The St. Louis Cardinals are committed to rebuilding their rotation over the offseason through both free agency and the trade market.
For the last few months, it's been widely speculated that one of the arms the Cardinals will add to their rotation will be a proven, cost-controlled arm with a high upside. Having a player like this in your rotation is extremely valuable, as it allows you to allocate money to other players while getting top-end production from a starter making very little in salary.
Who wouldn't want that in their rotation? The problem that the Cardinals are going to run into in their pursuit of this kind of starter is exactly that - everyone wants these players in their rotatoin, and they will not give them up very easily. The evidence was all around at the trade deadline this year.
The only controllable starter who fits this bill that was moved at the deadline this year was Aaron Civale. Civale has had a nice year so far, posting a 2.61 ERA in his 15 starts thus far, and is under club control through the 2025 season, but he is not some future number one or two starter in the making.
What did Civale end up netting the Guardians in return? The Rays traded away 1B Kyle Manzardo, the 63rd-ranked prospect in all of baseball who projects to be a high-level bat in the near future. That's quite the return for a pitcher that I don't think Cardinals fans would have been all that excited about.
So what about the higher-end targets that the Cardinals could go for? Mariners' Logan Gilbert was linked to St. Louis for months, but if you thought Civale's return was strong, wait till you see what people believe Gilbert to be worth.
Of course, trade value is subjective to all teams, but FanGraphs puts out an excellent ranking every year of the 50 most valuable players in terms of trade value. Every player in baseball, regardless of whether or not it would be realistic to trade them, is ranked on this list to assess who carries the most value.
Logan Gilbert ranked as the 33rd most valuable trade chip in all of baseball. For context, he ranked above guys like Randy Arozarena, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bobby Witt Jr., and Jeremey Pena.
If that seems high to you, then I think it may be time to look at just how valuable a starter like Gilbert is in today's game. Gilbert is not a free agent until after the 2027 season, meaning you get number two-level starter production at a fraction of the cost. Instead of paying a guy $25-$30 million to fill that role, Gilbert will likely make somewhere around $3,000,000 next year.
That is incredible value for a player who has put up a 3.66 ERA in 137.2 innings this year. He's also got two years of track record as a legit big-league starter now, proving he's not just some flash in the pan for Seattle.
On that same trade value chart, FanGraphs had Jordan Walker ranked 43rd and Lars Nootbaar ranked 47th among all Major Leaguers. If the Cardinals call Seattle wanting to talk about Gilbert, they are going to ask for names like that.
Maybe some kind of combination of Brendan Donovan and other assets gets a deal done, but regardless, it's going to cost a lot to get a pitcher like Gilbert to St. Louis. The same can be said about a starter like Dylan Cease as well.
Will the Cardinals make a swing that high this offseason? They'll surely consider it. They have the position player talent to pull off such a deal, but they'll have to weigh the cost of a move like this against the cost of adding higher-end starters through free agency. It's a tough decision to make, but one thing we do know is that neither decision will come cheap.