I readily admit that I am not a big fan of the way the St. Louis Cardinals have handled the trade deadline in recent years.
While the Redbirds like to act as if they are a progressive organization when it comes to new age player evaluation metrics, they seem to be living in the stone age of player procurement, pretending they still live in the pre-wild card era when teams could make blockbuster trades with teams that are no longer in contention. In reality, the two wild cards per league playoff format keeps three-quarters of MLB teams in the pennant race — at least on paper — and big moves are exceedingly rare. Unless clubs want to pay a premium in prospects to rent a premium free agent for a few weeks, it’s difficult to overhaul an underachieving team. And, even if you can find the pieces you need, it’s unlikely to make a big turnaround in the standings when the season is three-quarters of the way complete. So, I have never been a big fan of the Birds saving some “dry powder” for in-season acquisitions when the opportunity to add pieces is really in the winter time.
The last time the Cardinals were able to swing an Earth-shaking deadline deal was in 2011. And, while the team was able to catch lightning in a bottle, even then the deal to trade up and coming outfielder Colby Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays for a bunch of spare parts was puzzling because the team gave away a controllable player at a prime position for a fair lefty reliever and a handful of players on expiring contracts. If the team wouldn’t have miraculously somehow won the World Series, people would still be talking about how foolish of a deal that was.
So, the moral of the story is that it’s tough to make game-changing deals — but it’s possible. Instead Cardinals fans usually have to accept no moves accompanied by the statement that getting Player X off the disabled list is just as as good as making a trade. Or else the team makes a deal for a guy like Justin Masterson or Steve Cishek, guys who were at one point pretty good — just not lately.
This year, the team went in a different route that was even worse: It basically sold the store, dealing away controllable assets for long-term projects. But, even worse, the team couldn’t even get that job done. Dealing off the team’s starting center fielder to replace him with an interesting — yet unproven — minor league player was a clear sign that this team is running the white flag up the pole for the 2018 season. But then it went on to trade an exciting Class AAA outfielder for lesser players — and kept pending free agent closer Bud Norris and designated hitter Jose Martinez on board. I just don’t get it.
I don’t think there is any reason for a team with the resources of the Cardinals to go into rebuilding mode. This team ought to be able to develop players to fill most of its holes and cycle through free agents to fill the rest of its needs. But the team kept trying to get by with smoke and mirrors as the core was allowed to get past its prime. So, if they allowed themselves to get into rebuilding mode, rebuild already. Don’t keep around pending free agents who will be gone by the time this team gets its act together.
Biggest trade deadline disappointments:
▪ Tommy Pham: The Birds and Pham seemed headed for divorce in spring training when the speedy outfielder publicly complained that the Cardinals mistreated him by not offering him a big contract and, instead investing in Paul DeJong. What Pham couldn’t get past was the fact that he had a terrible injury history that clouds his track record and slowed his rise to the major leagues — and he has a degenerative eye problem that makes his future a risky investment. I don’t mind that the club got rid of Pham. But I don’t know if it got enough for a guy who is just heading to his first trip through the arbitration process at the end of the season. The team had several interested suitors when Pham had a breakout season last year and the team should have considered dealing him over the winter. There was nothing in Pham’s track record to make anyone believe that 2017 was anything more than a career year because he never had another season even close to what he did then.
▪ Bud Norris: Why does a team that isn’t trying to compete now need a closer who is a free agent at the end of the season? It doesn’t. Norris needed to be traded for whatever the Cardinals could get if the team truly wants to restock the shelves. The Birds aren’t going to make Norris a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
▪ Jose Martinez: He has an interesting bat. But his glove is so bad he’s never going to have an everyday position in the field. So the Cardinals would have been wise to deal the slugging former Kansas City Royals farmhand to an American League team that needed a bat for a post-season run.