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Cardinals & Rays: Will They or Won’t They? (…and I mention Machado & Donaldson, too)

Longoria could be a target for the St, Louis Cardinals

The winter meetings played out like an action flick, with a cycle of building suspense and exciting conclusions, all packed within a brief period of time. However, the dance between the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals is more resembling the classic will they/ won’t they romance of sitcom lore. Sam/Diane, Ross/Rachel, Ted/Robin, Mozeliak/Silverman? The match seems right, the viewers want to see it happen, but they left us hanging in Orlando. Like an airport kiss or confession of love in a season finale. And now we must wait. We hope to get some answers sooner rather than later. I, for one, think we will.

Now the parameters of the Tampa Bay/ St. Louis trade pairing has been discussed numerous times. The chief focus is closer Alex Colome. These talks could then also move to include former All-Star and Gold Glove winning 3B, Evan Longoria, an aging player whose salary the frugal Rays would very much like to move. The big fish (and thank goodness we’re done dealing with the Marlins and we can use that phrase with out the ‘no pun intended’ qualifier) in Tampa is #1 starting pitcher Chris Archer.

I’ll break this down in order of the most likely outcomes to least likely. (And yes, I’ll get to my thought on Machado and Donalson, as promised)

Acquiring Alex Colome Only

The Cardinals desperately need to strengthen their bullpen. It was an area of weakness last year, and that was with a good Trevor Rosenthal for nearly 5 months. He’s out of the picture now and the bullpen does not look like that of a contender. The front office started their work in this area on the eve of the winter meetings, grabbing Luke Gregerson on a 2-year contract with an option for a 3rd. It was a reasonably priced contract for a consistent and solid veteran reliever. It was a good start, but they still needed at least one, if not two, more above average relievers. This includes a need for a proven closer.

And so with nearly all of the top free agent options falling off the board at the winter meetings (save for Addison Reed, whom the Cardinals should probably pursue), the Birds stay intent on working the trade market.

Alex Colome was the AL saves leader last year. While saves are a stat of opportunity, racking up 47 in a year is impressive nonetheless. He also sported a solid 3.24 ERA. While he isn’t necessarily a strikeout pitcher, he fits the mold of an established reliever with closing experience to anchor the ‘pen. Though he can hit 95 mph on his fastball, his bread and butter is his cutter. It was among the best in the game last year. He’s been a good reliever, posting career rates of 8.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Considering the free agent crop has been picked over, he is one of the last good options for the Cardinals.

Colome is also entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, meaning he’s under control (and reasonably priced) for 3 more seasons.

I think it’s very likely that the Cardinals strike a deal for Colome. Perhaps (I speculate) they even have an agreement in principle.

So why hasn’t it happened?

Let’s get this out of the way. The reason I believe a Cards/Rays trade has yet to happen is because the Cardinals are taking their final shot at Josh Donaldson. Yes, they checked in on Manny Machado. Of course they were legitimately interested, why wouldn’t they be? But with the asking price being very high, it likely became a fact finding mission more than anything else. According to Derrick Goold, they looked into the price for Machado in order to gauge a price on Donaldson. However, the feeling is that 1-year players are not an ideal pursuit.

And so, they put the Rays on hold while they sought resolution on the two high end 3B options that they covet. According to Ken Rosenthal, they have been persistent in regards to Donaldson, although the Blue Jays do not seem interested in moving him. Perhaps the Cardinals are trying to talk them into a trade. “Hey, you saw that the Yankees picked up Stanton, right?”, would be a good way to start that sales pitch.

Perhaps a topic for another day, I don’t think a trade for Machado happens. Cost is high for a 1-year player. Donaldson could be more realistic, but again, they have to sway a stubborn Toronto front office.

And so we turn back to Tampa.

Acquiring Colome and Longoria

Evan Longoria is not quite what he once was. However, he is still a solid player both offensively and defensively, winning the gold glove in 2017. The 2.5 fWAR he posted in 2017 was his worst mark in a full season, but he was good for a 4.5 fWAR as recently as 2016.

Longoria is probably at least as good as Jedd Gyorko, but with the potential to be better. Longoria also has durability on his side, playing in 156 or more games in each of the last 5 seasons. Gyorko has yet to bypass 130 games. Some of that is due to injury, some is due to his role/performance. Straight swapping Gyorko for Longoria wouldn’t be a major upgrade, but adding Longoria and moving Gyorko into the super utility role that Mo imagined for him going into 2016 would be a net positive at both 3B and on the bench.

Longoria comes with 5 seasons left on his contract, with a team option for a 6th. All-in-all (including the buy-out) he is guaranteed $86 million on the remaining contract, which runs through age 36. Even for an aging player, it’s a reasonable contract. But for a team that likes to operate between $40-50 million on their payroll, it would be significant relief. The willingness to take on the contract may help drive down the prospect cost of the overall trade (more on that later). Longoria only draws $13M in 2018, rising gradually to a peak of $19.5M in 2022. Consider that players like Jordan Zimmermann ($24M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21M), and James Shields ($21M) are making more than that THIS SEASON, and that looks very reasonable.

He’s not Donaldson or Machado

But he adds a known quantity to the lineup for a team that has gambled on young players the past few years. Should the Cardinals be unable to make the big splash for the studs, adding Longoria to a trade for Colome makes a lot of sense for the Redbirds. If Colome-only tops the list of likely trades, I would put Colome/Longoria at 1a. Just my opinion.

Consider the following bits from Derrick Goold:

“Look, the interest in Machado is there. But it’s also within a limit. The Cardinals made very few declarative statements before the deals being done Thursday, but one was Michael Girsch on how the team would no longer think it could bring a pending free agent in, woo him with the magic of St. Louis baseball, and re-sign him. That is no longer a strategy.

“The more characteristic move would be the Cardinals’ talks with Tampa Bay that could net Alex Colome, a closer with three years of control, and/or Evan Longoria, a third baseman with five years of control.

The Cardinals have always preferred control.”

To me, the arrow is pointing towards Longoria, rather than the others.

Aiming that arrow a little higher

Like an archer. Get it?

So if the Cardinals are already prepared to trade for Colome and could add Longoria depending on the result of other pursuits, why not go big or go home? Not trading for Machado or Donaldson will leave the team’s stock of prospects fully intact. Therefore, they would have the wherewithal to go all-in for starting pitcher Chris Archer.

Archer is a stud and pairing him with Carlos Martinez would create a 1-2 that can rival nearly any contending team. A trio of those two and Alex Reyes starting in 2019 would be incredible. His 4.02 and 4.07 ERA’s of the past two years are misleading. Consider, first that he pitches in the AL with the DH. Moving to the NL alone typically drives ERA’s down, putting him safely under 4. Also consider that he plays in the AL East, in which the other 4 teams have been known for their mashing offenses and hitter friendly ballparks. He has thrown over 200 innings each of the last 3 years along with striking out 230+ each year. This guy is good.

Another reasonable contract

He has two guaranteed seasons left at $6.4M and $7.6M each. He then has two TEAM options at $9M and $11M each. You can bet those will be picked up, meaning you have an Ace pitcher locked up for 4 years at an AAV of $8.5M.

He won’t come cheap. It’s going to take an impressive prospect haul. But considering the depth of the pitching in the Cardinals system they could surely make it work.

Now, earlier I mentioned that taking on Longoria’s contract could help drive the price down. It won’t be an extreme discount. But taking on $100 million in guaranteed money (Longo/Archer) could be enough to say, move the centerpiece of the deal down from Alex Reyes to Jack Flaherty.

My personal feeling is that I would be willing to push in all my chips except Alex Reyes to make a deal happen.

A package of Colome, Longoria, and Archer would be as blockbuster as it gets.

In Conclusion

I think the Cardinals and Rays have discussed all of these possibilities and have the framework for what it would take to make it happen. Perhaps the Cardinals got a post-meetings handshake deal to take the weekend and circle the room, and then get back with Tampa. Archer is a popular guy in trade rumors and Tampa won’t hold up their own offseason on the Cardinals behalf. But again, like a classic TV couple, they match up too well to never get together. I just don’t think the Cardinals can afford to waste much time and allow someone else to swoop in and steal their date.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has been all over this baseball romance, and this article is a good read.

I expect that something gets done on this front within the next week, though I could be completely wrong.

I would love Machado or Donaldson, but if you can bypass them and turn your assets towards Archer, then that is my preferred path.

Thanks for reading!

Rusty Groppel
I'm a diehard Cardinals fan that feels privileged to write about his favorite team in this corner of cyberspace. I'm also the bass player for the best damn band in the 618, Tanglefoot. Check us out some time.
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