(5) - Shane Bieber, Miles Mikolas, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson, Gordon Graceffo
Here is my big prediction. For better or for worse, I think the Cardinals and the Guardians are destined to make a Shane Bieber trade, whether it is at this year's deadline or in the offseason.
The Guardians desperately need to add bats to their lineup, and Bieber is going to be a free agent after the 2024 season. While Bieber has continued to pitch like one of the best starters in baseball, his velocity has dipped a lot. Zack Meisel of The Athletic just covered how Bieber has reinvented himself as a starter to maintain his success (subscription required), but the underlying numbers are at least a bit concerning.
If the Cardinals want to maximize their championship window in 2024 and beyond, investing in a starter like Aaron Nola in free agency would make a lot of sense. They can keep guys like Tommy Edman, Juan Yepez, and some of their other valuable young talent (which is till take a lot more than Edman and Yepez), while upgrading their rotation.
Still, at this moment, it just feels too perfect for the Cardinals to go after a player who was once considered one of the best in the sport but now people are doubting if he can continue his success going forward (sounds a lot like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado before they were acquired). Bieber just turned 28, so he's got plenty of years ahead of him as well.
As for the rest of the rotation, Mikolas was extended for two more years on a very affordable deal, and looks like he is back to being a legit number-two starter. The rest of the rotation is a bit up for grabs. I do believe Steven Matz will end up being a bullpen arm for the club but is probably the next man up for the rotation in my scenario.
Matthew Liberatore should lock down a rotation spot going into next year and could be a nice number four type starter. Zack Thompson was sent down to Memphis to build up to being a starter in 2024, and with how great of a reliever he has been, I think that shows that St. Louis really thinks he could be a valuable starter.
The issue with Liberatore and Thompson though is I'm not sure if either guy can be relied on to be a true number three starter, which is not a slight against them, I just think it's not fair to expect that from them. That's why I have Gordon Graceffo making the rotation. While he has struggled this year, he has the highest upside out of the guys who are really close to St. Louis.
I think there is an outside chance a Tink Hence or Cooper Hjerpe could make the rotation, as they seem to have the highest upsides in the system pitching wise and should both be knocking on the door of an MLB debut come Spring Training. I think it's more likely they make their debuts later in 2024 though.
If the Cardinals can grab an ace before 2024, I'm not against them running with three young guys in the rotation. See what you have in your young talent, and if one or two struggle, you still have Matz and then guys like Hence, Hjerpe, Michael McGreevy, and more. If it's still an issue at the deadline, than the Cardinals can acquire some innings then.