Who could the Cardinals trade to acquire a top starting pitcher? Here are 14 realistic possibilities

By Rob Rains

It’s time for the Cardinals to take an honest look at this season. Even with their 1-0 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night, snapping a five-game losing streak, they are 11 games under .500 and are facing this daunting challenge:

To reach 90 wins and have a reasonable chance of finishing on top of the NL Central, the Cardinals would have to win 64 of their remaining 99 games, a .646 winning percentage. Possible? Yes. Also, however, highly unlikely.

With the division title all but realistically out of the picture, it would make sense for the Cardinals’ braintrust to begin exploring trade options, and doing so sooner rather than later. Even though the trading deadline doesn’t arrive until the end of July, deals can be made now.

There are four ways to break down the different trade possibilities for the Cardinals, starting with the most obvious – the players who are either scheduled to become free agents at the end of this season or have an option on their contracts. The second group is players with one year left before becoming a free agent after the 2024 season, followed by other players currently on the major-league roster, and then the prospects.

Here is a look at players who fall into each of those categories:

Players with expiring contracts

Four players are in this category – Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks and Paul DeJong.

With the Cardinals in desperate need to improve their rotation, on the surface it seems odd that they would consider trading two of their starting pitchers. But, is there a chance they would re-sign either or both Montgomery or Flaherty when this season is over? If the answer is yes, then they probably won’t be traded. If the decision has been made to let them leave, and receive only a draft pick in return, it makes sense to see what interest there is for either on the trade market.

Montgomery had an interest in talking with the Cardinals about a long-term extension during spring training, but according to Montgomery the team never initiated those conversations. Montgomery said then that when the regular season began, the time to talk would be over.

While his record doesn’t reflect it, Montgomery has been a durable starter for the Cardinals and should have other teams hoping that he could provide a spark to them over the final two months of the year as he did for the Cardinals in 2022.

In Flaherty’s case, it’s a little different situation since he is a homegrown product, drafted and developed by the Cardinals. He likely would be more interested in re-signing long-term than Montgomery, but it also would not be surprising to see him reach free agency and then bolt for a team that was willing to pay more than the Cardinals. Like Montgomery, it makes sense to at least explore the trade market and gauge the interest of other teams.

Hicks also is an intriguing possibility. He was removed from the closer’s role, but still throws 100 miles per hour, and when he can control it, has a wipeout slider. Other teams might look at him as a potential closer again, or if not, at least an effective late-inning reliever. The asking price for Hicks, even in a rental situation, should be high.

There would seem to be almost no chance the Cardinals will pick up the $12.5 million option on DeJong’s contract for 2024, which also has a $2 million buyout. Even though he has received most of the starts at shortstop lately, that merely is out of necessity because of all of the injuries among the team’s outfielders, forcing Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan into that role. With Masyn Winn on track to arrive in the majors next season, trying to trade DeJong now makes sense, even if the trade return is only a mid-level prospect.

Relievers Drew VerHagen and Chris Stratton are the only other players whose contracts expire after this season.

Players with one year left on contract

There are two names on this list but only one the Cardinals should consider trading – Tyler O’Neill, who can become a free agent after the 2024 season. His current back injury, which has sidelined him since early May, complicates any trade discussions, however.

A team taking on O’Neill would have to be convinced that he will soon be heatlhy and that they can keep him healthy through next season. When he is in the lineup, and healthy, O’Neill has proved to be a Gold Glove candidate and a legitimate power threat. The Cardinals, however, seem to have run out of patience with O’Neill and already have a crowded outfield, so moving him – even if the return is low, like DeJong – could make sense.

The only other player on the Cardinals whose contract will expire after the 2024 season is Paul Goldschmidt, who would not appear to be going anywhere. The Cardinals have a $6.5 million option on the contract of Giovanny Gallegos for 2025 or a $500,000 buyout.

Other players on the roster

This is the group that might attract the most interest from other teams, and parting with some of these players could be painful for the Cardinals because it is a talented group. To make deals that will improve the team for 2024 and beyond, however, it is something they will need to consider.

The first player on this list, which might appear as a surprise to some, is Edman. The fact he is on this list is through no fault of his own. He is a quality player, an annual Gold Glove candidate, and his versatility has been valuable even if a case could be made that he should have just been left along as the starting shortstop this season.

Edman is on the list because of the logjam that is coming next year among the team’s middle infielders. Much like the situation that has crowded the outfield this year, the same thing is going to happen next year if changes aren’t made to the group of second basemen and shortstops on the roster.

Moving DeJong clears one spot, but if Edman stays, then the Cardinals very well could have four players – Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Winn and Edman – competing for playing time at twi spots next year. Even if Gorman is the DH part of the time, that is still one player too many.

Edman also has two years of club control left on his contract, not becoming a free agent until after the 2025 season, which will make him attractive to other clubs.

There are six other players in this group whom the Cardinals likely would consider trading, all of whom could be part of a package deal that would bring a variety of players in return – Alex Burleson, Luken Baker, Juan Yepez, Genesis Cabrera, Jake Woodford and Ryan Helsley.

The biggest trade chip of this group would be Helsley, the Cardinals’ primary closer, but who also has not been quite as effective as he was during his All-Star season in 2022. Helsley, like Edman, would come with two more years of club control before hitting free agency after the 2025 season.

It’s not likely that any of the other players in this group would bring a big return by themselves, but could be part of a package deal for a starting pitcher. Burleson and Yepez need to go to a team where they could be the primary DH, something not likely to happen with the Cardinals if they can ever get their best starting outfield of Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson and Jordan Walker on the field together at the same time.

Woodford deserves a chance to be in a starting rotation, but it just never seems like that is going to happen with the Cardinals. He has three years of club control on his contract, not becoming eligible for free agency until after 2026.


This is an area that is always tricky for the Cardinals and likely part of the reason they have been gun-shy about making trades in the last few seasons. What happens if they trade the wrong guy again? Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, Randy Arozarena and even Adolis Garcia, who was designated for assignment, come to mind.

It’s time to take that chance, especially if including a prospect in a deal makes the difference in acquiring a front of the rotation starter. There are three prospects in the Cardinals’ farm system who likely would be of interest to other teams that the Cardinals should consider including in such a deal.

Of all of the players in the minor-league system, three players who should be off limits in any trade discussions are  Winn, right-handed pitcher Tink Hence, currently at Peoria, and outfielder Won-bin Cho, now at Palm Beach. Otherwise, however, everybody else in the system should be on the table.

The three that might be of the greatest interest to other teams are starting pitchers Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevy and outfielder Moises Gomez, all currently playing at Memphis.

Graceffo is right behind Hence as the organization’s top pitching prospect and dealing him likely would be painful, but again, when considering what the Cardinals have to trade, could be a part of a package to acquire a front-line starter. They likely would try to push for another team to take McGreevy instead, a former first-round pick and someone who will soon pitch in the major leagues, but who is a different kind of pitcher than Graceffo.

Gomez received a lot of attention last year when he split the season between Springfield and Memphis and led all of the minor leagues with 39 home runs. The problem is that Gomez is primarily a DH and trying to crack that role on the Cardinals is going to be difficult.


There is no question that whatever trades the Cardinals discuss, the goal has to be to acquire a front-line starting pitcher or two. Because of the fact the Cardinals have to this point been uninterested in meeting the salary demands of the top starters available in free agency, the only way they are going to fill that void is through trades.

The 2024 starting lineup for the Cardinals could line up this way:

Masyn Winn SS

Lars Nootbaar LF

Paul Goldschmidt 1B

Nolan Arenado 3B

Nolan Gorman DH

Willson Contreras C

Jordan Walker RF

Dylan Carlson CF

Brendan Donovan 2B

Is that a good enough lineup to contend for the NL pennant? The answer would be yes, if the front office does its job and brings in some top quality starting pitchers.

The time to make that happen is now.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.