By Rob Rains
The clock is ticking toward the July 31 baseball trading deadline, which really means one thing – the days and hours between now and next Wednesday are going to be filled with rumors – lots and lots of rumors.
The first thing to remember about rumors is that the vast majority of them are unfounded, not based on any real possibility that a “rumored” trade will actually happen. For fans of the Cardinals, it’s also important to keep in mind that they are perhaps the tightest-lipped team in the major leagues when it comes to leaking information about a planned move.
All of which means if there are trade rumors floating around concerning the Cardinals, it is pretty much a given that the rumor originated somewhere else – from another team, an agent, or a reporter who simply dreamed it up in his head because it seems like a possibility.
Some of those rumors get floated intentionally, trying to gauge the reaction of another team or to let teams know that a player might be available in the right deal. It’s kind of the same as when a manager tells the media something, hoping it is reported, so it gets back to his players.
With or without rumors, could the Cardinals make one or even more deals before the deadline? Sure. It also isn’t out of the question that they won’t make any moves, knowing they will be getting Marcell Ozuna, Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter back soon and could get an uptick in their offense from that group.
The Cardinals and John Mozeliak, who stills calls the shots on trades even though he now has the fancier title of president of baseball operations and not general manager, are in a precarious position as the deadline approaches.
The team has played much better since the All-Star break, relying on youngsters such as Tyler O’Neill, Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz and a power surge of Paul Goldschmidt hitting like Paul Goldschmidt to go 11-3 since the All-Star break and move into a first-place tie with the Cubs in the NL Central.
So does mean the Cardinals will be buyers, sellers, or both, at the deadline or simply stand pat?
If they are going to buy, where will they be looking to upgrade the current roster? Most likely, on the pitching side, but then the question becomes who they will have to put in a deal to make it happen.
If they are going to sell, the decision comes down to what other teams will be willing to give them for the player or players involved, and whether Mozeliak and company think that trade could help the Cardinals now or in the future.
It’s also possible the recent surge has provided enough convincing evidence that the team should not make any deadline moves.
The Cardinals made three trades at the deadline last year, when they were not in as positive a position in the standings – 7 ½ games out of first place — and were two weeks removed from changing managers. The results of those trades have been mixed.
Luke Voit, considered expendable by the Cardinals since he never really had a chance to break into the major-league lineup, was traded to the Yankees for pitchers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos, a virtual unknown at the time but now the best reliever on the Cardinals and one of the best in the National League.
Tommy Pham, never fully comfortable in St. Louis or with team management, was traded to Tampa Bay, where he has played well. Coming to the Cardinals in that deal were left-handed pitcher Genesis Cabrera and outfielder Justin Williams. Cabrera is considered a decent prospect.
In the third deal, outfielder Oscar Mercado, playing at Memphis, was sent to Cleveland for two other minor-league outfielders, Conner Capel and Jhon Torres. Mercado has become the starting center fielder for the Indians and is having a great season. Torres is considered a prospect but is still in rookie ball.
So if the Cardinals do make a trade or multiple trades before the deadline this year, what should fans expect? As the rumor mill kicks into high gear, these are the names which probably will pop up the most often:
Carlos Martinez – Would the Cardinals listen to offers for their closer? Yes, for several reasons. One is that he probably would bring the highest value in return as there are multiple teams in the market for relievers, and he still has the possibility of becoming a starter again in the future. Martinez also has a team-friendly contract with two and possibly four years of control remaining after this season. He is due $11.5 million in 2020 and 2021 with options for 2022 and 2023.
Even though Martinez – although shaky at times – has succeeded as the replacement closer for the injured Jordan Hicks, there is reason to believe that Gallegos could step in and replace Martinez, perhaps without as much drama. Ryan Helsley or Junior Fernandez could be promoted from Memphis to take over the setup role – with the wild-card possibility that Alex Reyes also could become part of the team’s late-inning bullpen options in September.
Michael Wacha – Wacha is pretty much a spare part on the Cardinals now without a defined role, and as a pending free agent, there appears to be no chance that he will be a Cardinal again next year. He will not receive a qualifying offer this winter, so moving him now even for a mid-level prospect would be better than letting him leave over the winter and getting nothing in return. His spot on the roster could easily be filled by Helsley or Fernandez.
Marcell Ozuna – Ozuna also is a pending free agent, but is different than Wacha for a couple of reasons. Even though the Cardinals have not expressed interest in talking with him about a new contract, they would almost certainly make him a qualifying offer this winter, assuring they would at least get a draft pick if he signed elsewhere. They probably also would not be upset if he accepted that offer, unlikely as it might be, because it would only be a one-year deal.
Ozuna’s trade status is complicated by his current injury, however, which would no doubt reduce the value the Cardinals would get backbe cause teams can’t be certain when he will be able to play and how he will play when he does comes back, two tough unknowns when it comes to determining what to give up in a trade, especially for a short-term rental player. The Cardinals also would no doubt consider how the trade package compares to the value of a high extra pick in next year’s amateur draft.
Tyler O’Neill – Before Ozuna got hurt, the outfielder whose name likely would have come up more often in trade talks is O’Neill, who was seemingly blocked from getting regular playing time in St. Louis. The injury gave O’Neill his chance, however, and he has played well, even though he has fallen into a current slump. It still is not out of the question that the Cardinals would listen to offers for O’Neill, knowing they will get Ozuna back at some point this season, and they still have other outfield options already on the major-league roster – including Munoz – and other prospects they could promote such as Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, Adolis Garcia or perhaps even Dylan Carlson directly from Double A.
Kolten Wong – Wong is probably the least likely of this group to be traded before next Wednesday, but still, there are reasons why the Cardinals might think about it or at least listen to potential offers. He should win the Gold Glove this year, which would be of interest to teams with enough offense in their lineup to carry a glove-first second baseman. They also might have become convinced that Edman is capable of playing every day at second since he could well be about to lose his spot at third base with Carpenter’s pending return. Wong also would give a team at least one and possibly two years of control. He is due $10.25 million for next year with an option of $12.5 million for 2021 or a $1 million buyout.
Prospects – There is virtually no chance the Cardinals will consider trading either of their top prospects, Carlson or Nolan Gorman, so forget about any rumors that include their names. Beyond those two players, the system is not loaded with impact prospects, the types of players other teams would want for flipping a major-league player. The highest-ranked prospect the Cardinals might consider dealing, third baseman Elehuris Montero, has missed most of this season with injuries, which clouds his trade status. The team could trade from its surplus of young outfielders, perhaps in a minor deal for a left-handed reliever.
One other point to remember that is different this year: The July 31 deadline is a hard deadline. In the past, teams could make trades after that date if a player cleared waivers, but those trades have now been eliminated. No trades can be made after July 31 through the remainder of the season.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports