It’s been a disappointing season in St. Louis. Despite coming into the year with competitive aspirations, they currently sport a record of 46-59, with only percentage points separating them from the Pirates and last place in the National League Central. They are 10.5 games out of a Wild Card spot and further back in the division.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted weeks ago that the club would have to make moves this summer that would improve the club’s chances in 2024. That makes it seem highly likely that impending free agents like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery and Jordan Hicks will wind up traded for players with more ability to help the Cards in the long-term.
Burleson wouldn’t fit into that category, as he’s on pace to surpass one-year of service time this year, meaning he’s not slated for free agency until after the 2028 campaign. But it’s quite apparent that the Cardinals have an outfield logjam, which will need to be cleared one way or another. The regular playing time is going to Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar and Tyler O’Neill right now, with Burleson and Dylan Carlson also in the mix.
That’s already crowded enough as it is, but it gets worse. Tommy Edman was pushed from shortstop into the outfield by the resurgence of Paul DeJong. He’s currently on the injured list but is beginning a rehab assignment shortly, putting him back in the picture. The Cardinals are expected to move DeJong in the coming days but one of their top prospects, Masyn Winn, is a shortstop currently playing in Triple-A. Whenever he gets an audition at the big league level, Edman could be back on the grass.
Brendan Donovan also got pushed into the outfield this year with Nolan Gorman taking over regular duties at second base. Donovan currently has a flexor tendon injury in his right arm that prevents him from playing the field, limiting him to designated hitter duties for now, but he should be in the outfield mix again at some point.
Given all of those options, it seems like something has to give. It was recently reported that O’Neill is unlikely to be traded, though Goold adds that the Cards are open to it but the proposals have been underwhelming. That’s not surprising given that he’s been posting diminished production while battling injuries in the past two years. In 2021, he hit 34 home runs while slashing .286/.352/.560, stealing 15 bases in the process. But since then, he’s made multiple trips to the injured list and has hit just .234/.312/.385. He returned from the IL over a week ago and Goold adds that the Cards plan to play him as often as possible, both to assess his health and see if he can improve his trade stock. He’s hit a strong .323/.432/.452 since being activated but in just nine games.
If O’Neill can’t get a nice trade return, then perhaps the Cardinals will have to move someone else in order to clear some space. Carlson has already received plenty of interest and could perhaps be the most likely to be moved, but rival clubs are apparently intrigued by Burleson enough to put in some calls.
The 24-year-old Burleson hasn’t hit much in the majors yet, having slashed .230/.284/.370 since first being called up last year. But that’s come in a fairly limited role, as he’s only received 282 plate appearances since being recalled in September of last year. Before getting called up, he was hitting .331/.372/.532 in Triple-A, producing a 137 wRC+. He was generally considered one of the club’s top 10 prospects in recent years on account of that bat.
Though he hasn’t yet broken out at the big league level, perhaps he would have a better chance of doing so on a club with the ability to give him regular playing time. It’s therefore pretty understandable why clubs would put in a call. He’s still a couple of years away from qualifying for arbitration and even further from free agency. That means the Cardinals could certainly hang onto him, but with the aforementioned crowding, perhaps an intriguing offer makes them pull the trigger.
The Cardinals figure to be one of the most interesting teams between now and the August 1 deadline, with plenty of impending free agents who make for logical trade candidates. They also have a cluster of controllable position players and seem likely to move at least one of them between now and Tuesday.