This is probably going to be a boring trade deadline for the St. Louis Cardinals (unless this sentence is already out of date by the time this article actually publishes, which is entirely possible). The Cardinals aren’t good enough to buy and they don’t have enough obvious short-term assets to acquire splashy, high-end prospects without sacrificing value of the 2019 or beyond teams.
If the Cardinals wanted to really make some noise, the easiest way to do that would be trading established veterans, players who have long-term value but who would have more long-term value with a team current in its competitive window. The reason this probably won’t happen is because the Cardinals likely believe they can contend for the postseason in 2019. But if they believe that they are still fringe contenders in the near future, there is a 2018 playoff contender whose needs align almost perfectly with what the Cardinals have available to sell. And while the Cardinals have already made a trade with the New York Yankees, this suggestion would be quite a bit splashier than the Luke Voit for Chasen Shreve one.
A recurring argument for the last several years among Cardinals fans is whether Carlos Martinez is “an ace”. It is the kind of arbitrary bar argument that is entirely pointless because “ace” does not have agreed upon parameters. Is an ace a top ten pitcher? A top thirty pitcher? One who is merely better than the worst best pitcher on a team in baseball? Martinez certainly fits either of the latter two categories, but the former is a bit tougher of an echelon to reach. Martinez is good enough to be the ace on a middling team, but ideally, on a serious World Series contender, he could be a very good #2, which itself is a very valuable thing to have. Of course, his right shoulder strain suffered yesterday puts further doubt on his overall health, but the injury probably (famous last words) doesn’t crush his future value.
As has been covered on this site, one such team where (a healthy) Carlos Martinez would clearly be the #2 starter is the New York Yankees. He isn’t quite in the Luis Severino tier of starters, but he would be a clear improvement over their current options as a second starter. Martinez is under team control through 2023, which makes him a very valuable asset to the Cardinals even if they are wasting his 2018 (and even a couple years after that), but since the Yankees are World Series contenders in 2018 and presumably expect to be for the duration of Martinez’s contract, he would be even more valuable in the Bronx.
Much has been made of Jose Martinez’s lack of defensive prowess, but as he continues to tear the absolute cover off of baseballs, the logical fit that has been widely suggested is that Jose Martinez could have value to an American League team as a designated hitter. This isn’t quite a David Ortiz situation, where a player for all intents and purposes finds playing a position in the field impossible, but a team keeping Martinez around to primarily DH while occasionally getting starts at first base and the corner outfield positions makes sense.
On paper, no team needs a DH less than the New York Yankees, whose current primary DH, Giancarlo Stanton, has the most lucrative contract in professional baseball history. But with right fielder Aaron Judge on the Disabled List for at least three weeks with a wrist injury, there is an opening for a Jose Martinez in the short term (in the game being played as I write this, the Yankees are starting Literally Shane Robinson in right field), as Stanton can move back to right field. In the long term, left fielder Brett Gardner will be a free agent after this season, and the Yankees can (and probably will) be moving Giancarlo Stanton to left field anyway, and thus the need for a DH is there. A cost-controlled one who absolutely rakes like Jose Martinez would work.
The current starting first baseman for the New York Yankees is Greg Bird, who to this point in his career has been slightly above league-average at the plate, which isn’t great for a guy who only plays first base. Jose Martinez, even with his defensive struggles, would be an improvement over Bird, but the Cardinals, of course, have another player who would be a natural fit for the Yankees in Matt Carpenter. Particularly at Yankee Stadium, a lefty haven, Carpenter could be lethal. Carpenter, especially as he gets deeper into the wrong side of 30, is best served at this point at first base, but he can play third base, and the option to play him at third base this season once Aaron Judge is available would give the Yankees an absurd lineup.
The Yankees’ lineup for the remainder of 2018, when healthy, would be, 2-9: Gary Sanchez, Jose Martinez, Gleyber Torres, Matt Carpenter, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge, with Giancarlo Stanton as DH. Once Gardner is gone, even before looking at free agents (and surely the Yankees will make a run at Manny Machado this off-season), they’d have Sanchez, Carpenter, Torres, Miguel Andujar, Gregorius, Stanton, Hicks, and Judge, with Martinez at DH. And this goes along with a potential one-two rotation punch of Luis Severino and Carlos Martinez. This team would be terrifying.
Of course, the Cardinals aren’t going to just give away these players. The question becomes what the Cardinals would, or should, be willing to accept in this exchange.
From a pure trade value standpoint, Carlos Martinez is, even with injury concerns, tops–his salary through 2023 is noticeably below market value, and he is the youngest of the group and thus the least susceptible to aging-related diminished skill. Jose Martinez has team control in his favor, but as a 30 year-old designated hitter, he’s not exactly swimming in upside. And while Matt Carpenter does have a team-friendly contract based on how good he has been, he isn’t really “cheap”–he is scheduled to make $14.75 million next year and he has a $18.5 million team option (with a $2 million buyout) for 2020. The contract is fine, but it isn’t a bargain to the magnitude of Carlos Martinez’s contract.
According to FanGraphs’s most recent installment of their Top 50 trade value series, the most valuable Yankees trade chip is Aaron Judge. The Yankees wouldn’t trade Aaron Judge for a Martinez/Martinez/Carpenter package–Judge is projected to be nearly as valuable as the three by himself and will make league minimum next season and arbitration-suppressed salaries for the next three years after that. Next is Luis Severino, with the problem being that the biggest appeal of this trade from a Yankees perspective, improving the top of the rotation, is more than nullified by trading Severino.
Next is Gleyber Torres, the 21 year-old second baseman who looks like he might already be a 4 WAR-type player. His bat, particularly his power, has been a revelation this season, and he looks like a budding superstar.
In the short term, the Yankees would be better off with Carpenter and the Martinezes than with Torres, but while you could make a case that Carlos Martinez should have been in the Top 50 of the latest Trade Value list, Torres is the single most valuable piece. But there’s an inefficiency to the Cardinals acquiring Gleyber Torres because the Cardinals already have Kolten Wong. The improvement of Torres over Wong, while very much existent, is smaller than the drop-off at the position if the Yankees lost Torres. So let’s throw Kolten Wong into the trade. He has far more value to the Yankees than to the Cardinals.
So at this point, the trade package stands at Carlos Martinez, Jose Martinez, Matt Carpenter, and Kolten Wong. Gleyber Torres is the centerpiece. What more would it take for the Cardinals to say “yes”?
One name to consider would be Miguel Andujar, the current Yankees third baseman–the Yankees could make it through the rest of the season without him, but particularly if they were to acquire a third baseman via free agency (while Manny Machado has been very insistent that he wants to play shortstop, if there’s a third of a billion dollars awaiting him, my guess is he would be a little more willing to play wherever he’s asked). He was considered a good, though not quite Torres-esque, prospect, before the season, and has played well (though not quite Torres-esque) in his rookie season.
But beyond Andujar, going for high-upside minor league talent would be the savvier play, not only because the Cardinals would have less demand for MLB-ready players but because the Yankees would be particularly focused on loading up with MLB-ready reserves. Estevan Florial is in play. Justus Sheffield is in play. Albert Abreu is in play. This trade would decimate the present-day St. Louis Cardinals. They would need to acquire a significant haul of prospects to make it worth their while, and at that point, there would and should be many subsequent moves made with Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha, and others. But the Yankees may improve so significantly in the short term that they would be willing to make this move.
Editor’s note: I wrote this post before Carlos Martinez was removed from last night’s game with a right shoulder strain and am annoyed that I had to make the revisions I had to make, but since this trade was never actually going to happen anyway, I stand by this.