The Cardinals didn’t play on Saturday due to a rainout, and team president of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the unscheduled off-day had the benefit of providing “a timeout or break because right now we’re not playing great baseball.” A 5-13 slide over their last 18 games has dropped St. Louis to an even 35-35 record for the season, and the Cards sit in fourth place in the NL Central (3.5 games out of first) and 4.5 game in the NL wild card race.
With a minus-39 run differential, an argument could be made that the Cardinals are fortunate to even be a .500 team. The Cards haven’t really excelled in many areas this season, as the lineup, rotation, and bullpen have all had their share of struggles. These issues and several injuries have all caught up to the team during this 18-game stretch, with Mozeliak noting that “it’s multi-dimensional, right? The days you hit, you don’t pitch. The days you pitch, you don’t hit. Then some flawed defense. Where we are — the health question isn’t going away any time soon, unfortunately.”
In response to these problems, the St. Louis front office has been exploring trade possibilities, with starting pitching being a specific priority. Goold reports that the Rangers and Twins have been among the teams the Cardinals have been in contact with, though at this point in the season, it’s probably safe to assume that most contenders and would-be contenders have checked in with the teams (like Texas and Minnesota) who already look like clear deadline sellers.
Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are the most intriguing rotation possibilities that could be available for the Twins and Rangers, while impending free agents like Jordan Lyles and J.A. Happ are more readily available but not necessarily representing big upgrades on what St. Louis already has on hand. Twins righty Michael Pineda is having a good season and is another impending free agent, though he was placed on the injured list this week due to elbow inflammation.
Whatever trade the Cardinals may or may not make, “it’s not all in or we’re going to break up the organization. That’s not the pressure I feel,” Mozeliak stated. With well over a month remaining until the July 30 trade deadline, Mozeliak said that it is still a “little premature” that the Cardinals complete a major trade any time soon, and that the team isn’t planning to “take a real chunk out of our farm system” in order to swing a deal.
“If, at some point, we look for something outside the organization, we certainly will, but we’re not at a point where we’re only going to define ourselves by 2021,” Mozeliak said. “We’re not feeling that pressure if we don’t win this year that we’re all in trouble. We must understand that we can all do things better. We also understand what we thought we’re going to have — because of injuries — hasn’t yet worked out.”
While no executive would publicly admit to a win-or-bust mentality, there is some natural pressure on the Cardinals this season. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright both returned to the team last winter on one-year free agent deals, and both longtime St. Louis cornerstones are still playing at a high level. Beyond that, Nolan Arenado can also opt out of his contract after the season, and as unlikely as it may be that the third baseman could walk away from six years and $179MM, Arenado is certainly eager to win now.
Speculatively, if the Cards can’t start winning over the next few weeks, there would also be a case for the team to look ahead to 2022. St. Louis will have a lot of payroll space to work with, as Molina, Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller, Kwang Hyun Kim, and the remainder of Dexter Fowler’s contract are all off the books, and Carlos Martinez’s $17MM club option isn’t likely to be exercised. It’s also possible that the Cardinals could both sell and buy at the same time, perhaps taking on a higher-salaried player controlled beyond 2021 with an eye towards fitting that player more comfortably into their lightened payroll come next season.