Be realistic, and please admit that you have certain players you do not wish to see leave the Cardinals or the farm system. For whatever your reasons, you have grown emotionally attached to 1 or more, and the thought of them in another team’s uniform amounts to baseball sacrilege. Well, try setting aside those thoughts for a minute or two. Emotionally detach yourself as much as possible and think in purely business terms for a while. There simply cannot be any sacred cows at this point.
The Cardinals currently stand 2nd in the league in runs scored (496), 2nd in batting average (.276), 1st in OBP (.344), and 6th in slugging (.433). The pitching staff has managed a respectable 9th place in ERA (3.71), 11th in WHIP (1.27), and 16th in batting average against (.255). The Cardinals lead MLB in run differential (+94), yet the team stands 6 games over the .500 mark and 7.5 games behind the Reds.
The team has gone 7-3 in the last 10 games and lost 3 games in the standings to the division leader. Cue the growing discontent and angst among portions of the fan base expecting “Trader Mo” to swing a deal that cures all ills. Of course, the makings of such a deal must be out there, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The problem may be deciding exactly how to go about improving a team that has struggled to score runs consistently but can score them in bunches. Mo could start with the starting staff, but consider what the current starting 5 have done.
- Kyle Lohse – 10-2, 136.1 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.093 WHIP
- Jake Westbrook – 9-8, 127.0 IP, 3.61 ERA, 1.283 WHIP
- Adam Wainwright – 8-10, 129.1 IP, 4.24 ERA, 1.281 WHIP
- Lance Lynn – 13-4, 121.0 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.240 WHIP
- Joe Kelly – 1-4, 51.2 IP, 2.96 ERA, 1.316 WHIP
Throw Jaime Garcia back into the mix in a month, and it’s hard to imagine that the team could greatly improve the starting rotation. Mo could start with the bullpen, but that group appears to be turning things around collectively. Jason Motte has not blown a save since June 17th, and he’s posted a 0.68 ERA and a .184 batting average against since then. Mitchell Boggs has only given up 8 earned runs all season, and he hasn’t yielded any since June 12th. Marc Rzepczynski‘s ERA ballooned to 6.00 at the end of June, but he has since dropped it all the way to 4.81 in just under a month. Toss in Brian Fuentes, Trevor Rosenthal, Barret Browning, and Fernando Salas as well, because they have been solid through most of July. The bullpen could conceivably be made better, but it would be difficult to top the month of July that the pen put together.
What about the starting 8 position players? Based purely on production, the weak spots remain up the middle. Furcal hit just .247/.323/.270/.593 for the month of July (so far). Daniel Descalso sits at .246/.329/.351/.680 which at first glance looks like an upgrade over Tyler Greene, but Descalso actually splits .210/.293/.309/.602 against RHP this season. Tyler Greene splits just .198/.270/.296/.566 against RHP. Neither of those 2 guys represents an offensive upgrade over Skip Schumaker at 2B. Then again, if you are looking at the #8 hitter in the lineup as the biggest weakness on your team, then the team has probably already done a lot of things right. The only problem remains that doing things the right way still might not be enough.
If the Cardinals want to a shot at catching the Reds or nailing down a wild card spot, they may need something more. Maybe James Shields makes sense, but the asking price must surely be high. If Zack Greinke in a walk year brought 3 top 10 prospects from a farm system, then Shields with a $9M team option for 2013 and a $12M team option for 2014 likely raises the stakes a bit. Is he worth a package that could include Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, and 2 more top prospects?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t sneeze at the thought of a 2013 starting 5 of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, and James Shields. Theoretically, the 2014 rotation could be Wainwright, Lynn, Kelly, Garcia, and Shields with someone like Carlos Martinez knocking hard on the door. Again, what about the price? Barring an injury to Allen Craig and someday Matt Holliday, it’s hard to imagine Matt Adams seeing much playing time at first base in St. Louis. The Rays could certainly use him to replace Carlos Pena, and that team isn’t shy about getting the most out of young pitchers. This kind of trade could work for everyone involved.
It certainly makes more sense than a deal for Chase Utley. Utley’s contract runs through 2013 at $15M per season. He has barely played in this his age 33 season, and I wouldn’t bet that his bat is superior to Matt Carpenter‘s bat right now. Seems like a lot to pay for a guy who basically is Skip Schumaker at 10x the price. Actually, it would be a ridiculous price to pay for Utley, and that doesn’t even include the cost in terms of traded players.
Maybe that’s why there should be no sacred cows. If the right player becomes available, Mo may simply have to take the risk, and that’s why he gets paid the big bucks. Despite his personal affectations, his job requires that he attempt to make solid business decisions. Sometimes trading a sacred cow is involved. Of course, I’m all for standing pat and hoping the team makes a run as is, because some years things simply work out and sometimes they don’t. Hitting the panic button rarely if ever falls into the former category.
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MORE TID: I’m among the minority when it comes to who should be available on the current active roster. I have no issue with trading Furcal or Greene, although trading both would have to mean a SS coming back to the Cardinals. I’m fine with Descalso at SS and Matt Carpenter getting more time spelling Freese or just about anybody else on the infield.
FINAL BIT OF TID: Apropos of nothing, the Cardinals may just lead the league in players who throw right-handed and bat left-handed. That may seem random, but it also may explain why Tyler Greene still has a job in St. Louis. The team simply lacks right-handed hitters who can pinch hit, and many of the top hitters in the farm system are left-handed hitters. Long term design flaw? Maybe.