Here in St. Louis we are in a stretch of 100 degree days but it is not just the temperature that is rising, there seems to be some temperatures rising in regards to the Cardinals. From the never-ending heat on Manager Mike Matheny to players calling other players out, the question has been asked if the Cardinals should do a fire sale on this season and dump players for the future?
The Cardinals made a trade earlier this week, sending former first-round pick Marco Gonzales to Seattle for an outfield prospect, Tyler O’Neill. Looking at this trade outright, I don’t mind it. Gonzales had been passed up by other pitchers in the organization so flipping him for a top power hitting prospect is a good idea. However O’Neill is an outfielder, a position where the Cardinals already seem to have plenty of depth. As evident by sending Magneuris Sierra down earlier this week, despite remaining on a tear at the plate (.365 batting average and six multi-hit games), and without having even called up maybe their top outfield prospect Harrison Bader (.302 batting average, 19 home runs, 47 runs batted in this season in AAA). So why pick up O’Neill. First of all it never hurts to add talent, even if it is a position where you have depth. But the question that is now being asked is does this move preclude more moves? Maybe a package deal that would bring a prominent, impact player to St. Louis.
As of this moment the Cardinals are just 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Standings, with the Cubs and Pirates sitting between them. So as we near the trade deadline should the Cardinals give up on the season and do a fire sale or should they make a move for this year? I think the Cardinals will be smart no matter what but my hope is they make a move that will not only help them this year but also for the future.
It has long been discussed that the Cardinals lack that true middle of the lineup hitter. I think this goes back a couple of years actually when the whole Cardinal Way first started being talked about. The Cardinal Way is about playing solid defense and the game the “right way”. However I think Cardinal management internally extended that to also mean that no player is bigger than the team. If you remember the Cardinal Way first gained traction during the 2011 season. In 2011 the Cardinals went on to win the franchise’s 11th World Series and kicked a stretch of five straight seasons making the postseason. The Cardinal Way became more prominent in 2012, after the departure of Albert Pujols with the Cardinals maintaining their on field success.
How could they lose a player of Pujols stature and still be successful? Because of the Cardinal Way. The peak of the Cardinal Way came in 2013 when the team set a record by hitting .330 with runners in scoring position. This was a lineup whose top two hitters, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, were both in their mid-30’s or later. But I think this is when management took hold of the belief that a lineup doesn’t need a top slugger to be successful. This can be true, as seen with the 2013 Cardinals or the Kansas City Royals who did a similar thing with their lineup and going on to win a title. However this thinking is fallible when the players do not live up to expectations. And that is what has been happening with the Cardinals players.
So what do the Cardinals do? How do they stay in the hunt for this year while also taking aim at their future? With nine players ranked in the MLB Top 100 prospects they have plenty of arsenal to work . My ideal move would be to go after Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Arenado, just 26 years old, is an All-Star third baseman that would fill multiple roles for the Cardinals. A gold glove winner, he would solidify the Cardinals defense. Hitting .311 with 22 home runs and 82 runs batted in, he would bring the middle of the order bat the Cardinals need. And with a year still on his contract after this year, he would give the Cardinals more than just a few months of work with the hope of signing him to a longer deal. Unfortunately the Rockies continue to lead the way in the Wild Card race this season and aren’t likely to deal him.
Back to the Cardinals, here is who I think they should deal. First off Lance Lynn. Lynn isn’t quite back to being the workhorse type pitcher he was before sitting out last season but he has been on a nice roll as of late. He is in his final year of his contract and the Cardinals have plenty of up and coming pitchers to step up and contribute to the major league rotation. If you can bring in a younger pitcher who can do the same things as Lynn, with more upside and much cheaper, then why not get something for Lynn.
I would also move Jedd Gyorko. I like Gyorko. He is the type of player that helps teams win. A player that can move around and offers power. However I do not think he is the third baseman of the future. And is he really likely to repeat his current performance at the plate? His current .844 OPS is over 40 points higher than his career best 150 points better than his career average. Why not sell high on Gyorko?
The final player I would most like to move and this is probably the most controversial is Matt Carpenter. It has been said that as Matt Carpenter goes so do the Cardinals. And that is true, in 2014 the Cardinals envisioned Matt Carpenter as their ideal ‘Cardinal Way’ player and signed him to a large extention. He was coming off his first All-Star season and was the versatile, consistent player the exemplified the type of hitter the Cardinals wanted to have throughout their lineup.
However, in the four seasons since signing that contract, despite making two All-Star games, he is not the player the Cardinals originally signed. Since his extension Carpenter has gone power-hungry, changing his game to accommodate more power. And just in the same manner as Carpenter goes, so do the Cardinals; they have become inconsistent, error prone, and poor base running.
Carpenter is often talked about on broadcasts about having a good eye, and while it is true he draws plenty of walks (resulting in his high on-base percentage) his strikeout numbers have also increased and he is on his way to a fourth straight season with over 100 strikeouts. In regards to the high on-base percentage, is it really that much of an advantage for Carpenter to be on base when he is also one of the worst base runners on the team?
Carpenter is also mentioned often about his bat, a .300 hitter they often say. Did you know that in fact he has a .281 career batting average, and only twice hit above .290 in his career; his first two full seasons. The other four seasons, he has hit .272 twice, .271, and this year .252; so it would seem since the change in his game he is more of a .270 hitter, having a down year this season, correct?
Oh, well he hits better out of the lead-off spot. Yes this is true, and don’t get me started on the absurdity of why he can’t hit in other spots. If you want to get paid like a franchise player then you should be able to hit anywhere. So while yes he hits better as a lead-off hitter, did you know that since his move back to the lead-off spot this year (June 7) he is actually only hitting .244? Know that when broadcasters mention his average as a lead-off man they are including his career average out of that spot. Which means they are including his first two years with the team when he mainly hit lead-off and was a different type of hitter.
The last straw for me on Carpenter was when he called out Trevor Rosenthal this past week for not covering first base. Yes, it was a mental mistake by Rosenthal. But to call out a teammate in the media, and out of his mouth, well that just didn’t sit right with me. Should Carpenter really be speaking up when he has made probably the most mental errors of any player this season? Between errors, strikeouts, and base running; I don’t think Carpenter is a player that is setting a good example of good baseball.
So with a little over a week left before the trade deadline I would like to see where the Cardinals go from here. Will they take their assets they have (Lynn, Gyorko) and get some prospects or players for the future in return? Can they put together a package of prospects to bring in the All-Star slugger needed for the middle of the order, a true franchise player such as Giancarlo Stanton or Manny Machado? Will the Cardinals make an unexpected move and cut ties with their ‘Cardinal Way’ franchise player who has embodied the mental mistakes the team is becoming known for?