St. Louis Cardinals: Three strategies for the 2020 trade deadline
By Matt Graves
Believe it or not, but the 2020 trade deadline is less than two weeks away. What strategies could the St. Louis Cardinals take this year?
Very quickly, the St. Louis Cardinals are catching up to the rest of the league in games played after their 17-day absence. With three doubleheaders this week alone, we are going to get a real good look at what type of team the Cards are very quickly.
As of Tuesday, the Cards have played 10 games. While that is still 11 games fewer than the rival Cubs, it’s better than all the national writers continuing to type, “five games played” and “haven’t played since July 29” in every tweet.
Whether the St. Louis Cardinals are ready or not, the trade deadline is approaching fast. In less than two weeks, the Cardinals will have to choose what they want to do this year. By August 31, the Cardinals won’t be even with the rest of the league in games played, but they will have a better idea than they do right now.
Even though the Cards will be at just 25 games played on deadline day, they still need to come in with a plan. This deadline, given the short season and all that is going on, will be unlike any others. Let’s look at three gameplans that I think the Cardinals could come into the trade deadline with.
Option 1: Stand pat
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite. There is a distinct possibility that the Cardinals head into this deadline with no plans to make any trades. Last year, the team moved Jedd Gyorko in a salary dump, but other than that made extremely minor moves that never had any impact on the MLB team.
Coming into the deadline, the Cardinals are going to have all their positive COVID-19 players back, but their sample size will still be small. For the young players that the team is seeing play right now, they will likely be sent back out when others return, capping their sample size.
On top of this, the reduced revenue coming in with no fans in the stands isn’t going to incentivize the team to add payroll.
There is also a chance that the Cardinals are in a good spot in the standings. Right now, I don’t know if I can pinpoint a definite area of weakness. We’ve seen in the past that when John Mozeliak doesn’t see a clear weakness, he won’t make a move just to make a move.
The combo of small samples, reduced revenue, and unclear weaknesses may make standing pat the safest option so that the Cardinals don’t make a regrettable move down the line. If that sounds like the same old record, I get it, but expanded playoffs this year will make getting in easier. If there is any year to be conservative with trades, this truly may be it.
Option 2: Get aggressive with moving outfielders
If there’s one thing we knew coming into this year, it was that even after the Cardinals moved Randy Arozarena and Jose Martinez in the winter, they still have a ton of outfield depth. After the second round of COVID-19 landed Austin Dean and Lane Thomas on the IL, top prospect Dylan Carlson finally got his chance.
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True to their word, Carlson has played every day since coming up. Even if Carlson hasn’t shown great stat sheet numbers yet, he’s hitting the ball hard. If his playing time is one indication, he’s likely here to stay. That means that when everyone is healthy, the Cardinals will have Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Lane Thomas, and Austin Dean all looking for MLB playing time.
O’Neill has done plenty to dig in a regular lineup spot at left field or DH, but beyond that, the outfield has been pretty fluid with positions and playing time outside of Carlson. I doubt that the Cardinals will be fielding too many calls from other teams begging for anyone not name Carlson or O’Neill, but the team could get aggressive with going out and shopping the other outfielders.
I don’t think there is any chance that the team moves Fowler and his contract, but it’s not out of the question that they could look at moving on from one of the trio of Thomas, Bader, and Dean. In return for one of those players, the Cards could look to get more pitching or just a prospect. It’ll be impossible to get an accurate look at everyone this year, so the team may decide they’ve seen enough from Bader (most likely candidate) and clear the slate for new blood.
Option 3: Sell off a bigger piece
I am not advocating for the Cardinals to be sellers, but if they find themselves in 4th place on August 29, I do think there is a pretty good argument to sell off a player that the Cardinals may not believe has a future with the team.
The guys I am talking about here are older prospects like Daniel Ponce de Leon or Austin Gomber as well as potentially the guy at the top of this list, Carlos Martinez.
For the past few years, Ponce and Gomber have hit the stage where they are ready to move up. They’ve gotten playing time, but due to lack of performance or injury, their rise to “MLB regular” has stalled. They may be regulars this year, but both could have bigger roles on different teams that need starting pitching (I’m looking at you, Atlanta and Boston).
Ponce and Gomber may not fit the “bigger” piece archetype, but Carlos Martinez might. Martinez is currently on the IL, but his role on the team has been in flux for a while. Martinez is healthy from an arm standpoint, and that may make now the best time to trade him. If the other members of the starting rotation continue to show they are adequate, Martinez could be on the block.
With two years left under team control, Martinez could net a solid prospect in return.
If you’ll remember, the Red Sox tried to sign Martinez when he was an international free agent. We have seen Martinez’s name connected with them for years, and with their starting rotation faltering, Martinez could be a guy they would love to have.
The biggest thing for the Cardinals this year is figuring out who is in, and who is out. The team may get calls on any of the three pitchers in this section and decide the deal is right for them.
I don’t think there is any way the Cardinals go out and get a big fish (i.e. Arenado) this deadline. The financial and competitive landscape has changed too much since the start of 2020 for that to make any sense.
Even if they don’t go out and get a big fish, the St. Louis Cardinals could still come out of the trade deadline as a better team, even if it’s not for 2020. All of this changes if the MLB decides to make any changes for the trade deadline in 2020, but for now, they’ll have to think quick.
The smartest bet to take this year is to not put all your chips in the 2020 basket. I’m not talking tanking per-say, but whatever moves you make, they should be towards a longer horizon than this messy year.
No matter what the Cardinals decide to do at this year’s deadline, they are going to need to make a decision fast. I’d expect preliminary talks are already happening. I wouldn’t expect any huge contracts to be moved, but that does not mean that this year’s deadline will be boring.