By Rob Rains
With less than a week to go before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, rumors are already flying and the volume is going to only get louder with each passing day.
Some will be interesting; some will be laughable. Others will be more realistic – but there is one important fact to remember: Almost none will actually happen.
Would the Cardinals love to land Juan Soto? Of course. Would they be willing to rip up their farm system to get him? That would seem unlikely. They would not be able to get Soto for what they traded away to acquire Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt in recent years.
Also working against a trade for Soto is that the Cardinals’ biggest need before the deadline is to add at least one starting pitcher, and two would be even better. The cost, especially for a rental who could be a free agent after the season, would be more in line with what the Cardinals probably would be willing to give up.
The Cardinals have been accused in the past, sometimes correctly, of over-valuing their prospects and refusing to include them in a deal which could have, in theory, improved the major-league club. One common theme for people who want to deal everybody in the farm system is that “prospects are cool, parades are cooler.”
The organization, at least in the 15 years that John Mozeliak has been in charge, has always adopted a “big picture” approach to how they operate. There does not seem to be any reason to expect that to change in the coming days.
Their strategy has always been to build from within, drafting players, developing them in their farm system, then promote them to the big leagues. Just one example – in Tuesday night’s game in Toronto, eight of the 10 starters were home-grown players. That is ideal. When they can go get somebody like Goldschmidt or Arenado and the price is reasonable, they will do it.
If what has been reported is correct, the Nationals’ asking price for Soto appears to be a lot more than the Cardinals would be comfortable paying. The Cardinals have been linked to Soto because of one fact – they have seven prospects who most so-called experts rank among the top 100 in the game. That’s the kind of return, with a mixture of young cost-controlled major-leaguers included, that the Nationals are said to be looking for in a Soto trade.
Of course they want Jordan Walker – and Masyn Winn and any of the other top prospects you care to name. Want to add some of the players already in the majors, such as Nolan Gorman and/or Dylan Carlson? Sure, the Nationals would take them too.
Making a trade that includes any of those players would not be in the long-term best interests of the Cardinals. As good as he is, Soto wants, and deserves, to be one of the highest paid players in the game when he hits free agency after the 2024 season. Could that happen with the Cardinals? Probably not. Having two-plus years of Soto in their outfield would be nice, but watching Walker, Winn and the other players who would have to be included in a deal competing against the Cardinals in 2025 and beyond, when Soto also is playing somewhere else, would not be.
It seems far more likely that the Cardinals will try to find a pitcher or pitchers before the deadline to provide short-term help to the club, which still has a good chance at winning the division and advancing to the playoffs, and would keep their long-term goals intact.
One name that has been circulating on the rumor mill is Madison Bumgarner of the Diamondbacks. He is 32, is lefthanded, and has plenty of big-game experience. That’s the positives. The negatives include the fact he still is owed $37 million for 2023 and 2024, averages just more than five innings a start and has not started a postseason game since 2016. Unless Arizona is willing to eat most of that contract and wants a mid-level prospect in return, it would seem probable that the Cardinals could find better options.
Here are a few realistic possibilities, listed in no particular order:
Noah Syndergaard – He is not the pitcher he was a few years ago, but Syndergaard has been fairly consistent for the Angels this year, even if he has averaged just 5 1/3 innings per start, posting a 3.83 ERA. He missed most of 2020 and 2021 because of Tommy John surgery and turns 30 at the end of August. He can become a free agent after the season. Many of the Angels’ top minor-league personnel used to work for the Cardinals, so they know the players in the organization well. It might be possible to get Syndergaard for a mid-tier prospect or perhaps this could be a landing spot for Paul DeJong. The Angels have just six homers and 25 RBIs out of the shortstop position this season.
Jake Odorizzi – The native of Highland, Ill., has made 11 starts for the Astros and has a player option for 2023. The Astros have pitching depth and are said to be looking for a major-league ready outfielder, which the Cardinals could provide. Odorizzi, 32, like Syndergaard, isn’t the pitcher that he used to be when he was an All-Star with the Twins but he could be a fit at the back end of the Cardinals’ rotation considering the uncertainty of when, or if, either Jack Flaherty or Steven Matz will be able to pitch again this season.
Pablo Lopez – The cost for the 26-year-old righthander likely would be higher than for either Syndergaard or Odorizzi. Lopez might be the third best starter available on the trade market, behind Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas (unless the Angels trade Shohei Ohtani), and the fact he is under team-control through 2024 also will drive up the Marlins’ asking price. Lopez has a 3.03 ERA through 20 starts and Tuesday night allowed just two hits over seven innings, didn’t walk a batter and struck out 11 in a win over the Reds. The Marlins are reported to be shopping for an outfielder, especially one who could be their long-term solution in center field. Would Harrison Bader be in play considering how Carlson has performed in center the last month?
Chad Kuhl – A free-agent to be after the season, Kuhl, who will be 30 in September, has made 19 starts for the Rockies this season, his first in Colorado, after pitching for the Pirates. The Cardinals would most likely have to give up a mid-tier prospect to rent Kuhl for the rest of the season.
Jose Quintana – One of two lefthanders on this list, Quintana has made 19 starts for the Pirates, posting a 3.70 ERA. He also can become a free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Pirates likely would be happy to get a mid-level prospect in return. Obtaining a lefthander to put in the back end of their rotation would seem to be of interest to the Cardinals.
Tarik Skubal – The other lefthander on this list, Skubal, like Lopez, would be more than a rental. The 25-year-old Skubal, now with the Tigers, is under team control through 2026. The Tigers have said they will listen to trade offers for almost all of their players, but the asking price for Skubal, due to his years of control, will be high. They will most likely be looking for soon-to-be ready prospects. Skubal has made 19 starts this season with 111 strikeouts in 106 innings and a 3.88 ERA.
Zach Plesac – The Cardinals and Cleveland Guardians have been known to make deadline deals before, back when they were the Indians. Plesac, a 27-year-old righthander, would likely cost the Cardinals a similar package of prospects as Lopez or Skubal considering he is under team control through 2025. He has made 18 starts this season but has only two wins and a 4.08 ERA. Like the Marlins, the Guardians are reported to be looking for a center fielder, which the Cardinals could offer, and a catcher, a spot where the Cardinals cannot offer any help.
The trade deadline is at 5 p.m. CDT on Aug. 2.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Noah Syndergaard by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports