The first third of the 2017 season has been nothing if not a roller-coaster ride for the St. Louis Cardinals. If you break the season up into four 12 game stretches, the Redbirds have gone 3-9, 9-3, 9-3, and 3-9 (actually 3-10 after another loss to the Dodgers last night). While the Cardinals remain only 1 1/2 games out of first, the NL Central has been nothing if not mediocre.
The elephant in the room, though, is the Chicago Cubs. Like the Cardinals, they have only played .500 ball up to this point. Unlike the Cards, they have proven MVP and Cy Young caliber players. Kris Bryant has continued to mash, but Anthony Rizzo could be better. And while Arrieta may never again be the 2015 Arrieta, he’ll be better than a 4.92 ERA he currently sports.
On the other hand, regression could be on the horizon for the Cardinals. They currently have the best starters’ ERA in all of baseball. Mike Leake is third in NL ERA with 2.24, but that’s more than a full run below his previous career low. Lynn is also in the top ten, but in his first year back from Tommy John, fatigue could set in. Michael Wacha has been good (well, not last night), but his shoulder could explode anytime.
The offense has been a mixed bag. Jedd Gyorko has exceeded everyone’s expectations and will probably be the only Cardinal hitter on this year’s NL All-Star team. While Carpenter’s average has hovered in the .220’s, his OBP is still a healthy .369. Key contributors Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk have all struggled, and the offense is unlikely to rebound unless they do.
That brings me to my main point: the Cardinals are not one move away from contending for a World Series. They’re 10-19 against teams with a winning record, and four of those wins came against the Brewers. Even if they were, I don’t think they have the elite prospects it would take to land Josh Donaldson or Giancarlo Stanton. Harrison Bader is a nice player, but do you really think he’d sway another team to give up a perennial all-star?
Who could they trade?
He’s been great this year, no doubt about it. He’s in the top-ten in NL ERA, as I mentioned above. However, a regression is coming, and he’s in his last year of team control. Plus, there’s at least three possible replacements for him in the rotation: Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales at Triple-A Memphis, and Jack Flaherty in Springfield.
Lynn wouldn’t command the haul the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman last year, but the Padres got highly rated prospect Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz last year. Pomeranz had more team control left, but Lynn is a better pitcher.
If the Cardinals were buyers, Oh would be the exactly the type of player the Cardinals would look to add. While is K% and BB% have both trended in the wrong direction, both metrics are still fairly solid. He’s a free agent after this season, and hard throwing minor leaguers Sandy Alcantara and Dakota Hudson could be ready for a bullpen role soon. Packaging Lynn and Oh could bring in a pretty solid return.
Wacha isn’t going to bring in a blue-chip prospect; everyone knows about the shoulder issues he’s dealt with for years. But he looks healthy right now and is producing, much like he always has when healthy. The Cardinals skipped his turn in the rotation two weeks ago, so if they see signs of another stress reaction – or worse, fracture – in his shoulder, they might as well try to get something for him.
I’m not saying the Cardinals should be sellers. On Wednesday, May 31st there is simply too much baseball left to be played, and the division still too winnable. Fangraphs puts the Cardinals playoff odds just under 50%, second best in the Central. If the Cardinals remain mediocre and the Cubs return to 2016 form, Mozeliak could add a piece for the future – without sacrificing any of 2018.
Thanks for reading, and if you disagree, let me know over at @colingarner22.