There is just a week to go until Major League Baseball’s non waiver trade deadline on July 31st and the Cardinals find themselves in a precarious position. They are leading the NL Central and have the best record in baseball, but they’re also nursing injuries. General Manager John Mozeliak now has to figure out whether the cost of improving this season’s team is worth it. Personally, I question whether it is.
Last week, I tweeted what I felt the Cardinals’ keys to the second half were.
Cardinals' keys to the second half:
3. Get healthy
2. Protect Wacha/Martinez
1. Get Matt Carpenter right.#stlcards
— Jon Doble (@JonDobleRBD) July 20, 2015
Number 3 was to get healthy. Matt Holliday has now returned to the lineup and that’s helped stabilize the offense. The team also sent Jaime Garcia and Jordan Walden out on rehab assignments today. Marco Gonzales is close to being ready and then you have Matt Belisle expecting to return in August.
Number 2 was to find ways to protect Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Both pitchers were supposed to be under innings limits entering the year, but have had those mostly set aside due to the innings deficit following Adam Wainwright’s injury.
And Number 1 was to get Matt Carpenter right. It’s about time, but his slump is finally getting noticed by the media and Mike Matheny, who dropped Carpenter to 7th in last night’s lineup. Since May 3rd, Carpenter is hitting .211 with just 12 extra base hits. For comparision, he hit 17 extra base hits in April alone.
Someone commented that the offense needed to be more consistent, but to me, that will be a function of Carpenter getting right and the rest of the lineup getting healthy. If those two things can happen, the offense will be more consistent almost by default.
Whether or not the Cardinals choose to acquire anyone this week, those three things need to happen. If the team can’t get healthy or if Carpenter doesn’t get right, the impact that any addition can have is minimal. It’s because of that, that I think Mozeliak should consider standing pat at the deadline.
The Cardinals have reportedly kicked the tires on starting pitching because of the innings load that Wacha and Martinez are taking on. With Garcia and Gonzales eyeballing a return, you’ve got two guys that may be looking for a rotation spot. You can cycle either of those two or even Tyler Lyons or Tim Cooney into a spot start or two to shave some innings off Wacha and Martinez down the stretch for free.
As I wrote last year, the regular season advantage of acquiring a top shelf starting pitcher at the trade deadline is only a win or two at the most. You would make such an acquisition for the playoffs, but even with that pitcher, if you don’t have Wacha and Martinez right in October, your chances aren’t very good even if you add Cole Hamels or David Price.
They don’t really need relief help with Jordan Walden working his way back and a guy like Sam Tuivailala in position to make his mark on the bullpen in the second half. It might be a good place to make a value addition if you can find one. Something like the acquisition of Edward Mujica a few years back.
I’ll even go as far as to say that the Cardinals don’t even need to acquire a first baseman. Stephen Piscotty has gotten a hit in both of his games and will get some time at first base. You’ve also got Mark Reynolds who has hit .214 with 4 homers in July. That’s twice as many as he’s hit in any other month with the Cardinals.
I still believe that this team has the pieces it needs to make a deep October run. But unless Mozeliak has a player drop into his lap at a great value, I’d rather him just check the bet over to the Pirates. They don’t have the pieces to do any substantial shopping and even though they added Aramis Ramirez today, he’s 37 and in the middle of his worst season since 2002. Their hope is that the former star will catch lightning in a bottle, but that’s far from a guarantee.
If he does stand pat, Mozeliak will inevitably catch criticism for it. It’s already been building during the season. His reasoned approach to roster moves and decisions garnering frustration with their speed or lack thereof. But I do believe that standing pat is the right choice.
You can call it drinking the kool-aid (I like Strawberry, which coincidentally is also red), but I trust Mozeliak. He has never had a losing season as a GM and it would require a failure of epic proportions for that streak to end this season. Mozeliak has his plan and he will continue to work it.
The past few deadlines and offseasons we’ve all sat here and talked about how the Cardinals should trade away their abundance of young talent and bring in some veterans. If this year has taught us anything, it should be that Mozeliak was right to hold onto his young talent. Without them, this season is over. Instead, the Cardinals have absorbed the shots they’ve taken and continue to be the best team in baseball.
And that’s by Mozeliak’s design.
And I’m not sure I’m willing to sacrifice next year’s team’s ability to do the same thing.