The St. Louis Cardinals' Jordan Walker recently was named the number one prospect in baseball. He began his major league career with a record-tying 12-game hitting streak. Since coming back from a late-April demotion to Triple-A (his first time playing at that level), Walker has batted over .300 with an on-base percentage approaching .400 and a slugging percentage close to .500.
This is exactly what the Cardinals dreamed of when they selected him 21st overall in the 2020 draft as a Georgia high schooler. Walker is a 21-year-old with a magical bat and a very bright future. So why would St. Louis even entertain the thought of trading him? Well, there are two reasons.
First, Walker is a butcher in the outfield. Yes, he's still learning to play in the pasture after previously spending his career as a third baseman. But as was the case with Nolan Gorman, the hot corner is reserved for Nolan Arenado for the next several seasons, so any third base prospect is going to have to find another primary position.
Recent discussions of trading Paul Goldschmidt by this year's deadline and installing Walker at first base ignore the fact that learning to play first base on the fly is at least as hard as learning to play the outfield. Using Walker primarily at designated hitter goes against the modern trend of rotating players through that spot to give guys partial days off. Of course, a mix of DH and OF is working pretty well for Yordan Alvarez in Houston, but that's the exception, not the rule, and it still would require enduring Walker's outfield defense some of the time.
The second reason to consider a Walker trade is that the Cardinals have lots of position players, but they desperately need quality starting pitching. A rotation full of #3/#4 starters obviously is not getting it done. And with Jordan Montgomery, who is pitching like a #2 starter this season, set to become a free agent this offseason, the glaring holes in the rotation are even more evident.
So, what kind of trade would make sense? Well, there happens to be a team that's a great fit. This other franchise has the pitching talent and depth to make such a deal, a serious need for hitting, and a history of pulling off a similar move. That team is the Miami Marlins.
Miami has been churning out pitching prospects as well as just about any team in the last few years. They need quality hitters. They traded Pablo Lopez for Luis Arraez last winter to partially address this deficiency, but the need still exists. They made a pitcher-for-outfielder deal with the Cardinals a few years ago, though that was a reverse of this proposal. And they've traded a young pitcher, Zac Gallen, for a young hitter, Jazz Chisholm Jr., in the recent past, a deal that's worked out well for both teams.
Why Jordan Walker for Eury Perez could make sense for both clubs
All this leads to a proposed swap of Jordan Walker for Eury Perez. Yes, the 6' 8" Perez was lit up for six earned runs in just one-third of an inning his last time out, but in his six starts prior to that, he posted a 0.27 ERA over 33 innings with 38 strikeouts, 20 hits, and nine walks. Even factoring in that blowout, Perez has a 2.47 ERA (177 ERA+) for the year with 54 Ks in 47.1 IP and a WHIP of 1.12.
Similar to Walker, Perez is a top-10 prospect who jumped from Double-A to the majors. Unlike Walker, Perez would fit easily into a role with the Cardinals. Yes, his innings are going to be limited this year and probably next. But if St. Louis could get 120-140 high-quality innings from Perez next season with a target of letting him loose in 2025 and having his talents on hand through 2029, that's a very enticing possibility.
Would the Marlins be open to such a trade? Who knows? Is there inherently more injury risk with pitchers, especially young pitchers, than with hitters? Certainly. Is there a team better stocked with the hitting depth than the Cardinals to make such a deal possible? Maybe a few, but not many.
There's lots of risk to such a move, but there's lots of potential reward in this deal, too. St. Louis' front office typically is pretty conservative, but this is a chance at a bold strike. This is a chance to get the top-of-the-rotation starter the Cardinals so desperately need. This is a risk that is very much worth taking.