Even as their NL Central rivals landed improvements in the midst of a tight race, the Cardinals came away empty at yesterday’s trade deadline. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke down the fruitless negotiating effort and the ensuing comments of Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.
The Cards “explored starting pitching first and foremost,” said Mozeliak, with an eye to improving an underwhelming rotation. Presumably, they continued to engage on lefty relievers. There’s no indication whether the team contemplated position-player improvements, though there was certainly an argument to be made for some exploration on that front. The Cards are loaded with options, but the production at second and third base has been sporadic and center field has been a bit of a black hole this season.
While the St. Louis front office is no doubt keenly interested in breaking a four-year string of seasons that ended without postseason appearances, it wasn’t willing to bet the farm on 2019. Per Goold, the club wasn’t willing to give up outfielders Tyler O’Neill or Harrison Bader to rent Zack Wheeler down the stretch, as the Mets demanded. Neither were the Cards amenable to parting with top prospects Dylan Carlson and/or Nolan Gorman in order to pry loose a quality hurler with 2020 contract control, such as Robbie Ray or Mike Minor.
Given those stances, perhaps it’s less than surprising that nothing got done. Gorman and Carlson were obvious targets for other teams to pursue when the Cards came calling on good starters. The club’s other best prospect, catcher Andrew Knizner, is on the MLB roster at present and likely was also off limits. While we had seen indication that the Cardinals were dangling some young outfielders, including O’Neill and the just-promoted Lane Thomas, it seems that those pieces were not available under all circumstances.
Ultimately, the Cardinals did swing two deals with the Dodgers, adding recently designated reliever Zac Rosscup and sending out unwanted infielder Jedd Gyorko. They also claimed southpaw Adalberto Mejia in advance of the deadline. It’s tough to say that any of those acquisitions moved the needle, especially in comparison to the acquisitions of the rival Cubs (Craig Kimbrel, Nicholas Castellanos, David Phelps, Tony Kemp), Brewers (Drew Pomeranz, Ray Black, Jake Faria, Jordan Lyles), and even Reds (Trevor Bauer).
There certainly seemed to be room to improve. There’s an argument to be made that the Cards ought to have been more willing, in particular, to part with some of its young outfielders to make something happen. Then again, the winter St. Louis blockbuster has served to highlight some of the pitfalls in such moves. There will be a need for some of those players next season as well, with others perhaps still representing future trade fodder. And it’s hard to second-guess a team’s internal valuations on players it knows better than anyone might hope to from the outside.
As Mozeliak summed things up: “When you spend seven straight days in a room working on something, you tend to want to see something come out of it. So, there’s a high level of frustration, even for us. But we answer to people and have to be responsible for decisions that come out of it and we just didn’t feel we could get there.”