The Cardinals and Marlins have held “at least preliminary” discussions regarding Miami’s bevy of young starters, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports. Rosenthal suggests that St. Louis is a nice fit for Pablo Lopez, although on paper, it’s easy enough to make a case for just about any of the Marlins’ available starters as a fit in St. Louis. Each of Lopez, Jesus Luzardo, Trevor Rogers and Edward Cabrera has seen his name surface in trade chatter recently. Miami, however, doesn’t seem to have any plans to deal ace Sandy Alcantara, whom the Cardinals actually traded to the Fish alongside Zac Gallen in the deal that sent Marcell Ozuna from Miami to St. Louis.
The Cardinals have a solid-looking rotation on the surface, with each of Jordan Montgomery, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz and Jack Flaherty likely to slot into the starting five. Depth options behind the group include Dakota Hudson, Jake Woodford, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson and Andre Pallante, although the latter two did well in a bullpen setting in 2022. Further down the line are prospects Gordon Graceffo, Michael McGreevy and Tink Hence, although none of that group is on the 40-man roster just yet.
All that said, however, the Cards could lose nearly their entire rotation after the season. Wainwright is set to retire, while each of Mikolas, Montgomery and Flaherty are free agents next winter. Only Matz, whose four-year contract covers the 2022-25 seasons, is signed or controlled beyond the current season.
In that sense, there’s good reason for the Cards to pursue a starter who can be controlled through at least the 2024 season. There’s surely some internal hope that someone like Liberatore, Graceffo or McGreevy can step up and seize a rotation spot when an opportunity inevitably presents itself this season, but that’s a lot to bank on. And, even if that happens, the Cards would still be looking at multiple rotation spots they need to fill next offseason — perhaps as many as three.
Lopez, 27 in March, has a 3.52 ERA over his past 340 big league innings and is arbitration-eligible through the 2024 campaign. Luzardo, even younger at 25, enjoyed a nice bounceback year in 2022 when he notched a 3.32 ERA and 30% strikeout rate, but a forearm injury limited him to just 100 1/3 innings. He’s under team control through 2026. That’s the same amount of club control as the 25-year-old Rogers, a 2021 Rookie of the Year finalist who stumbled to a 5.47 ERA in 107 frames in 2022, his second full MLB campaign. The 24-year-old Cabrera, meanwhile, has six full years of club control remaining and notched a 3.01 ERA in 71 2/3 innings in 2022.
None of that bunch is expensive, with Lopez’s $5.45MM salary leading the way. Finances shouldn’t play a major consideration for the Cardinals anyhow; they’re on pace to roughly match last year’s $163MM payroll, and president of baseball ops John Mozeliak had previously indicated the ability to increase payroll. From Miami’s vantage point, their projected $103MM payroll would be the second-highest mark in club history.
The Marlins are known to be seeking improvements to their lineup and have been prioritizing center field and catcher dating back to last offseason. Miami swung a trade for Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings prior to the 2022 season but saw the former Gold Glove winner turn in a disappointing .233/.292/.292 batting line while his typically high-end defensive grades also cratered. Center field remains an unaddressed need, and Miami again appears likely to take someone better suited for a corner (Bryan De La Cruz) and hope for the best this season.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are deep in outfielders with Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar likely lined up left-to-right at the MLB level. (Rosenthal suggests that of the bunch, Nootbaar is the least likely to change hands.) Top prospect Jordan Walker, who’s likely all but off limits in trade talks, looms behind that group. Alec Burleson, meanwhile, has already gotten some MLB experience, and fellow outfielder Moises Gomez posted big numbers in the upper minors. Behind the plate, the Cards have well-regarded catching prospect Ivan Herrera, who doesn’t exactly have a clear path to a regular role now that Willson Contreras has been signed to a five-year deal.
Certainly, the Cards and Marlins seem to have aligning needs that could lead to a trade, but there’s also no indication that talks are particularly heated. Miami has likely discussed its available starters with more than half the league, given the dearth of viable big league options elsewhere on the trade market. Even the Cards and Marlins themselves don’t know whether a deal will ultimately come together at this juncture, but it’s nevertheless of some note that the two parties have at least held some surface-level talks.