The dangers of waiting to acquire a pitcher at the Trade Deadline

Recent reports indicate that the St. Louis Cardinals are planning to wait until the Trade Deadline to acquire another starting pitcher. That may not be the best idea.
St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session
St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session / Marc Serota/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals' 2024 starting rotation is vastly different than it was last year. Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and Sonny Gray add plenty of quality starts, strong track records, and a positive clubhouse presence. However, the high-end talent simply isn't there beyond Sonny Gray.

Recent reports by Derrick Goold and others have indicated that the Cardinals are done adding to the starting rotation this offseason. The bullpen is a different story, but the rotation seems to be set barring an unexpected change in either the free agent or trade market.

The starting rotation simply isn't enough to contend in the playoffs. Miles Mikolas's days of dominating a game for seven innings are over, Steven Matz isn't always healthy, and Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn are too prone to giving up hits and home runs to maintain a low enough pitch count. This has left fans clamoring for one more addition to the rotation. This addition will likely come at the Trade Deadline now, assuming St. Louis is in a better position come July 2024 than it was in July 2023.

The Trade Deadline is a recipe for uncertainty, though. While starting pitching prices have never been higher in the free agent market, the trade market prices appear to be plateauing. In his most recent chat, Goold discussed the price of trade candidates both now and at the Trade Deadline.

"So, given the more teams involved, the more time with the player, and the more cost-controlled appeal, I'd suggest now is more expensive. All the deadline has is urgency. Is urgency enough to trump all those other factors in play now? Sometimes. But not usually."

Derrick Goold

Goold posits that tradeable players are more expensive now than they will be in eight months. However, there are still dangers to waiting. Take Lucas Giolito as a case study. Giolito was having a very strong season last year leading up to the deadline. In twenty-one starts with the Chicago White Sox, Giolito had a 3.79 ERA, 4.43 WHIP, and he struck out nearly ten batters per nine innings. That's near ace-level material.

However, once he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels and subsequently picked up by the Cleveland Guardians, Giolito's numbers worsened dramatically. In 62.2 innings, Giolito allowed twenty-two home runs, had an ERA approaching 7.00, and his walk rate skyrocketed. Giolito moved to two different cities within two months, had to work with two entirely new pitching staffs, had to adapt to new catchers on two separate occasions, and probably received tweaks that he wasn't comfortable with twice.

Had Giolito been given Spring Training to familiarize himself with a new organization, he could have returned to his old ways. That is the true benefit of acquiring players during the offseason. They have the ability to get comfortable with an organization, potentially one of the issues Willson Contreras faced last offseason.

If St. Louis waits until August to trade for a pitcher like Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber, or Jesus Luzardo, then there is the potential that player struggles in the final months of the season. While the price of prospects or players may be higher during the offseason, the risk is much greater at the Trade Deadline. Urgency, rashness, and limited time to get comfortable all stand in the pitcher's path to success.

Suffice it to say, the Cardinals should push hard this offseason to trade for one of the aforementioned starting pitchers. This gives the pitcher Spring Training to get comfortable, it gives the Cardinals a greater chance to be in first place throughout the year, and it gives the player more time to get familiar with St. Louis and potentially sign an extension.