The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still a couple of months away, but the St. Louis Cardinals have to be contemplating the direction this 2012 season will take. And the way things have gone so far, it may not be an easy decision.
It is fair to say there is no way the Cardinals will be sellers, even with the absurd rash of injuries they have endured. A team that sells is a team that has no hope to make it to the postseason and a few expensive, desirable players that are nearing the end of a contract. This does not describe the Cards in any way. While they may have a handful of big contracts due to come off the books at the end of this season, it does not appear like they are contracts the team would be able to move without eating significant money and obtaining an upgrade at the same time. Plus, the Cardinals are still in second place in a weak division—far from out of it.
The Chicago Cubs are already 10 games out of first and are well under .500 after a lengthy losing streak last week. But they’re in full rebuild mode, and everyone knows it. They are sellers. The same goes for the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins. These teams need to shed payroll, build prospects, and plan for contention years down the road. The Cardinals are still good enough to win now, and are positioned to win in the near future as well.
So will the Cards be buyers at the deadline? That’s where the tough call comes in. They do have needs: bullpen depth, starting pitching that can eat innings, veteran bench help, stability at second base and center field. But they have a problem: many of those holes can be filled by guys they already have on their roster; unfortunately those guys are currently on the disabled list.
This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who has been paying attention. The Cards’ DL looks like their active roster, and their active roster looks like their Triple A roster.
And therein lies the problem: Do the Cardinals stand pat and bet on injured players not only returning to the lineup but also returning to form and contributing to a team committed to winning now? Or do they try to acquire talent (at the expense of prospects, mind you) to keep the team up in the near-term, and deal with extra players if and when they have to? Let’s not forget the calendar just flipped to June. There’s no way this team has seen the last of the injury bug. If Matt Holliday or Rafael Furcal or Yadier Molina goes down, this team is screwed…with a capital F.
Things were a lot different last year. When dealing with ineffectiveness—such as the Cards did with Ryan Franklin, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, et al.—and knowing they had depth, moving guys like Colby Rasmus to acquire the role players needed for success was easier. But the Cardinals are short on depth right now. The depth is in the starting lineup. And the minor leagues are nearly tapped, at least of guys who are close enough to ready for the big leagues. Who could they possibly move at this point?
Players will be available come July but the Cards must be sensible in their dealings. The injuries this year have been of epic proportions. Maybe karma has come to collect after an otherworldly 2011. Or maybe this is just a test, like 10.5 games out in late August was. Hope the Cardinals studied this year as well as they did then.