The hot stove cooled early this off-season for the St. Louis Cardinals.
After the Redbirds signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to improve at shortstop without dipping into the club’s young talent pool, then swapped third baseman David Freese in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjos and a power-hitting prospect, there isn’t much left to do.
That’s great for General Manager John Mozeliak. But it takes a lot of the fun out it for fans who, eagerly waiting for spring training, pass the time by trying to anticipate their team’s next move.
I was struck, looking over the St. Louis roster for holes and ideas about how to fill them, about the massive value of the talent this young team possesses. The best way to quantify what it’s all worth is an apples-to-apples comparison in the form of virtual trades. If Mozeliak decided to use his talent currency to buy other players, how far could he stretch his budget?
When I thought about it, I was astounded: I confidently speculate that the Redbirds have enough trade chips to virtually force any team they target to trade to them any player they wish to have. And that they could do so while still retaining enough parts and pieces to still field a compete — and competitive — team.
It’s an outrageous thought. But I honestly believe it. It’s not that the Cardinals didn’t have the players to complete a trade for shortstops Troy Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus. They just weren’t willing to pay the price.
Just to be crystal clear: I am not suggesting the Cardinals actually do these deals. I am just trying to illustrate the powerful position they currently hold.
With that said ... a large portion of Major League Baseball players would probably agree that Anaheim Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best player in the game today. What if the Cardinals decided they needed a slugging center fielder more than anything else in the world and made a play for him.
If the Cardinals called the Halos’ front office and offered up Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Oscar Taveras for Trout, could the pitching-starved Angels possibly say no? If they did, what if the Redbirds added Kevin Siegrist or even Trevor Rosenthal to mix? That would be four blue chip pitchers and the Cardinals’ top position playing prospect for one guy. Anaheim would be crazy not to bite.
I’m not trying to run down Trout. I think he’s a fabulous player. But would any Angels fan familiar with the Cardinals’ virtual offerings not believe their club would be better with two young, front of the rotation type starters, a slugging outfielder compared to Vladimir Guerrero and a closer who throws 101 mph with ease?
While the Birds would pay through the nose to get Trout, they wouldn’t damage themselves to the point where they wouldn’t be competitive. They could field one of the best lineups in baseball with Matt Carpenter leading off and playing third base, Trout patrolling center and batting second, Matt Holliday in left, Allen Craig in right, Matt Adams at first, Yadi Molina behind the plate, Peralta at short and Kolten Wong at second.
On the hill, the Cardinals could still field a competitive rotation of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez. In the pen they’d have Jason Motte back after Tommy John surgery to close and a strong supporting cast. If they were worried about Motte being ready, they could re-sign John Axford to fill the gap.
That’s not a bad supporting cast. Maybe they’d win games 8-5 instead of 4-2. But I think this Cardinals team would still be the favorite to win the National League Central Division. It’s incredible to think the Cardinals could — technically — afford to give up so much and still be good.
Put the shoe on a different foot and things would work out differently. I would guess that the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates would be devastated if they had to give up three to five top pieces in order to land such a superstar. In the long run, putting all their hopes on the back of that one player would make them worse.
The only player I could think of off the top of my head whom the Cardinals might not be able to acquire in a hostile bid would be Los Angeles starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers have deep pitching, deep pockets and are in win now mode. So they’d be unlikely to deal an established young player for several prospects, no matter how talented the acquired players.
Obviously, Mozeliak wouldn’t give up so much to get Trout. The key here is to convert the prospects into producers. If the Cardinals do so, they could have the deepest, most successful club since they had in the 1940s when they could afford to lose a guy like Johnny Mize in trade because Stan Musial was coming up through the system.