The second half of the baseball season is about to begin and the trade deadline is right around the corner. Already newspapers, blogs, message boards, and twitter feeds are rife with trade rumors as everyone has a keen eye on watching how their teams will perform in the second half. So where are the Cardinals and what could they be looking to add to shore up the team as they drive towards another playoff berth?
I think a good way to get an idea of where the team’s weaknesses lay can be found by a quick glance at the team statistics. With 462 runs scored in 93 games, the offense is currently ranked third in the majors and first in the National League. On the opposite side of the ball, the starting rotation finds themselves with a 3.33 ERA which is good for second in baseball behind division rival Pittsburgh. Their bullpen, on the other hand, has a 3.56 ERA and is only good for 16th.
So a quick glance points you towards the bullpen which has rebounded nicely from an atrocious start with thanks to Edward Mujica‘s step into the closer’s role which he has taken and held onto. Trevor Rosenthal settled into the 8th inning and has once again in the discussion for best relief pitcher in baseball. However, the rest of the bullpen has been a big question mark with most of the rebound behind fueled by great performances by rookie pitchers fresh out of Memphis.
The Cardinals currently sit as the best team in baseball with no immediate needs. So we’re not going grocery shopping on an empty stomach which means that there is very little danger of being caught in a big value mismatch deal. We’re there browsing and if something strikes our fancy for the right price, Mozeliak will jump on it. But now onto the wants.
Priority One: Relief Pitcher
That leads me to the first thing I would be targeting these next two weeks, an experienced relief pitcher.
According to reports, the Cardinals have inquired about Minnesota’s Glen Perkins and been turned away. They’re also monitoring the health of the White Sox’s Jesse Crain who was putting together an incredibly dominant season with a 0.74 ERA in 38 appearances this season before going onto the DL with a right shoulder strain a week ago. Beyond those two, there haven’t been any rumors about them being linked with other players.
However, I wonder if another trip to South Beach couldn’t solve some issues once again. Last year Mozeliak acquired Mujica in a deadline deal for Zack Cox. A potential target I’d like to see, Chad Qualls. At 34, Qualls is in Miami on a one-year deal and has put together a solid season. He also has experience in the late innings, plus a stint as closer in Arizona back in 2009. I would have to think that he’d be fairly inexpensive for the Cardinals to explore as an option.
Priority Two: Starting Pitcher
The second thing I would be looking at is a veteran starting pitcher. The organization won’t use a fifth starter until July 27th according to quotes from Mike Matheny, a decision that I think will haunt the team come September when a young pitcher like Shelby Miller will likely be looking at an innings limit of some kind. And if he’s not, potentially a fatigue wall. There would be hope that Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha could make a September appearance and provide some quality innings, but I think everyone would be more comfortable with a proven veteran in the spot.
The Cardinals have been linked to the Cubs’ Matt Garza, but the Cubs want to move him this weekend and have reportedly asked for final offers from the interested teams. However, I think Mozeliak is unlikely to move on Garza at this point. I believe they are hoping that Carpenter can be the needed addition to the rotation, so they’ll want to wait until later in July to make that determination. Carpenter gets his second look on Saturday night in Memphis, which could determine just how heavily the Cardinals try to move on Garza.
They were also on the list of potential suitors for Bud Norris earlier in the season as well with very few other starters being openly shopped. There’s been some interesting rumors linking the Cardinals and the White Sox potentially for Chris Sale, but I think that unless you catch Rick Hahn on a Friday night after he’s been drinking a little too much, he’s not going anywhere.
That leaves a very small list of guys that could be available. Much like last season we have a lot of assets that we could trade to acquire talent. But there are very little equal value opportunities out there for what the Cardinals ideally want to acquire. That leads me to the picture for this article: Cliff Lee.
In my dreams, Mozeliak pulls the trigger on a trade for Cliff Lee which quickly becomes a nightmare for fans of other teams when the Cardinals hit the playoffs with a Wainwright-Lee 1-2 punch. But I know the potential of such a deal is extremely slim.
But really my argument is that because there are very few, if any, value matches out there, why not go big? It’s a franchise changing move that would easily set up the Cardinals as the favorites in the NL for the next three years even if we had to give up a prime pitching prospect.
Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?
Priority Three: Right handed bat
I’m a Kozma-hater and I didn’t even put shortstop on my list. *gasp*
Despite rumors that we’re talking to the Indians about Asdrubal Cabrera again, they remain less than two games out of the AL Central lead and I question why they’d choose now to sell their #3 hitter. If we’re talking shortstops from Cleveland, I’d much rather Mike Aviles. But anyway, that’s off topic.
With the release of Ty Wigginton, the Cardinals find themselves without a right handed power bat off the bench. They have Matt Adams who swings from the left side of the plate and thus far his lefty-lefty split is not bad, but I think you can expect it to become worse as the league adapts to him. Most young left handed hitters have that issue or soon develop it.
There haven’t been any rumors out there to acquire a right handed power bat. Most Cardinals fans who read UCBers are probably shouting “Hey! Brock Peterson!” at their computers right now. And while it’s true that Peterson is having an incredible year, I don’t see him being much, if any of an improvement over Wigginton or Cruz. He’s hitting only slightly better than Nick Stavinoha did in Memphis at the same age and Stavinoha was an average bench bat at his best and only hit four home runs over the 147 games he played in.
Another trip to South Beach would bring us a guy that I have an interest in. That’s Justin Ruggiano. Ruggiano is a right handed outfielder who can play all three positions out there at or above league average. I watched him for a few years in Durham when he was in Triple-A for the Rays organization. Last year Ruggiano had an impressive year. This year not as impressive, but he has solid numbers against left handed pitchers. The end goal of this move would be to platoon with Jon Jay in the outfield.
Jay hits right handed pitchers at a .272/.345/.370 clip this season, a far cry from the .167/.276/.227 against left handed pitchers. Ruggiano hits left handed pitchers at a .230/.302/.460 rate. Not a massive improvement in basic hitting, but he has plenty of power against left handed pitchers. Something Shane Robinson doesn’t have. He would give you that platoon partner and since he is under team control for another three years, could play the same role next year for Oscar Taveras if the team plays him in center field.
In conclusion, the Cardinals don’t really have any pressing needs. Just possible situations that they’d like to prepare for better. We’ll see what they do. And I’m more than willing to say that John Mozeliak is smarter than me.
Okay, maybe just as smart as me. He just has better information.