Eventually You Have Nothing Left To Trade

Many baseball fans spent Saturday digging their fingernails into their mouse, keyboard, remote, couches and chairs, waiting to hear the news on what (if anything) their team would do as the 4PM EST trading deadline loomed. For Cardinal fans, after already missing out on such names as Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, and Roy Oswalt, fans were starting to wonder what, if anything, the team could pull off.

After hearing Jake Westbrook’s name tossed around as a possibility for several weeks, fans were not surprised to see it resurface late Friday night. Westbrook looks like a Dave Duncan special: gets a lot of ground balls, first year after being in injury rehab, and the price for him should have been reasonably low. Some figured it would take one, maybe two prospects to wrangle him away from the Cleveland Indians, and the words ‘major league ready’ would not be uttered once about said prospect(s). Imagine the collective shock that went through Cardinal nation when within the course of a frenzied hour or two, Jake Westbrook was indeed headed to St. Louis, but 2008 All-Star Ryan Ludwick was on his way out, as part of a three team deal with the Indians and San Diego Padres. Bill Ivie broke down the deal, reminding a slightly stunned and confused fan base that Ludwick leaving would clear payroll for the looming Albert Pujols contract.

Why did it come down to Jake Westbrook though? Why could the Cardinals not pull the trigger on guys like Oswalt or a big bat to steady a lineup that changes its mind on a daily basis whether or not to crush baseballs or fans’ hearts?

On Friday, once it appeared that the Oswalt trade had been finalized, Astros’ GM Ed Wade appeared on the Mike & Mike show on ESPN Radio. When asked about whether or not he would have been willing to trade in the division, whether it be to the Cardinals or anyone else, Wade answered politically, saying, “It would have been difficult but we were prepared to make a deal there if the talent fit…. That said, at the end of the day we had to make the deal that made the most sense for the Astros. From a talent standpoint we could’ve matched up with a team within the division whether it was the Cardinals or the Reds or Cubs or any club that Roy would’ve been willing to go to.”

Now, I am not going to wax nostalgic about how great it would have been to get Oswalt (although if you want to, you can listen to the full interview here), but I will tell you what I heard here. Trading within the division, painful though it may be, is not a foreign concept. The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets did it just last year – swapping Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Church straight up. Go back far enough in Cardinal history and you will undoubtedly learn about the Cards getting Lou Brock from the Chicago Cubs, in what is possibly one of the most lopsided trades of all time.

The point that Wade was making was that Philadelphia put together the best package. They had the young, talented players required to get a top of the rotation starter. The Cardinals were not even close to being capable of matching that high number of quality players. Not for Oswalt, not for Haren, not for Lee, not without trading away the farm. Again.

There is a reason that the Cardinals farm system is ranked among the worst in baseball, and the assessment is a fair one. The team seems to have been in ‘win now’ mode for several years now, and have made some of the bigger trades in the summer, most recently in 2009. Yes, it was just last year that the Cardinals gave up a total of five prospects to get Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa. They weren’t just any five prospects. The team was willing to part with some of their very top prospects, including 2008 first round draft pick Brett Wallace (who, in a small twist of fate, has found himself as the new starting first baseman for the Astros, starting last night). When you combine trades like those over a number of seasons with a couple of weak draft years, eventually you get to the point where your trading chips just do not match up to other teams, and this is where the Cardinals front office finds themselves today.

Make no mistake, there are still several players left in the system that probably will be major league players, including 2009 first round draft choice Shelby Miller. However, the Cardinals are not the Yankees. They are not fiscally able to go out and buy marquee players just for kicks. At some point, the team needs to take a break from wheeling and dealing and taking a ‘win now’ approach and let their minor league system restock for a bit.

For the big league squad, this might be it for trades on the year. Of course, there is still the waiver wire, and the Cardinals have made deals after the trade deadline in the past (See Woody Williams in 2001). Chances are the front office will soon start commenting on the imminent return of starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and third baseman David Freese, saying that each of these two returning is just like making a deal at the deadline.

Is it enough?

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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