With the 2019 trade deadline loaded with prospective buyers and limited on sellers (particularly on sellers with anything worth selling), most of the individual non-moves that the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t make can be rationalized. Unfortunately, in conjunction with absoultely nothing else, the move that the Cardinals did make doesn’t make very much sense.
Yesterday, the Cardinals traded infielder Jedd Gyorko, international cap space, and cash considerations to the Los Angeles Dodgers for lefty reliever Tony Cingrani and prospect Jeffry Abreu. And while I like Tony Cingrani and would be excited to see him as a part of the Cardinals bullpen, I have my hangups about him. Notably the fact that he’s hurt, will miss the remainder of the 2019 season, and is scheduled to be a free agent following this season. Besides that, however, he is a fantastic addition.
Regarding Jeffry Abreu, a 19 year-old pitcher, he has thrown 19 1/3 innings in rookie ball this season. He has…numbers. Of some sort. He has a 4.66 ERA and a 4.23 FIP. He hasn’t pitched nearly enough to conclude much from his statistics, so in his case, I’m more inclined to defer to scouting reports. But truthfully, there isn’t a whole lot out there, positive or negative. He’s a nineteen year-old international signing from the Dominican Republic who wasn’t a particularly ballyhooed signing and hasn’t pitched at a particularly high level.
Because of Abreu’s anonymity and Cingrani’s uselessness, it’s hard not to view the transaction through the prism of Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko, left without a position following the addition of Paul Goldschmidt and the permanent shift of Matt Carpenter to third base, struggled early in the 2019 season, putting up a 56 wRC+ in 62 plate appearances. But Gyorko spent most of 2019 on the Injured List, and despite his struggles, he still projected for a more valuable final two months of 2019 than either of the two players likely to occupy Gyorko’s former role as utility infielder–Tommy Edman or Yairo Munoz. This, of course, is contingent upon Gyorko coming back from injury, but he has far better odds of contributing to the 2019 Dodgers than Cingrani or Abreu has of contributing to the 2019 Cardinals.
The main problem with Jedd Gyorko, from the Cardinals’ perspective, is his salary. He makes more than a utility infielder ideally should, with a $13 million salary (with $8 million being paid by the Cardinals), and he will be owed at least $1 million next season (unless a team wants to pick up his $13 million option). Entering 2019, this didn’t seem to be a huge burden for the Cardinals–it’s not like they had signed Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Their top free agent signing was a mid-tier one, in Andrew Miller, while Paul Goldschmidt was set to make a below-market amount in 2019.
And yet, with the Cardinals holding a one-game lead in the NL Central, the Cardinals gave Jedd Gyorko away. I can’t fathom a baseball reason for this move. For a second consecutive deadline, the Cardinals were sellers. And in this case, unless the Cardinals are just inexplicably high on a mostly unknown teenager, they weren’t even selling as a means to long-term asset accumulation. They sold because they wanted to save money.
And I could look the other way on this if the team were looking to offset a new expense. An annoying tendency in baseball transaction analysis is to just say “eh, not my money” and expect a team to sign all of the players. But I don’t think it is an unreasonable expectation that, when a team is in first place and vowing to be deadline buyers, their payroll wouldn’t decrease.
That said, not every possible move would necessarily be a smart move for the Cardinals. The highest-profile starting pitcher traded this deadline was Trevor Bauer, and in order to acquire him, the Cincinnati Reds had to trade Yasiel Puig (a player with little value to a rebuilding team, as he is a free agent after this season, but a player who could have been theoretically traded elsewhere) and Taylor Trammell (a top-20 prospect in MLB). The closest equivalent for the Cardinals would be Marcell Ozuna, a pending free agent corner outfielder, and Dylan Carlson, the more MLB-ready and outfield-playing of the two Cardinals prospects in the same vicinity as Trammell. Bauer is a very good pitcher, but I wouldn’t do this.
Many of the best seemingly available pitchers weren’t traded at all this deadline. Mike Minor of the Texas Rangers, a quietly effective starter who is statistically comparable to Trevor Bauer, remains in Texas, but he is under contract for another season, and perhaps the Rangers are hoping to contend, or perhaps are just willing to hold out for a bigger offer (the same could be said, on a larger scale, about Noah Syndergaard). Madison Bumgarner remains a San Francisco Giant, and while he is a pending free agent, the Giants are seemingly interested in trying to extend Bumgarner, and perhaps even contend this season. Zack Greinke had a no-trade clause, and while this detail hasn’t stopped Cardinals fans from yelling at the front office in the past (let us never forget the Giancarlo Stanton pursuit), that doesn’t make it a reasonable stance.
It came out after the deadline that the New York Mets were willing to trade Zack Wheeler in exchange for either Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill, and I’d be inclined to pass on this one as well. That a proposal to trade a player who was worth 3.8 Wins Above Replacement as a rookie last season in exchange for two months of a player who just spent nearly a month on the Injured List has been met with criticism that the Cardinals didn’t make the trade has me concerned about the stability of baseball and the world as a whole. Are we concerned that Major League Baseball is going to end after 2019, thus nullifying Bader’s future value? Do we think the world is going to end? I know climate change is concerning and all but I think we’re going to make it at least through Harrison Bader’s club control years.
These non-trades were all fine. It was a seller’s market, and the Cardinals weren’t sellers. Well, they shouldn’t have been, at least. But there is one move the Cardinals didn’t make that continues to drive me up a wall.
I’m a naturally cautious person when it comes to trading prospects for veterans. Sometimes, I support doing it, but when it comes to parting with premium prospects, or at least the types of prospects I know by name, I can easily scare myself out of it. So for me, the best kinds of transactions are the ones where the team doesn’t have to give up a major prospect. Such as, say, when Dallas Keuchel remained unsigned until June and could have been acquired at the cost of one compensation draft pick. Or when Gio Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees, followed by a Major League deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, followed by eight effective starts and counting all for the cost of $2 million and no compensation picks. Two. Million. Dollars. For a pitcher who projected to be more valuable than any Cardinals starting pitcher other than Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty.
Passing on Dallas Keuchel was questionable; passing on Gio Gonzalez was malpractice. Gio Gonzalez may not be an ace or near-ace along the lines of Trevor Bauer or Noah Syndergaard, but he would have easily slotted into the Cardinals’ rotation and he was practically free. I found myself, on deadline day, keeping an eye on ex-Reds, now-Athletics pitcher Tanner Roark, but even he projects only marginally better and the Athletics had to give up a respectable prospect to get him. It’s one of the few July 31 trades where I thought, “Man, I wish the Cardinals had done that”, but in a world in which the Cardinals would stubbornly ignore very obvious signs of decay in their Spring rotation, expecting an upgrade in the rotation in late July would have been asking a lot.
Making a move for a position player was never going to accomplish much–the lineup’s weak links, notably Paul Goldschmidt, have been coming around this month. The bullpen, permanently maligned as it may be, is fine as long as they aren’t overextended, which is a direct result of the team’s poor starting pitching. And when the St. Louis Cardinals let the trade deadline pass without acquiring a Major League Baseball player yesterday afternoon, their rotation sat in the bottom third of baseball in total value accumulated by starting pitchers. When asked about the inaction, John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch gave fairly predictable, canned answers about not finding good fits. This is a fair point if you assume they had a few hours on a Wednesday afternoon to do it. They’ve had months and they still have Michael Wacha in the rotation.
I get being mad that the Cardinals didn’t acquire a starting pitcher yesterday. But you should be madder that they didn’t try to acquire one for months before that.
Photo credit goes to Andrew Gurney of St. Louis Bullpen