Cardinals deciding it was time to move on from Harrison Bader.

It feels like the front office has spent a lot of time trying to get this idealized outfield of Bader, Tyler O’Neill, and Dylan Carlson together.  At the deadline in 2019, there was a report that the Mets wanted Bader or O’Neill (plus what, we don’t know) for Zack Wheeler.  Even though pitching was fairly needed then, the club didn’t budge because of the potential of both of those guys for them.  You could argue if they’d swapped Bader for Wheeler and then signed him to the deal the Phillies did it’d have easily been worth it given Wheeler’s last few years, but since the Cardinals didn’t actually sign Wheeler as a free agent that offseason, it probably wouldn’t have happened, and Bader’s been worth more than just a couple of months of any pitcher.

That said, you have to wonder if the relationship between the club and Bader had taken a step back.  Of course, there was the game earlier in the year when Bader was taken out of the game for the lack of hustle.  The rehab of the current injury hasn’t gone as smoothly as you’d like, but whether that’s just the nature of the plantar fasciitis or if he’s not following the suggested treatment plan, I don’t know.  I did think it was interesting that he said recently something to the effect of “we’ve tried everything but doing nothing” when I thought that the initial treatment was to keep him off the foot for a period of time.  That probably just my misconception, though.

Anyway, that vaunted three-man outfield never got a very extended run together.  I asked on Twitter how many games the three had started together and was told it was 29.  I’m guessing that was just for this year, but even over the course of the three seasons that Carlson has played, it doesn’t feel like it was as much as you’d like.  Bader started last season on the IL and was on it again for a month later on.  Carlson missed a few games with a short IL stint later on.  O’Neill missed some time, though not much and some overlapped with Bader.  All in all, if I was to guess, I’d say those three were only on the field together 60% of the games since Carlson made his debut.  Which isn’t exactly the ideal.

It’s also interesting to see the team take a small step back from the defensive focus that they’ve had.  Carlson is a fine center fielder, to be sure, but he doesn’t have the pure range and speed that Bader did.  We’ve already seen the team prioritize offense over defense in the infield with Nolan Gorman and the outfield with Juan Yepez so it feels a bit like they are trying to find a good balance between a very solid defense and an offense that isn’t quiet.  We’ll see how long this O’Neill-Carlson-Lars Nootbaar outfield runs but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Alec Burleson got a call sometime this month.

As for Montgomery, he seems perfectly fine.  Many years the Cardinals don’t have any left-handed starters, now they have two for the rest of the year and, most likely, two for next year as well as Montgomery is under team control for 2023.  (Steven Matz will return then as well, which probably means the other lefty acquired will be allowed to leave as a free agent.)  We’ll get our first real look at him on Saturday, when he goes against his former team, but I’m optimistic he’ll be a solid piece and you can hope that the new surroundings, including a pitching-friendly ballpark, will help him out.

The middle trade happened Monday night, when Mo sent Johan Oviedo and Malcolm Nunez to the Pirates for Jose Quintana.  This move surprised no one, as Quintana seemed tailor-made to fit the Cardinal mold.  A rental who is having a good year, Quintana is well removed from those White Sox days when he was dominant (and hopefully has washed off all the Cub) but has made adjustments to have a bounce back season.  He’ll get the grounders and strike out some, but not a lot.  He’s your typical mid-rotation kind of guy but that’s exactly what this club needs.

Hopefully Oviedo and Nunez go on to have successful careers with the Pirates.  You feel bad for Oviedo, who just two weeks ago was scrambling across two countries to try to be eligible to play in Toronto.  Now, not only does he get dealt, Pittsburgh immediately optioned him to the minors.  It sounds like the Pirates have some ideas for helping him get better and they want him to try those out at AAA, but for a guy that was starting to have success in a major league bullpen, going to the minors after being traded to a lesser team has to be a little bit rankling.  The Cardinals play the Pirates nine times in September and October, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if they don’t face their former teammate at some point.

The initial trade was also the smallest, as Edmundo Sosa got shipped to Philadelphia for Jojo Romero, who was sent to Memphis.  Romero might be eventually some middle part of a bullpen, probably not this year, but this was more about getting Sosa a place to play.  Sosa was out of options and Paul DeJong had done what he was supposed to do at Memphis.  He needed to return to the big leagues and there wasn’t a spot with Sosa still around.  With the Phillies jockeying for that last wild card spot, Sosa could get a playoff share no matter what happens.

The Cardinals aren’t radically different than where they were before the deadline, but they are better.  For one thing, they currently have a fifth starter, which was not something that was obvious before the deals.  It also pushes Andre Pallante to the bullpen, strengthening that piece as well.  I’d have rather seen Pallante stay in the rotation and Dakota Hudson work out of the pen, but Hudson’s really not done much bullpen work and his control issues could be highlighted in those situations.  He’s definitely the weakest link, though, and if there is a potential for Steven Matz to return this season, he’ll be the guy pushed out.  The return of Jack Flaherty might also do it, though right now it’s impossible to guess what Flaherty would look like when he returns.

While the Cardinals got better, the division leader….got worse?  The Brewers only had a four game lead at the deadline, not one that you’d think comfortable enough to do major surgery on.  The Josh Hader trade was understandable, given the other arms in their bullpen, but it also seems to have upset a pretty delicate chemistry in the clubhouse.  The Brewers have lost two in a row to Pittsburgh, including last night on a walkoff homer against the new closer, Devin Williams, who if you’ve seen interviews was obviously very shaken and disappointed by the trade.  It’s possible that the Brewer front office looked too much at the future and not enough at the present, but it’s also likely that the Brewers will settle down and be fine.  Still, it’s possible for the Cards to be tied for first by the end of the day, which only will feed into that “the Cardinals are coming” mentality.

The Cardinals kept an eye on their future as well but did so by not dealing off any prospects save Nunez, who was well and truly blocked in the system.  They kept Carlson and Gorman.  They kept Burleson, who I was almost positive would get moved in some deal.  They kept Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Gordon Graceffo, and Tink Hence.  All of those folks that have fans excited are still coming and perhaps even sooner than you think.  Walker was moved to the outfield after all the deals were done and while I doubt we’d see him in September, I don’t think I’d completely rule it out.  (In the process of writing this, Mo said in an interview it would be very unlikely to see Walker this year, but didn’t completely rule it out.  He also indicated we’d see Burleson at some point.)

Having the best player in baseball would have been a lot of fun and I imagine it would have been quite successful for the Cardinals.  This consolation prize, of an upgraded rotation and a horde of talent coming, isn’t terrible.


Tuesday, July 26 (10-3 loss at Toronto)

Hero: Dylan Carlson.  He homered in the first to start the scoring, then drove in another run later with a single.

Goat: Junior Fernandez.  Not only did he allow all three of the runners he inherited from Jordan Hicks to score, he was charged with three runs of his own.  That’s a rough less than two innings.

Notes: Andre Pallante started and went four innings, allowing three runs while striking out four.  He only threw 78 pitches but given that he’d allowed seven hits I don’t think Oli Marmol wanted him to face the top of the lineup for the third time….Jordan Hicks got that top of the lineup to go 1-2-3 in the fifth, but gave up three hits, two walks, and a run before turning it over to Fernandez.  After seeing his next couple of usages, you wonder if they are going to shift away from him being a multi-inning guy….T.J. McFarland did fine, going 1.1 innings and allowing nothing.  We’ll see if they ever trust him enough to be in relatively close games, however….two hits for Tommy Edman and Corey Dickerson, who definitely has made the most of his return from the injured list.

Wednesday, July 27 (6-1 win at Toronto)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  The Cardinals needed a big win and Uncle Charlie delivered.  Seven scoreless, eight strikeouts, only one run allowed.  Classic Wainwright.

Goat: Tommy Edman.  0-5, three strikeouts, three left on.  Edman had a .498 OPS in July and while he doesn’t always lead off, there are probably better options when he does.

Notes: We could have gone with Albert Pujols for the Hero, what with his three hits–a single, a homer, and a double–and his three RBI.  It was definitely turn back the clock night….with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado not there, the second stringers stepped up, with Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, and Andrew Knizner all getting two hits….Nootbaar and Knizner had doubles while Gorman launched a solo shot earlier in the fourth before Pujols’s three run blast put the game on ice.

Friday, July 29 (6-2 win at Washington)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  Nothing wrong with the top of the rotation.  Following up on Adam Wainwright’s start, Mikolas went seven as well, allowing two runs and striking out four.

Goat: Albert Pujols.  The magic ran out in this one as AP went 0-4 with a strikeout.

Notes: Back-to-back homers by Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar helped make the late innings anticlimactic….Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado returned, though they combined to go 1-7 with an RBI and a run….another two-hit game for Andrew Knizner, the only one to have multiple hits in this affair….Dylan Carlson went 0-4 in the leadoff spot but this might have been before John Mozeliak told him he wasn’t going to be traded.

Saturday, July 30 (7-6 loss at Washington)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Activated before the game due to the Sosa trade, DeJong hit a two-run homer and drove in another with a sacrifice fly.

Goat: So many options in the bullpen but I’ll go with Genesis Cabrera, who gave up the winning three-run bomb by Josh Bell.  Too bad the Nationals weren’t on the schedule for this week instead…..

Notes: Lay this one at the collective feet of the pitchers.  Dakota Hudson only went 4.1 innings, which was part due to pitch count (83 when he left and Oli Marmol said he was going to be capped around 95) and part due to Juan Soto coming up with a runner on….unfortunately, Packy Naughton couldn’t hold the door this time, as the Patron Pitcher of the Blog gave up three hits, allowing his inherited runner to score and two of his own to come in, tying the game at four.  He did strike out two, though….Jordan Hicks had a perfect sixth, then hit a batter to start the seventh and was pulled for Cabrera to face Soto and Bell.  Hicks only threw 11 pitches but Marmol apparently didn’t like the matchup, going with Cabrera with incendiary results….the last Cardinal appearance for Johan Oviedo had him throwing a scoreless inning with a strikeout….two hits for Tyler O’Neill in his first two plate appearances, then he pulled himself out of the game as his legs were tightening up.  He didn’t return until Tuesday….two hits for Nolan Gorman and a homer for Nolan Arenado.

Sunday, July 31 (5-0 win at Washington)

Hero: Andre Pallante.  In his best start in the bigs, he went eight scoreless innings, giving up three hits, striking out eight and walking one.  He tried for the shutout, but he allowed a single and a double to start the ninth (neither of them hit terribly hard) and Ryan Helsley came in to clean it up.  I’d still much rather see him stay in the rotation than Hudson, but he should be an effective bullpen piece.

Goat: Paul Goldschmidt.  0-5 with three strikeouts is pretty uncharacteristic for a guy that is probably the MVP frontrunner.

Notes: Quiet offensive day except for Corey Dickerson, who went 3-4 with a double, a homer, and three RBI….Paul DeJong homered again….Dylan Carlson drove in the first run with a groundout but was 0-5 on the day.

Tuesday, August 2 (6-0 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Lots of options but we’ll go with Paul Goldschmidt, who went 2-3 with a walk, a homer, and three RBI.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  0-4 and a strikeout.

Notes: If there were any concerns about Adam Wainwright hitting a wall after that seven run outburst against Cincinnati, they were eliminated with these last two starts.  Here, he went seven scoreless innings, allowing just six hits with four strikeouts… doubt it helped to again be throwing to Yadier Molina, who was activated for this game to resume the chance for the most prolific battery record.  Wainwright had a 3.93 ERA/4.27 FIP with Yadi gone.  It was 2.84/3.49 before Yadi was injured and last night only made those numbers better.  Molina did go 0-4, though….three hits and a walk for Lars Nootbaar….home runs by Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson as well as Goldschmidt.

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