On September 29, 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals played and lost to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals, eliminated from postseason contention the night before, elected to sit Dexter Fowler for the game, but did play its three next best outfielders in the game. When the team played against the Colorado Rockies ten months and two days later, none of those outfielders remained on the Cardinals.
For a mostly successful team, the Cardinals have had quite a bit of high-profile turnover over the last two years. The team was ostensibly built upon young players, but then new young players emerged and the previous future core was traded away. And few, if any, of the trades have been perceived as slam-dunk “wins” for the Cardinals.
These trades have been constantly revisited, but categorizing them into various tiers is a necessary task in order to view trades as reflecting an organizational plan rather than being chaotic and unpredictable moves which reflect a belief that all baseball is random and impossible to predict in any meaningful way.
Rather than evaluate the Paul Goldschmidt trade, about which your opinion should not have meaningfully changed on the basis of a week and a half of results, this is a look at trades made between the end of the 2017 season and the 2018 trade deadline which have been widely dismissed and criticized by some Cardinals fans. Here are the tiers.
1. Actually the trade is good: These are trades in which things actually worked out well and you should stop complaining, you greedy weirdo.
2. The results are inconclusive: These are trades in which it’s still too early to tell whther or not it was a good trade.
3. The results are bad, but I get it: Sometimes weird things happen. These are trades that didn’t work out well but the basic logic behind them makes sense.
4. This was stupid: These are trades which were stupid then and are stupid now and there’s really no justification for them.
December 1, 2017: St. Louis Cardinals traded SS Aledmys Diaz to Toronto Blue Jays for CF J.B. Woodman: In many ways, this was the prototypical recent Cardinals trade, in that the Cardinals sold on a player at roughly his nadir of value. They did it in order to acquire J.B. Woodman, a non-prospect minor league outfielder who was a league-average hitter at a 23 year-old at high-A before being released on August 2. Meanwhile, Diaz had been a Rookie of the Year finalist the year before and had been displaced by Paul DeJong. DeJong had a strong 2018, which helped validate Diaz’s displacement as starter, but Diaz bounced back in Toronto, having an above-average season at the plate, showing previously absent defensive versatility by playing a solid third base, and later being traded to the Houston Astros for an actual prospect. It’s hard to get too upset about losing a bench player, but Diaz would’ve undeniably been a superior bench option than Greg Garcia or, to a lesser extent, Yairo Munoz last season. This was stupid.
December 14, 2017: Miami Marlins traded LF Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Daniel Castano, RF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Sandy Alcantara and RHP Zac Gallen: Even with Marcell Ozuna’s uncomfortably lousy start to 2019, criticism of this trade is largely couched in comparing it to the (at the time more controversial) Milwaukee Brewers’ acquisition of Christian Yelich. I wrote extensively about this last week. But even if the Cardinals had a crystal ball and knew what Yelich would become, the trades aren’t mutually exclusive. The Cardinals would be better had they made the Yelich trade, but they’d be even better had they acquired both Marlins outfielders. Actually the trade is good.
December 14, 2017: St. Louis Cardinals traded RF Stephen Piscotty to Oakland Athletics for 2B Max Schrock and 3B Yairo Munoz: I’ve long had mixed feelings on the trade which sent the Bay Area native Piscotty back to Oakland as his mother was dying of ALS. I believe, ultimately, the Cardinals made what they considered to be a business decision, and that they’ve used the feel-good story of a loving son as cover for actual critical analysis of the trade. But also, I believe there was practical value here to moving Piscotty, in the way that “he just needed a change of scenery” is floated about, but where that change of scenery is basically limited to two teams. Piscotty predictably was better in 2018 than in 2017, and while I think the value of Munoz and Schrock will eventually be less than what Piscotty would have brought, the unknown element of how Piscotty would have handled another year in St. Louis makes me more agnostic on the matter. The results are inconclusive.
January 19, 2018: Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Dominic Leone and RHP Conner Greene to St. Louis Cardinals for LF Randal Grichuk: This trade would have made quite a bit more sense had it not been for the Piscotty one a month earlier. At that point, (for the few hours between the Ozuna and Piscotty trades), the Cardinals had five starter-quality outfielders, but now, the Cardinals had four, and that’s a helpful thing to have in case of injury or guys turning into pumpkins (both of which happened in 2018). The return was more obvious, though, as Dominic Leone had a sub-3 ERA and FIP in 2017 out of the Blue Jays bullpen. Had he materialized as this type of reliever in 2018, the Cardinals bullpen would have been, well, at least less of a disaster. The results are bad, but I get it.
July 29, 2018: New York Yankees traded LHP Chasen Shreve and RHP Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis Cardinals for 1B Luke Voit and future considerations: It’s hard to argue that the results of this trade haven’t been the most disastrous for the Cardinals of any of these. Shreve had a disastrous 2018 run in St. Louis and, despite being tendered a contract, now finds himself in the Memphis Redbirds bullpen, along with Giovanny Gallegos, who has put up good numbers in AAA but, at 27, doesn’t seem to show much potential for suddenly emerging into stardom. Meanwhile, Luke Voit had a .333/.405/.689 triple-slash with the Yankees last season and a lineup with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of it now seems to expect Voit to be a legitimate threat in the middle of it. That said, at the time, Luke Voit felt disposable. He had good minor league numbers and decent MLB numbers, but nothing to suggest what he would become down the stretch for the Yankees, and nothing to suggest he should have been getting MLB at-bats over the likes of Matt Carpenter, Jose Martinez, or now, Paul Goldschmidt. This trade was the very definition of the results are bad, but I get it.
July 31, 2018: St. Louis Cardinals traded CF Tommy Pham and Future Considerations to Tampa Bay Rays for RF Justin Williams, LHP Genesis Cabrera and RHP Roel Ramirez: Ostensibly, the Cardinals made this trade to clear playing time for emerging center fielder Harrison Bader, but the Rays already had Kevin Kiermaier, so it was clear from the beginning that the Rays intended to play Tommy Pham in a corner outfield spot, the spot where Pham primarily played during his incredible 2017 season for the Cardinals. And in August and September, Pham triple-slashed a Voitian .343/.448/.622. With Dexter Fowler playing just four more games after this trade was executed, the Cardinals cobbled together outfield starts down the stretch, and while Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill were fine, Pham was unquestionably better. He may very well have been the difference between making the postseason and missing it. And this was all for a prospect package headlined by a guy with a four-something ERA and FIP in AA last season. Any prospect trade always comes with the caveat that you never know what guys will become, but I hated this trade when it happened and I hate it now. I’m sure Tommy Pham was obnoxious to deal with as a manager, as he lives his life with a perpetual chip on his shoulder, but that is the same thing that makes him a great player. This was stupid.
By my score, of these six controversial trades (I excluded trades that I forgot happened basically since they happened, like the Breyvic Valera or Oscar Mercado ones), there is one trade that I think the Cardinals outright won, one that I think is still up in the air, two where I think the Cardinals probably regret it but where I understand and respect the process behind them, and two trades I think were outright bad. By this evaluation, while I think some analysis of the Cardinals losing trades is a bit hyperbolic (particularly in the case of the Voit trade, which is based almost entirely in hindsight), I also can’t argue against the verdict that the Cardinals have had a net loss in trading over the last couple years. The 9/29/17 outfield of Grichuk, Pham, and Piscotty sounds more appealing than the current, actual Cardinals outfield comprising of players who supposedly made these ex-outfielders expendable.
These trades haven’t destroyed the Cardinals. But the results have to improve going forward.