The Major League Baseball trading deadline ended yesterday and the St. Louis Cardinals were active, albeit they were sellers in the market. The Cardinals, sitting one game above .500 on the season, decided to trade away their top hitter from last year as well as one of their top outfield prospects one week after clearing out their bullpen. Barring a remarkable turn of events the Cardinals will be missing the postseason for the third consecutive season, the first time the team has done that since the late 80’s to mid-90’s when they missed the playoffs eight straight years.
So what did the team turnover mean for the Cardinals? Simply it means they are preparing for 2019. The team, and majority of people in town, would not admit it but the Cardinals were never really fully capable of success in 2018 but rather had an eye on 2019 instead for reaching their potential. With their abundance of young pitchers they needed seasoning but things could have been better this year if their hitters had not failed them. When Matt Carpenter struggles for the first two months and then Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Marcell Ozuna and the recently discarded Tommy Pham are all below expectations that puts the team in a bad position from the start. Throw in the atrocious bullpen and injuries throughout the starting pitchers and it is no wonder the Cardinals are a .500 team.
Many fans were disappointed the Cardinals did not get more in return for Tommy Pham and were further shocked when the team traded away outfield prospect Oscar Mercado. Fans upset with the return on these trades forget that often times we overvalue our own. Whether it is someone selling a 15-year-old car for $1,000 more than the listed Blue Book value or someone not wanting to part with a piece of furniture because they feel like they aren’t getting the proper price. People attach sentimentality to things they know well. This is the same with fans and the players they watch for 162 games a year. We overvalue our players. So let’s dive into these deals a little more.
First of all yes Pham had an unbelievable year in 2017, putting up a 20/20 season and registering a 6.2 WAR. He was counted on to be the team’s starting center fielder and was considered to have finally reached his potential. But this year Pham struggled, both offensively and defensively. He had a 0.9 WAR while hitting .248 with 10 home runs, 41 runs batted in, and 10 stolen bases…far from his self-proclaimed 30/30 season he would have. Fans in St. Louis are remembering his season last year and not looking at Pham’s career. He has always had talent but the fact remains that he is a 30-year outfielder that has had ONE outstanding season while battling injuries. In fact if you remove his 6.2 WAR last year Pham has a combined 2.4 WAR over his other four seasons in the majors. Given that came over part-time duties during the four years but if you were to take that 2.4 and look at players with a similar value within just this season it would put him in company with such players as Brett Gardner, David Peralta, and Juan Soto. If you are just looking at this year’s production (0.9 WAR) he is with the likes of Stephen Piscotty, Enrique Hernandez, and Randal Grichuck. Does the company Pham keeps warrant a high quality package?
The last-minute trade of Mercado was a surprising that caught many off-guard. Simply because many felt that he would be one the top candidates to crack the outfield coming into next year especially after dealing Pham away. But a closer look shows why the Cardinals made the move. Mercado shot through the system within the last year but he remained fourth on their internal prospects list behind Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill (both in the majors now) and Randy Arozarena (who hit near .400 at AA this season before being called up to AAA). In addition Mercado was yet another right-handed hitter, just as all three outfielders above him are, and was on the 40-man roster. The 40-man roster is important to note because with him being traded that frees up a spot the Cardinals can use to protect one of their numerous pitching prospects. I liken the Mercado trade to the Ben Bishop trade we saw the Blues make a few years ago. Bishop was a highly regarded prospect but was set to be a free agent and the Blues already had Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak ahead of him. Similarly Mercado was not a clear-cut prospect and blocked by other highly regarded outfielders so he was moved for a younger outfield prospect that is actually more highly regarded by the scouts (despite having a down year).
While the Cardinals did not make their team better this year by adding major league players but by moving players around, and calling up younger players, it may have a more beneficial effect for the organization if not down the stretch (doubtfully enough to contend for the playoffs) then for 2019 and beyond. The Cardinals still need to find an impact bat this offseason (and hope for health) but the time that these young Redbirds are spending in St. Louis for the final two months should put the team in position to return to a Red October in the near future.