I think one of the things we’ve started to lose as a society is the ability for multiple things to be true at once. Or at the very least, it’s not trendy to hold that position.
Politically, socially, economically, you name it, the trap tends to be falling into polarization. Things are no different when it comes to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic just posted a story titled “Enough caution. Cardinals need to consider bold action at trade deadline” (subscription required). I totally agree with the headline, but the very first sentence of his story gets right back to this polarization mindset that’s so easy to carry
“Splurge in free agency. Or tear it down.”
Rosenthal himself states that “both are extreme courses”, but that one has to be followed in order to right this ship.
Why not a little of both?
First, this isn’t a dig at Ken Rosenthal at all. He’s one of the best in the business. Anytime Rosenthal says something, I’m listening. But you can still disagree with those you respect or tend to agree with (another lesson we can all learn…), and I think Rosenthal’s stance is indicative of a larger issue with those who are giving their opinions on this team.
The Cardinals can “sell” without “blowing it up”, make moves for 2024, and be aggressive in the offseason, all at the same time
Being bold doesn’t mean you have to trade Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado and go full youth movement.
Being bold also doesn’t mean you hold onto all of your assets and only look to improve through free agency this offseason.
The deadline approach that the Cardinals are trending toward looks like capitalizing on the value of impending free agents, gauging interest in some of their high-value talent, and looking for creative ways to "buy" pitching that will be able to contribute in 2024 and beyond.
Why not "sell" Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery in an extremely thin starting pitching market? While neither will be the top option available by any means, every contender needs starting pitching, and some teams need multiple arms. The lack of arms available will mean the return on guys like this will be much higher than you'd think.
Shopping Jordan Hicks could net this team quite the haul as well. After being a DFA candidate to start the year, he looks like one of the filthiest and most productive relievers in the game as of late. Those kinds of players always fetch more than the other team wants to actually offer.
Shopping Tyler O'Neill around to see who wants to bet on his upside is a wise move as well. And these are just the obvious trade candidates.
I got into this in my podcast "Redbird Rundown (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, the link is here), but there is strong precedent for this kind of deadline approach where a disappointing contender retooled for future seasons at the deadline.
The 2016 New York Yankees traded away Aroldis Champman and Andrew Miller, two very good relievers, and received multiple assets in return that would later help the club, Gleyber Torres (a top-30 prospect in baseball) and Justus Sheffield, who also developed into a top prospect and was later the key to them acquiring starting pitching help.
Not only can St. Louis capitalize on those impending free agents, but they could also shop around some assets that are at their peak value. Giovanny Gallegos is on one of the most affordable reliever contracts in baseball for the next two seasons as well, he's someone that teams would love to add to their bullpen. Ryan Helsley is someone the Cardinals have shopped before and should bring back a nice package. Even Genesis Cabrera could be of value to different clubs.
Those three likely won't fetch the same return that Champman did, but I think it's more than possible that the Miller deal is something that Helsley and/or Gallegos could bring back to St. Louis.
The Cardinals get value back for four guys (Montgomery, Flaherty, Hicks, and O'Neill) that weren't returning next year anyways, and explore getting nice returns for relievers that are at their peak value. Guess what that means?
The Cardinals enter the offseason with two superstars (Goldschmidt and Arenado), a budding young core (Jordan Walker, Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, etc). and a farm system that was already regarded as one of the best in baseball that just got even better...oh while also having $50-$70 million to spend this offseason...even without signficantly raising their current payroll.
Not to mention, I believe they'll be very opportunistic about looking to add controllable pitching at this deadline as well. Maybe they get to swap young bats with Seattle and get a Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, or George Kirby, or put together a strong deal for the White Sox's Dylan Cease, or link up with the Marlins for a Jesus Luzardo or Edward Cabrera.
Sure, it's trendy to write about teams having to blow things up and rebuild with a young core, but the Cardinals, even with how badly they've underperformed this year, are not in a position where they need to tear this down. If they play their cards right, they can enter 2024 with an elite lineup, rebuilt rotation, and a strong farm system through shrewd trades and significant spending.
The Cardinals do not have to pick between splurging or tearing it down. This team is in need of a remodel, not a rebuild. And expect to see the Cardinals capitalize on a seller's market for more assets and the value of their young bats for young pitchers, all while preparing for a critical offseason this winter.