St. Louis Cardinals: Remembering a trade that almost was

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 07: Jack Flaherty #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 07: Jack Flaherty #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Back in 2018, the St. Louis Cardinals almost made a move that would’ve made waves for years. What would have happened if the trade would have gone through?

What would life for the St. Louis Cardinals look like if they didn’t have their now-ace Jack Flaherty? This is a life that almost became a reality before the 2018 season.

Before digging in any deeper, it’s important to note that hindsight is 20/20 and at the time of the trade that almost was, most Cardinals fans would’ve been happy with this trade. It will quickly become clear that if it had happened, the team would be hurting bad.

To be clear, Jack Flaherty wasn’t exactly supposed to end up being the ace he has become in 2019. At the time of his drafting out of High School in 2014 with the #34 pick overall, Flaherty was still regarded as a possible two-way player who was one of the “tougher signs” in the first round.

The Cardinals obviously convinced Flaherty to void his college commitment to North Carolina but he was regarded as a “projectable” righty who’s pitches were all just about average at the time of the draft. Now the credit can be shifted to the Cardinals minor league coaching and Flaherty’s own work ethic as he has turned that potential into reality.

Even as he was continually projected as a prospect with a ceiling of about a #3 starter, Flaherty kept working on maximizing his potential.

This work has all led him to where he is now, which is the best pitcher currently pitching in the MLB. His current second-half ERA of 0.76 is unbelievable as he has now lowered his season ERA under 3.00 and looks like an ace that the Cardinals didn’t expect. But what if Flaherty had been traded? Would you believe it if he was offered up at one point?

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According to Bob Nightengale back before the 2018 season where Flaherty had pitched just 21.0 MLB innings, John Mozeliak offered Jack Flaherty to the Toronto Blue Jays for a one-year rental of Josh Donaldson. Thankfully for Mozeliak and the current and future Cardinals, the Blue Jays denied the trade.

Thinking back to the time of the trade, it makes sense for the Cardinals that they would’ve offered up Flaherty for Donaldson who was coming off of three straight years with a .930+ OPS. Remember also that the Cardinals had a returning Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver at the top of their pitching depth. Giving up Flaherty at the time would still have hurt, but not as much when the team didn’t know what he’d become and with the other depth around him.

How would life be different if the Cardinals had given away Flaherty then?

First off, the Cardinals would’ve gotten the year rental of Josh Donaldson in return and would’ve been hurting already.

Standard Batting
YearAgeGPARH2B3BHRRBIBAOBPSLGOPSOPS+
201832522193046140823.246.352.449.801118

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Donaldson’s 2018 was plagued with a calf injury for the vast majority of the year and that led to him playing in just 52 games without being effective while playing. He really was only anywhere close to his former MVP numbers after he was traded on waivers to the Cleveland Indians at the end of the year.

On the Cardinals, Donaldson would’ve played at third base replacing some of the 125 games that Jedd Gyorko played at the hot corner but overall would’ve been a player with minimal impact. The Cardinals could’ve possibly resigned Donaldson for the 2019 season but it would seem like they would’ve stayed away given the injury-plagued year they would’ve gotten from the 32-year-old.

For continuity’s sake, let’s just say that after the one season for the Cardinals, Donaldson still signed with the Braves and had the same resurgence he’s having right now (133 OPS+, 37 HR, 88 RBI’s without injury), the Cardinals would’ve looked like fools at every point.

Flaherty now being in a Blue Jays uniform would have slid into the #2 spot in the Blue Jay’s rotation behind Marcus Stroman.

Standard Pitching
YearAgeLgWLERAGSIPSOERA+FIPWHIPH9HR9BB9SO9
201822NL893.3428151.01821163.861.1066.41.23.510.8
201923NL1072.9929168.11961423.651.0286.61.22.610.5

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

2018 wasn’t a mind-boggling year from Flaherty but it definitely set up the jump he made in the second half this year and was great for the rookie to make 28 starts and throw 151.0 innings without injury.

2019 clearly would’ve been where the Blue Jays were really glad they made the trade as Flaherty and Stroman at #1 and #2 in the rotation with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and the other flood of rookies coming up would’ve likely meant the Blue Jays could’ve held on to Stroman and not had to sell off assets.

Even if the Blue Jays still wanted to sell off Stroman, they could’ve either kept Flaherty to build around or sell Flaherty too and get a huge haul for him.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that this trade would have fans clamoring much much more than they already are for the firing of John Mozeliak.

There’s no way to know if Flaherty would be replicating his current output or that Donaldson would do the same or get hurt, but if they had, the Cardinals should be thanking their lucky stars that the Blue Jays said no.

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Thinking at all the trades in the last two years, this one very well could’ve taken the cake for the worst trade made by far. If the report from Mr. Nightengale is true, the Blue Jays have to be kicking themselves that they didn’t pull the trigger on the trade proposed by Mo. Neither team could’ve predicted the paths of either player since the beginning of 2018 as neither was expected. Personally, I’m very happy the team kept Flaherty.

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