Welcome to the birdcage. For the next 3 days, Busch Stadium will play host to a matchup between the Cardinals and the Blue Jays. Two of the most distinct looking of the small birds, these teams also similarly sputtered out of the gate this season. The Cardinals have found ways to win over the past week, fueled mostly by starting pitching. The Blue Jays have however continue to struggle, sitting at 5-14 as the series opens. A continuation on this path could make them sellers in July and a potential trade fit with St. Louis.
It Starts and Ends With Pitching
Where the Cardinals pitching has began to perform as expected, the Blue Jays seem to lack the rotation depth to both turn around and have staying power this season. They feature a nice top 3 in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada but are then relying heavily on and aging Francisco Liriano, and for now castoff Mat Latos, filling in for JA Happ. Their offense no longer has the same firepower to carry them with the absence of Edwin Encarnacion, and they play in a tough AL East. Contention may be hard to achieve.
A fit with the Cardinals
It is extremely early, and somewhat foolish of me, to start churning the rumor mill on April 25th. However, should the Blue Jays end up selling, they have a man that would look really nice in the Cardinals lineup. That man is third baseman Josh Donaldson.
For those unfamiliar with AL players, Donaldson has put together this resume since becoming an everyday player with Oakland in 2013: 3 All-Stars, 2 Silver Sluggers, and the 2015 AL MVP. Over the past 2 years in Toronto he has smashed 78 HR with 222 RBI, while slashing a robust .291/.387/.559. That sounds exactly like the kind of middle-of-the-lineup force that the current St. Louis roster lacks.
He is no slouch in the field either. In his career at 3B, he is a +49 in defensive runs saved according to Baseball-Reference. Folks, this would be a game changing, Scott Rolen-level trade.
Donaldson is 31 years old, so the Cardinals would not be getting a young player. However, his contract expires after the 2018 season. Because of this, if he were to show regression at age 32, the Cardinals wouldn’t be stuck with him at an advanced age. On the flip side, if he continues to rake, they could talk extension. A huge benefit of this trade would be that it not only settles 3B in 2017, but for 2018 as well.
For those salivating over the thought of Manny Machado in a Cardinals uniform, don’t get too worked up. Donaldson and Machado hit free agency at the same time. If the Cardinals desired to chase the big fish in Machado, they still could. If they were to come away with neither Machado nor Donaldson, they still have Aledmys Diaz as a potential long-term option at 3B. But we are getting ahead of ourselves with this train of thought.
What’s it going to take?
This question actually isn’t of great concern to me. The Cardinals have a very strong system with a nice selection of talent forming. Have you seen the Springfield rotation? They have a lot of pitching. Additionally, with Fowler and Piscotty signed long-term and Harrison Bader, Jose Adolis Garcia, and Magneuris Sierra on the rise; the outfield scene is getting crowded at the top. Even more so if they delight us by signing Cuban phenom Luis Robert.
There is also a player like Patrick Wisdom, who reinvented his swing and turned many heads in the Cardinals organization this spring. By July he may be catching the eye of other organizations as well. A Donaldson trade would effectively block him here, but he could be an intriguing replacement at 3B in Toronto. This is by no means a complete list of Cardinals prospects. Also, I’m not looking to put together a specific package proposal. Bottom line: the Cardinals have the players to make it happen.
For those more enamoured with Todd Frazier, he would be a decent Plan B, but Donaldson would be franchise changing. The Cardinals have dealt with Toronto before (albeit different GM’s) in trading Rolen for Troy Glaus prior to the ’08 season. Oh, and I recall a 2011 trade that sent Colby Rasmus north while returning several missing pieces for our pitching staff. It was a major factor in the run to our 11th Championship.
This trade obviously requires the Blue Jays fail to contend going forward this year, and that may not happen, but otherwise is a great fit and not as far fetched as you might think.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Donaldson will miss this series with injury, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see him on the field at Busch sometime later this year.
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