Should the St. Louis Cardinals worry about intradivision trades?
By Greg Simons
The St. Louis Cardinals, like every MLB team, give extra consideration to trades within their own division. But should they really worry about this?
There’s long been concern that trading with another team in the same division could have long-lasting repercussions, as the players dealt could come back to haunt the team that gave them up. Franchises and their fans potentially could suffer the indignity of having those players do damage against their former team again and again over the coming years, highlighting the error of sending them away.
Is that really a significant concern, though? If a team is trying to get improve itself through trades, that process will require surrendering talent to get talent, and the risk of the players a team gives up performing well is part of that equation. Yes, it would sting a little more to see those good performers 19 games a year, but that’s part of the cost of doing business.
However, that won’t even be as big a factor starting in 2023. Under next year’s scheduling format, every team will play its division-mates only 14 times per year. The tradeoff is more interleague games, resulting in a more balanced schedule, a key modification given the increased number of playoff spots and the obvious varying strengths among the divisions.
For example, the American League East clearly is better than the AL Central, so this new setup will give the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and even the Baltimore Orioles – who are playing fairly well but see their improvements obscured by the might of their division opponents – a better shot at the playoffs by allowing them to face weaker teams throughout MLB in place of the typical juggernaut squads assembled in the Bronx and Boston.
What does this mean for the Cardinals? It means if there’s a chance to acquire more starting pitching, such as the Reds’ Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle – if he comes back from the Injured List and proves he’s healthy before the trade deadline – or the Pirates’ Jose Quintana, St. Louis shouldn’t be overly concerned that whatever players it gives up to cinch such a deal might come back to burn them in future seasons.
It means if Pittsburgh outfielder Bryan Reynolds (who just landed on the IL and is an imperfect fit if the Cards’ outfield is fully healthy, but a strong player nonetheless) or closer David Bednar (a great fit for a bullpen that needs help) can be had, the prospective talent being sent away should be commensurate with the talent being added, without worry that those new Pirates will be future thorns in the Redbirds’ side. (And based on the Pirates’ stance, neither player is going to be available until at least this winter anyway.)
And it means if an opportunity arises to bring in the Cubs’ Willson Contreras to be the primary catcher while Yadier Molina is out and then will split time with him behind the plate and serve as a part-time designated hitter afterwards, St. Louis should be more than willing to pull the trigger on such a deal.
Could a short-term rental of Contreras burn the Cardinals similarly to how the Lou Brock–Ernie Broglio trade stung the Cubbies? Maybe, but improving the Cardinals’ chances of capturing another World Series championship in Molina’s and Albert Pujols‘ – and possibly Adam Wainwright‘s – final season most likely is worth the risk of former Cards turned Cubs having success against St. Louis in the future.
The Cardinals are a good team now. There will be trade opportunities in the coming weeks to make the 2022 roster better, and any concern about repeatedly seeing former players in other teams’ dugouts in 2023 and beyond should be countered with a win-now mentality the front office rarely has shown.