While we all itch for a last-second deal that could propel the St. Louis Cardinals into the playoffs, there’s too little to gain and too much to lose
Here’s what the St. Louis Cardinals should do at or before the July 31 trade deadline: Nothing.
Just three games out of first, the Redbirds would typically be buyers, willing to deal a prospect or two for a competent pitcher. That’s the normal course of action for teams in their position. But who among us believes that John Mozeliak will make the right trade for the right price, bringing in someone who will actually make a pennant-run difference?
This isn’t to pile on Mo, who has been eviscerated on air and in print for his recent string of substandard swaps.
If eight-year-old history is still relevant, the Cardinals president of baseball operations is capable of making a worthy trade-deadline deal. On July 27, 2011, Mozeliak shipped Colby Rasmus and three lesser lights to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski, a swap that gave St. Louis much-needed pitching depth. Rzepczynski, a.k.a. “Scrabble,” allowed just one earned run in seven-plus NLCS and World Series innings.
Without that trade, the Cardinals probably miss the playoffs and certainly don’t win the World Series.
It has become gospel that a baseball club in contention must make a late July deal to fortify a weakness and get stronger for the stretch run. Making no move at all would infuriate the fan base. Better to trade a hot prospect for a mediocre veteran than just sit it out. Sure, Mozeliak the trader is on a cold streak, but maybe, like a batter in a slump, he’s due for a hit.
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There are two problems with the make-a-deal-and-pray approach. First, 14 of the 15 NL teams are either playoff-bound or within five games of a Wild Card spot. Late-July buyers nearly always overpay for veterans, but this year the sellers have immense leverage. Bidding for competent players in the NL or AL could be like bidding for the last available toys on Christmas Eve. The prices could be steep.
Second, the Cardinals don’t have many trade chips. Many believe they need another arm more than another bat, but what do they have to offer? Outside of Nolan Gorman (who is reportedly off-limits) there aren’t a lot of farm hands to entice potential trade partners. At the major-league level, they’re thin on enticing position players.
Harrison Bader might be tradeable, but who’ll bite for a .204-hitting outfielder? Kolten Wong could be dealt and replaced with Yairo Munoz, but that would rob the Cardinals of a standout fielder, and what would they actually get for Wong? A two-month rental of a ho-hum setup man?
Sitting out the trade deadline doesn’t mean giving up. In recent years, the Cardinals have found late-season sparks from down on the farm. Last year, Austin Gomber and Dakota Hudson combined to go 10-3. The year before, Luke Weaver went 7-1 in August and September.
Baseball is a fickle sport. Like the philosopher, Joaquin Andujar said, “There is one word in America that says it all, and that word is, ‘You never know.’” There’s a chance that the Cardinals, relying strictly on their current major- and minor-league talent, would be as good going down the stretch, or better, than if they’d made some desperate, headline-grabbing, deadline deal.
Maybe Mozeliak can find a trade option that works, one that brings relief without costing a fortune. But right now, it would take a lot of skill and not a little luck to pull off a deal that would work for the last eight weeks of this season without gutting the team’s future. Is that a chance you’re willing to take?