The St. Louis Cardinals need a starting pitcher. There might be one available in South Florida in right-hander Pablo Lopez.
It’s no secret that the St. Louis Cardinals need starting pitching, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, the time to make a move is growing near. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of top-end starters on the market, and the options are quite slim. There is one team, however, that could change everything.
Although they have only made the playoffs once since 2003, it looks like the Miami Marlins are finally on the rise. Sandy Alcantara and Jazz Chisholm are two of the most exciting young stars in the game, and they headline an exciting young core being built in Miami.
That said, general manager Kim Ng still has some work to do as the Marlins work toward becoming a contender. Years of trading stars (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and He Who Shall Not be Named) and picking in the top-10 of each draft has created a strong farm system. However, the majority of Miami’s top talent are pitchers.
Two top 50 prospects – pitchers Eury Perez and Max Meyer– are expected to debut before the end of next season, with top prospects Edward Cabrera and Sixto Sanchez having already made their debut. In fact, the Marlins took all pitchers in the 2020 draft. The Marlins minor-league system boasts tons of pitching talent and depth.
However, outside of Chisholm and 2019 4th overall pick J.J. Bleday (currently hitting .225 in AAA), there aren’t too many hitters showing signs of breaking through. The Marlins drafted position players in each of the first six rounds last season– including top 100 prospect Khalil Watson– but those guys are still years away. In the highly competitive NL East, dominating on just one side of the ball isn’t good enough.
The Marlins currently sit one game under .500. They are ten games out of the division lead and three games behind the third wild card. While it’s not a guarantee that the Marlins will be sellers, there is little reason to believe they would be buyers, either. A deal for talented, young hitting would be tough to pass up.
Why does a Cardinals fan care about all of this? Because there is one talented Marlins player that I haven’t mentioned. Someone who is a little older than the others and might be a free agent before the other prospects arrive. A starter with a sub-3.00 ERA, currently top-10 in the NL in innings pitched, and has 12 more strikeouts than any pitcher on the Cardinals. The starter who should be at the top of their wish list: Pablo Lopez.
Ok, so Pablo Lopez is a good pitcher on a bad team. The important question, of course, is how much this front-end starter costs. I’m not at the meetings or on the phone calls, so I won’t speculate on an exact deal. But there is no doubt in mind that the Cardinals can make a quite competitive offer.
Although the Marlins might want to hold onto a high-quality starter like Lopez, the Cardinals could easily put together an offer that Miami cannot refuse. Between Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, and Alec Burleson, the Cardinals have three major league ready hitters without guaranteed spots in the lineup. The Cardinals value Donovan’s versatility, so I would suggest Yepez or Burleson as a headliner in a package for Lopez.
Any of these three would flourish as one of the top bats in the Marlins’ system, so clearly the deal makes sense from the Miami perspective. But why would the Cardinals ever consider this? With Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill coming back from injury, a roster crunch is on the way in St. Louis. Not to mention Jordan Walker, Mason Wynn, and even Moises Gomez rapidly rising through the minor league system. While quality innings have been hard to come by for the St. Louis Cardinals, soon there won’t be enough at-bats to go around.
The market also dictates the high price that the Cardinals would have to pay. Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics is dealing with shoulder tightness. Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Kyle Hendricks are all unlikely to be traded within the division. Who else is there? Does Zack Greinke or Madison Bumgarner make your team better? At the end of the day, Lopez might be the only option.
If the Cardinals are serious about contending this year, they should not hesitate to make a move for Pablo Lopez. They have shown time and time again that the organization can draft late in each round and still develop successful major league ballplayers. The trick is turning that talent into championships, and part of that trick is trading depth into star talent at the big league level.
It’s quite difficult to find a perfect trade. However, the Cardinals and Marlins look like a really good fit. Pablo Lopez gives the Cards quality innings as a legitimate ace, while the Marlins add depth and quality to their position player pool as they build for the future. The price will be steep on both sides, but each team would benefit from this deal. John Mozeliak, Kim Ng: let’s make it happen.