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Are the Cardinals Buyers or Sellers? The Answer: They’re Both

It won’t be long before trade-deadline pressure moves into the heads of baseball’s general managers. So many questions. So little time.

Buy or sell?

Disengage and trade players away for prospects?

Or trade prospects to load up on instant help?

Are you in, or out for 2017?

What should the Cardinals do?

For many weeks now, we’ve been chattering like crazy people about the Cardinals’ options. Throwing down opinions. Throwing out opinions. Coming up with wacko fantasy-GM trade proposals. Searching and conniving and plotting to land that elusive middle-lineup thunder bat that will transform the 2017 Cardinals.

Cardinals loyalists are dreaming of Giancarlo Stanton … you know, kind of like how every baseball fan everywhere dreams of adding Giancarlo Stanton to their favorite team.  Saying that Stanton would be a good fit for the Cardinals is the kind of thing that makes the kids say “Duh.”  It’s among the most obvious, unoriginal, and universally shared thought in the history of Western Civilization.

Wouldn’t it would be great to put Giancarlo in the St. Louis lineup?

You betcha.

It would also be great to to put Warren Buffett’s fortune in my personal bank account.

Others who care deeply about the Cardinals’ fortunes  have developed an unhealthy fixation on Josh Donaldson. This is based on thick, billowing, unsubstantiated rumor smoke that’s causing lightheadedness and serious respiratory problems.

A very good player,  Donaldson.  But the last time I looked, the Cardinals had good third baseman. Goes by the name Jedd Gyorko. Yeah, you can acquire Donaldson from the Blue Jays and also keep the versatile Gyorko in the lineup. But you’d have to move other players out of the way to do that.

Which sort of leads me to my point, if I can remember it.

(Sorry, I was distracted by a trade-based hallucination. I think Manny Machado would look good in a Cardinal uniform! That’s an original idea that no one else has thought of yet!)

I don’t think the Cardinals — at this moment — are buyers.

I don’t think they are sellers, either.

I think they’re BOTH.

Buyers and sellers.

Cards GM Michael Girsch was talking about this the other day on the Bernie Show. He said that the Cardinals’ improved organizational depth has gotten to the point where it’s possible for the team to make baseball trades. What did he mean by that? Girsch doesn’t see a need to jump into a “buyer” or “seller” box.

It is possible to just make a good baseball trade, or two, or three.

The kind of trade where a GM taps into a surplus at a position, or is willing to deal from a healthy pool of prospects, and move some parts to strengthen weaker areas that will make his team better — right now and for at least a few seasons after that.

The kind of trade where a GM has available talent that matches another team’s list of needs — and can be bartered to fill his own team’s holes. The classic “baseball trade” where two GMs partner to  get something done that will help both sides.

That’s what Girsch means by making a baseball trade.

A classic and traditional baseball trade.

A trade that isn’t like this:

A trade that signifies,  “We Are Giving Up On the Season. Please Deal For Our Pending Free Agents So We Can Evacuate 2017 And Get Started On A Massive Rebuilding Project That Will Make The Construction of The Egyptian Pyramids Look Like The Stacking Of A House Made Out Of Lincoln Logs By Comparison.”

A trade that that shouts,  “We’re Going All In, And Are Willing To Be Completely Unhinged Lunatics, Feverish To Get This One Player That We Must Have Or We Will Keel Over — Hey, Even If It Means Bankrupting Our Entire Player Development System And Living So Recklessly That We Could Face 23 Years Of Losing And Possible Franchise Extinction If The Trade For The Savior Goes Boom And Puts Us In the Flames Of Hell.”

So please … forget this All or Nothing framing of the Cardinals’ potential path to the trade deadline.

The Cardinals do not have to make deals that gather prospects and announce intentions to rebuild. And they do not have to make the kind of deal or transactions that deliver short-term gain in exchange for long-term pain.

The Cardinals have too many pieces at certain positions. They have personnel congestion forming in the infield, the outfield, starting pitching and even the bullpen. Some of this clogged traffic can be seen right now. Other areas of overcrowding will surface soon enough.

Some examples:

— Kolten Wong was the starter at second base — and having his best season — until injuries and two stints on the DL caused him to miss 36 of the team’s final 42 games in the first half. But Wong will be back on the roster by the time the Cardinals open the second half of the season Friday in Pittsburgh. How will the pieces mesh?

— The Cardinals have been playing rookie Luke Voit at first base. He’s performed wonderfully so far, and certainly deserves an extensive look, because his power and plate discipline can make a positive difference. But to fit Voit at first, manager Mike Matheny had to slide Matt Carpenter from first base to second base … and with Wong returning, how does Matheny give plenty of action to both Voit and Wong? With Carpenter at second base when Voit starts, and Wong about to be reinstalled, there isn’t much flexibility. 

— Yeah, Carpenter can be used at third base  — but why do that when Gyorko has come through with a superb combination of offensive production and superior defense? What, are you going to go with a Wong-Gyorko platoon at second base? What would be the point of that? Look, if Wong relapses and slumps and plays poorly, then we can take another look at the puzzle and reevaluate. 

— Again, on Josh Donaldson. Would be an upgrade in several ways … but acquiring him without making related moves to trade current Cardinals away would lead to more lineup clutter and result in having some of your better players on the bench, or restricted to time-sharing arrangements.

— Rookie Paul DeJong has flashed solid defense at shortstop, and his power is abundantly evident. OK, so where does that leave Aledmys Diaz? If the Cardinals commit to DeJong at shortstop, can Diaz reinvent himself and become a third baseman or second baseman or left fielder? If you said “Yes” to that, I would respond with this: you can move Diaz to another position … but all three positions we’ve mentioned currently are crowded or soon will be. So yeah, move the pieces around. But they still won’t fit, they won’t ease congestion and they won’t necessarily make you better. Perhaps Diaz has trade value. The Cardinals have a bunch of middle infielders in development down in the system including Edmundo Sosa, and, down the road, Delvin Perez. They aren’t staying there forever. The point is: the Cardinals will have to move some of these infielders. There isn’t enough room for all of them in the show.

— Trade Carpenter seems to be the latest short-attention span idea spurting from the minds of at least some of the BFIB. Here’s my philosophy: The Prez, John Mozeliak and GM Girsch should try to discover the potential trade value of nearly every player on this team. And if the the trade exchange makes you better this year, and over the next few years, then you have to seriously consider it. But this notion of dealing Carpenter just because he’s a goofy base runner, and because people are having fits over his low batting average that’s down because of awful batted-ball luck … nah, sorry. Fans that want to deal Carpenter because they’re having a little Carpenter tantrum — not a good reason. Trading Carpenter OR ANY CARDINAL — because you can make a helluva trade that strengthens your team … that’s a perfectly good reason.

— LH reliever Kevin Siegrist is set to return from the DL. Another lefty reliever, Zach Duke, isn’t far from making it back after a relatively fast rehab process following elbow surgery. The Cards already have two LHP in the pen right now, Brett Cecil and Lyons. The Cardinals can’t have four lefties in the pen. Surplus. 

—  The Cardinals also have outfield prospects moving up quickly including Harrison Bader, Adolis Garcia, Mags Sierra, Randy Arozarena, Oscar Mercado and several others. And then there’s Randal Grichuk; does he have much trade value at this point? Tommy Pham is doing a great job in left field, in center field, and he’s been hitting up a story since being promoted from Memphis on May 5.  I’m not saying TRADE PHAM NOW! But he’s 29, has a history of injuries and his potential trade value has never been higher. Just saying. 

— There are multiple starting pitchers in Memphis who could help right now if needed: Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, John Gant, Jack Flaherty. Alexander Reyes should be ready to roll next season after missing this year to rehab from elbow surgery. There are other appealing pitching prospects at lower levels of the system including Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks, Junior Fernandez. Plus others; I don’t want to type any more names. This would help with some trade packaging, yes? 

— The Cards have two pending free-agents pitchers, starter Lance Lynn and reliever Seung Hwan Oh. They could be trade chips. But the value may not be as good as hoped.

— Do the Cardinals dare offer top catching prospect Carson Kelly around, to see what he’d bring in? I hope not, but Yadier Molina is signed through 2020, so ….

It seems to me that Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch have several ways to go here. 

Not only with the talent on hand and talent that’s recently emerged — but the talent that is in the pipeline and on the way. There are many moving parts here. There are too many pieces that cannot be properly aligned unless slots are cleared . That could lead to multiple deals between now and the trade deadline.

The Cardinals are in a potentially good position of being buyers and sellers … having it both ways … and making old-style baseball trades that don’t sentence your team to rebuilding, or put your future at risk.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

The 2017 Cardinals Were  Already Transitioning and Now They’re Doing It Again