It is time to talk trades. They certainly have become a hot button topic around St. Louis two weeks before the deadline. As the unofficial second half gets underway, the needs for every team in the playoff hunt have started to come into focus. The Cardinals are no exception.
The biggest rumors about the Cards currently swirl around Colby Rasmus. He is clearly struggling this year both at the plate and in the field. He continues to appear aloof at times, and when he needs to get right he apparently only finds solace working with his dad. Are the Cardinals fed up with the drama? Perhaps. But Rasmus does have a ton of talent and makes little money. That makes him two things: a valuable player to hold onto, and a valuable trade chip.
The Cards have two glaring needs at the moment: better defense, and pitching. The team seems set on the middle infield of Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker, which can be adventurous. But with Nick Punto and Daniel Descalso as backups, things don’t look too terrible in the late innings. Ditto the outfield when Jon Jay comes in. And Friday the team announced reliever Eduardo Sanchez will be shut down indefinitely. So as far as the bullpen is concerned, what you currently see is what you get. The rotation has shown to be dicey at times, but the Cards do have all five starters healthy. That’s more than they could say this time last year.
If the Cards make a deal without giving up much, it will likely be to shore up the bullpen. No shame in that at all. But if they truly want to trade Rasmus, it really is only worth their while to turn any potential deal into a blockbuster. To do that, and get value in return, the Cards may have to part with more than one big name.
For instance, the Tampa Bay Rays are in third place in the AL East behind—who else—the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The Rays may not yet feel like they are out of the race, but realistically they will have a pretty good idea where they stand by the trade deadline. They have a strong group of pitchers in both the big leagues and their system, and they rely on young, cost-controlled players year in and year out. The Cards and Rays have supposedly discussed Rasmus in the past, so it seems a fit may be there. But something as simplistic as swapping Rasmus for the Rays’ current center fielder BJ Upton one for one doesn’t really benefit the Cards. The phrase “six of one, half a dozen of the other” comes to mind.
So what if the Cards up the stakes and try to pry one of Tampa’s stud starting pitchers away? Let’s think big, here: James Shields or David Price. Shields is signed to a deal that pays him $4.25 million this year, but includes three years of options worth $7, $9, and $12 million through 2014. One could easily see where the payroll-conscious Rays may want to get out from under such numbers. Price, the ace of the staff (or, at the very least, co-ace with Shields), is still arbitration-eligible but has a contract he can opt-out of should he want to go to the bargaining table. Though the current dollars are team-friendly, Price could very easily make tons more cash if he really wanted to.
Of course, regardless of what these players make, the Rays won’t let either of them get away cheap. Rasmus, on his own, would likely not be enough to land one of these hurlers. But the Cards have two valuable young pitchers of their own in Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez who have recently rocketed up the prospect value charts. And before the screams of “HOW CAN YOU MORTGAGE THE FUTURE” come out, take a deep breath and consider what the Cards would receive. Obtaining Shields or Price would give the Cards a proven #2-type starter (or better) they could control for several years. Imagine how that improves the team this year, then imagine it with Adam Wainwright for the next two years or more. A top three of Wainwright, Shields or Price, and Garcia would stack up against any team in the league…the Phillies included. And while it’s true the team could also have that with Miller and Martinez, they obviously offer no guarantees. Neither do Shields or Price, for that matter. No pitcher does. But guys who have shown they can do it at the big league level will always be more valuable. That is what the Cardinals need now, and that is what they will need in the future. Shields or Price offer both. Miller and Martinez do not.
The Cards may view Miller and Martinez as “untouchable” but they would almost certainly pause and think if the Rays dangled someone like Price. That is the beauty of this time of year; whether it’s a pipe dream or a realistic possibility, all options are on the table. If the Cards truly feel they need to move Rasmus, they must receive value back for him. Going after rentals and role players is not the answer. And maybe trading away Miller or Martinez isn’t the answer, either. But this team, as currently constructed, has weaknesses that will prevent it from going deep in the playoffs if they make it that far. So the question the Cardinals have to answer is one of commitment: are they in, or are they all in?