It was a common refrain among Cardinals fans at the trade deadline. “Hey, the offense sucks, but let’s acquire another starting pitcher!” And that’s just what John Mozeliak did, acquiring Justin Masterson from Cleveland and John Lackey from Boston to shore up a young and untested rotation. Mozeliak offered the response that there wasn’t much hitting available on the trade market, and the offense that was didn’t fit with what the Cardinals already had. It didn’t matter for Cardinals fans, who felt Mozeliak should be a good enough GM to pull it out of his butt.
Bottom line, the Cardinals’ offense does suck. Even after dropping 12 runs over the weekend on the Brewers, the Cardinals still find themselves as the 29th best offense in baseball. Out of 30. I still question whether you should call then the 29th best or 2nd worst. Only the anemic San Diego Padres are worse.
Most fans point to Boston’s acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes as evidence that offense was available. Evidently believing that the Cardinals have a Jon Lester-like pitcher just laying around that they aren’t using. Billy Beane was playing for 2014 and Cespedes was expendable because he wasn’t going to be around much longer in Oakland. So Beane went all in on 2014.
Based on positional splits, the Cardinals have three positions where they have gotten below average offensive production. Those would be right field (62 OPS+), second base (70 OPS+), and center field (80 OPS+).
You can eliminate right field right off the bat because it ought to be pretty obvious to everyone by now that Mozeliak’s plan was to create playing time for Oscar Taveras there. The Cardinals were never going to acquire a corner outfielder without trading one of Taveras or Allen Craig away. If Matheny had trouble handling a Craig/Taveras split in right field, how was he going to find playing time for a new acquisition? Mozeliak obvious believes that Taveras is an upgrade in right field over the rest of the season, so much so he dealt away an undervalued Craig for him.
So then the next most obvious position would be second base. To generate a list of potential trade candidates, I took all the qualified hitters at second base and immediately eliminated anyone with an OPS or WAR lower than Kolten Wong. After all, the concept is to improve at second base, not just create a hole. Mozeliak learned this a couple years ago when the team ignored defense for offense. He corrected this when he made offseason acquisitions. Additionally, you aren’t going to spend a great deal of capital or simply an incremental improvement. It needs to be a true upgrade.
That left you 12 second basemen. Now you eliminate anyone on a contending team. For the sake of this article, I considered that within 5 games of a playoff spot. That left me six players.
I think we can safely remove Pedroia from the list. Not to mention that Altuve may be one of Houston’s handful of untouchables. Nor is New York going to deal Daniel Murphy, and I can knock LeMahieu off the list because he’s roughly equal to Wong. So we’re down to two names.
Utley and Dozier.
The Phillies caught a lot of attention for the high asking prices and then flack when they failed to compromise and make any deadline deals. Not to mention that Utley’s contract is a little scary. He will be owed $15 million next year and then potentially $15 million ever year after that through 2017 if he can accumulate 500 plate appearances. He also has that pesky full no-trade protection to get around as well.
That leaves Dozier as the only possibility to improve second base. He is also the most attractive candidate available. He is hitting .240 with 19 homers from second base. In only his second year of MLB service time, Dozier would require a great deal to acquire. Not to mention you’ve also got your own top second base prospect wrapping up his best month in a Major League uniform, hitting around .300 with 5 homers.
The next most obvious position. It should be noted that I have argued that we should stick Taveras out there until he proves he can’t play the position in order to get both he and Craig playing time. The reason for that was because if you had to pick two productive players between Taveras, Craig, and Jon Jay, the combination of Taveras and Craig would likely have a larger impact on the team.
Using Jon Jay as the benchmark this time, I ran the same report. I found 9 candidates who were a better center fielder than Jay so far this season. Once again, eliminating the guys on playoff contenders (including Austin Jackson, unless we’ve got a David Price sitting around) that leaves me with two names.
I’ll eliminate Eaton because he’s not that much of an improvement over Jay or what we can expect out of him.
And with Ozuna, you run into the same problem that you do with Dozier. Ozuna has turned into a power hitter in his first full season in the Majors. He was a top-100 prospect before the 2013 season. He’s going to be costly and require at least one, if not more, top prospects.
There were probably players that could have been acquired, if Mozeliak was willing to sell the farm to get them. But the question then becomes what do we do next year or the year after when we need that depth? Do we so quickly forget 2007 and 2008 where the Cardinals probably could have won the NL Central if they had the minor league depth they do this year? I understand the desire to go all in with your chips to win this year. But that’s how people end up with no chips to play with too. Not every all in move results in a win.
The Cardinals do have needs, and if they become available at a price that Mozeliak deems a solid value swap, then he’ll pull the trigger.
Until then, we’ve got what we’ve got. And as much as we’ve complained, here we are within a couple games of the division lead and, barring injuries, definitely have the pitching to get us to the postseason and help us win there. The rest is up to the offense, which everyone agrees has underperformed so far this season, to step it up and be the team we know it can be.