The St Louis Cardinals insist that their two trades made them better, but did they? There’s a lot of reasons to be skeptical.
When the St. Louis Cardinals announced their two trade deadline acquisitions, left-handers J.A. Happ and Jon Lester, the immediate reaction, was “Why?” President of baseball operations John Mozeliak answered that question and his response, simply, was that they “landed some pitching that would give us some stability and some experience. … We took a couple of steps forward without having to sacrifice our future.”
But did they?
It’s true that the Cardinals did not sacrifice their future in either deal, surrendering struggling right-hander John Gant and outfielder Lane Thomas. The moves even created room in the future rotation, as both Happ and Lester are free agents at the end of the year, which is something the Cardinals likely had in mind when making these trades. But did they actually get better?
I don’t think so. Both Happ and Lester are in their upper 30s and have posted ERAs of at least 5.5 this season. In their analysis of the trades, The Athletic asked what the Cardinals could have done instead. Their answer? “Looked at a calendar to know what year it was.” Ouch. But it’s true! Neither pitcher has performed well in recent seasons and Lester has been on a steady decline since he left the Chicago Cubs.
Each were curious moves, especially as the Cardinals expressed optimism about cutting their 10-game deficit in the National League Central as they started their stretch of 21 out of 24 games against sub .500 opponents. If that was indeed the case, you would expect the Cardinals to acquire better pitchers to maximize those chances — and they could have done that without parting with any of their top prospects.
We should see soon if Mozeliak and the front office is right, but if you’re skeptical about the moves, just know that you’re not alone.