The Cardinals are giving rival organizations the sense that they’ll consider trading a young outfielder or even talented righty Carlos Martinez this summer, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. In particular, Rosenthal’s source cites Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas as potential outfield trade pieces for the Cards. The note comes in the course of a broader column (subscription link) on some key questions for the upcoming trade deadline.
It’s a bit difficult to parse this news. O’Neill and Thomas have each seen MLB action this year, though only the former has spent enough time in the majors to tell us much. O’Neill faces long-term questions about his on-base ability, but has been plenty productive (.269/.313/.505) in 224 total plate appearances at the game’s highest level. Thomas hasn’t quite followed up on his strong ’18 output in the upper minors, but he’s seen as a legitimate prospect with at least fourth-outfielder potential.
There are arguments to be made that both of these players ought to be seen as important future pieces for the Cards. Marcell Ozuna is headed for free agency (and presently sidelined with injury), Jose Martinez hasn’t hit enough to make up for his awful outfield glovework, and Harrison Bader has taken a big step back this season. Dexter Fowler has bounced back but still isn’t quite worth his contract. Of course, the St. Louis organization has cycled through quite a few outfield pieces in recent years, having dealt away prime, cost-controlled seasons of players such as Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk.
It’s even harder to gauge the team’s thinking with regard to Martinez. The saga has continued for the hurler even as he has produced excellent results when healthy, no matter in what capacity. He’s through 20 2/3 innings of 2.18 ERA ball as a reliever this year, with 9.6 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9 and a hefty 63.3% groundball rate. While he’s not a particularly cheap player, especially if viewed as a reliever, Martinez’s contract is hardly worrisome for a 27-year-old with his ability level and track record. He’s due $11.5MM this year along with the ensuing two seasons before a pair of club options become available. That’d be a bargain if Martinez can get back to being a quality rotation piece, and not a bad rate if he carves out a new role as a quality back-end reliever.
Generally, it seems each of these three players fits the needs of the St. Louis organization. Unless the club prefers to pick up a better but lesser-controlled outfielder, or shave Martinez’s contract obligations while he’s in a stable place in terms of health and performance, it’s not immediately obvious why any would be dangled in particular.
Notably, we still haven’t heard a definitive statement or report on the Cardinals’ plans for attacking the trade deadline. The club has not strayed too far from the lead in the NL Central, but it also hasn’t moved out of the orbit of an approximately .500 record. As things stand entering play today, the Red Birds are two games over even and an equal number back of the division-leading Cubs. One might think that the St. Louis organization’s postseason drought makes it a win-now buyer, but it’s also arguable that the club shouldn’t overvalue its competitive position and should act in a restrained manner — or, perhaps, target only assets that will also deliver future value.
If the club’s general stance is unclear, it’s also debatable which areas of the roster are most susceptible of improvement. You could certainly make a case for one or more big bats. Frankly, there’s probably room in either the infield or the outfield. It’s equally arguable that a high-end starter should be a priority. The relief unit has some nice pieces, but what bullpen couldn’t stand to be upgraded — especially with a high-leverage arm?