Can the Cardinals be buyers and sellers at the same time?

John Mozeliak has a chance for this to be a franchise-changing trade deadline season.
Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

The next couple of weeks will determine if the Cardinals are sellers or buyers at the trade deadline. The consensus is that if the Cardinals are around 500, they will be buyers. That is fine if they are the right buyers. Depending on what they do at the trade deadline this year, it could affect this team for years to come. 

Last year was easy. There was no way the team was in a position for a playoff run. This year every single team in the National League is competing for a wild card slot. That means right now in the NL there are twelve teams in the same situation the Cardinals are in. 

What teams usually find at the deadline is rental players. Players that may help you get to the playoffs but whose contract is only good to the end of the year. Last year as a seller we traded away Montgomery and Flaherty whose contracts we up at the end of the year. Let’s say the Cardinals think they can get Luis Severino, Patrick Corbin, or Shane Bieber at the deadline. Those teams will want some of our cost-controlled players from this roster or prospects or both. If we make trades for playoff push pieces, then that will make next year’s roster construction even harder. 

In 2025, the Cardinals only have Sonny Gray, Nolan Arenado, Willson Contreras, Miles Mikolas, Tommy Edman, and Steven Matz under contract. Their combined contracts will total a little over $103 million dollars. The opening day budget this year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, was $175 million. If they just spend the same amount next year, then they will have $72 million dollars to spend on next year’s team. That is just a little more than Shohei Ohtani’s contract or less than what it would cost to add just Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole.  

MLB teams must have 26 players on their roster, with a maximum of 13 pitchers allowed. That means they will need ten more pitchers and ten position players. What could this team look like? We can make a few educated guesses. 

Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, Giovanny Gallegos, and Keynan Middleton have club options. If the team thinks a minor league pitcher or two might be ready, they may let one of Lynn or Gibson walk. Let’s say they keep Gibson for 12 million, leaving $60 million dollars. 

Under club control, these players - Brendon Donavan, Alec Burleson, JoJo Romero, Nolan Gorman, Ivan Herrera, Masyn Winn, Lars Nootbaar, John King, Matthew Liberatore, Ryan Fernandez, Nick Robertson, Riley O’Brien, and Michael Siani - should get new contracts. Some will get the minimum and some will go through arbitration. That could be anywhere from roughly $750,000 to just under one million each. Let’s split the difference and use $875,000 for thirteen players. That equals almost $11.3 million, leaving $48.7  million. 

If the Cardinals think that Jordan Walker and Victor Scott II are ready to contribute, they will combine for another $1.5 million, leaving only $47.2 million left to spend. 

With this as a starting point, they will have a team that looks like this for 2025. 

C- Contreras, Herrera

1B - Burleson

2B - Gorman

3B - Arenado

SS - Winn

OF - Nootbaar, Scott, Walker, Siani

Utility - Edman, Donovan

SP - Gray, Matz, Gibson, Mikolas

RP - Romero, King, Fernandez, Liberatore, Robertson, O’Brien

That is a 20-man roster at $127.8 million. On the pitching side, if they use 13 players, then they need 4 more. Two starters and two relievers. By default, that leaves room for two offensive players.

The Cardinals have 6 holes to fill and will probably only spend $47.2 million to do that. To understand just how little that is, Sonny Gray will make $25 million next year. So if we get one more pitcher equal to Gray, that leaves an average of 4 million to spend on each of the remaining players. 

One more problem the Cardinals will have is if they want to sign Paul Goldschmidt to a contract, we start at $17.6 million. According to the CBA, they cannot reduce his salary by over 20% of his current salary. That would leave less than $30 million to get 5 players and two of them would have to be starting pitchers.

By trying to get to the playoffs this year, the team could put themselves in a position to be scrambling in 2025 and beyond. If they trade away young cost-controlled players that can make the roster next year and the prospects in the minors like Scott aren’t ready then they will do what they did this year and look for band-aids (Carpenter and Crawford come to mind). The only way to make this work is if the trades they make at the deadline are with an eye toward the next few years instead of just this year’s playoff run. Trade some of our assets for high-value, cost-controlled starting pitchers who will also be here for the next few years. 

Usually, at the trade deadline, there are two choices. Option one is to sell. Trade away Goldschmidt, Helsley, and any other players that will get you something before you lose them in free agency. Option two is to be buyers. Bring in a few pieces for the playoff run, hope you can go deep, and worry about next year when this season is over. 

The Cardinals are in a unique spot this year. They could be one of the few teams that should focus on option three. Sellers and buyers. Sellers because if you look at the above scenario, trying to sign Goldschmidt will be very difficult. They can be sellers by moving Goldschmidt, and Helsley and listening to other team’s offers for other players. 

They can be buyers at the same time. If they move a few prospects or even some veterans for good young cost-controlled pitching, then the next few years won’t look so bleak. But only if they go all in bypassing the mid-tier players and focusing on the high end. That also means staying away from the thirty-something crowd. The Cardinals may have to overpay for some of those players, but it would be a move worth making. 

With one eye on the playoffs and the other on next year, this will be John Mozelaik’s most critical trade deadline in a long time.