In a move spurred by a cocktail of both developing and established issues, the Cardinals pulled the trigger on what could be called their most aggressive (and questionable) trade in years, to acquire outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss from the Cleveland Indians. For a team that has had struggles with finding a regular source of power, has been subject to flickering level of offensive product and is now facing the prospect of once again losing its offensive axis in Matt Holliday yet again, the need to increase lineup potential had hit near critical levels.
The deal, which was announced early on Thursday morning, addressed the team’s increasingly evident need to add more to its offensive potential. Despite their place atop the MLB standings as a whole, along with a comfortable divisional lead in the NL Central and a guaranteed place in the postseason at this point, the goal for the year is much larger and immediate picture is rapidly changing for the team.
Trade is (at the very least) an eyebrow raiser, when pure stats and name value are compared. Because while the concerns begin at the production value of Moss (who is hitting .217 as he makes journey to join the Cardinals this evening), they also extend to what the cost was to acquire his services. In order to bring the 31 year old slugger was minor league pitcher Rob Kaminsky, who was a first round pick in 2013 and recently named as the club’s #3 overall prospect was regarded as a high priority prospect for the organization. While the Cardinal organization is restocking a glut of pitching talent at its lower levels after graduating so much to the Major League level the past few years, Kaminsky was viewed as one of the premier parts of that future wave. In addition, as a left-handed hurler capable of, he represents a rare commodity amongst the recent internal revelations.
The deal represents a new approach to frequently visited locale for this part of the year. During John Mozeliak’s run as general manager, the club has often times paired with the Indians as deadline dance partners. In recent years, Jake Westbrook, Mark DeRosa and Justin Masterson have been turned to in order to bolster the team’s postseason prospects. Yet, the cost for obtaining this trio has varied in value, ranging from Chris Perez (who went on to become an All-Star closer for the the Tribe) to James Ramsey and Ryan Ludwick.
Each trade represented a different scenario and different need addressed. Ludwick was a former All-Star on the downside of production and injuries. Perez showed clear promise in St. Louis, but it came down to a choice between him and Jason Motte, who end up become a future National League saves leader. Ramsey was a minor leaguer that profiled as not having a clear path in the future in St. Louis, which has gone on to become true with the presences of Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and then Oscar Tavares, so there was no great feeling of loss there.
Yet it is different with the decision to move Kaminsky. The tried and true adage of “you can never have too much pitching” has been one that has held true to form for the Cardinals for years. It goes against the established modus operandi to trade away such a high potential prospect for the type of specific, short-term return that Moss represents. He not the young, still developing presence that Jason Heyward represented when the club traded away another major cog in the club’s pitching future in Shelby Miller this past winter. Rather, he is an immediate fix to particular problem that has already shown everything he can be in his career. While he certainly adds a plus power potential, it comes at the cost of a subpar percentage split on the year of .217/.288/.407, all of which instantly become lows for the current everyday Cardinal lineup. So while his 15 home runs and 50 RBI on the year instantly become team-highs, it can easily be argued that bad half of his numbers do more regular damage to club’s offensive potential than occasional bonus of the power boost he represents.
Yet the goal of a deadline deal is to steel a team’s immediate potential for the rigors of August and September. The current Cardinal roster has a lack of players that can immediately turn the tide of a game in a single at-bat. Moss, who has topped 20 home runs in each of the past three years and 80 RBI in both of the previous two, makes the team more dangerous at a moment’s notice. Since the loss of Matt Adams, the team has had no true source of pure left-handed power, so once again, another need is checked off the list. With the indefinite absence of Matt Holliday, the up-and-down year of Matt Carpenter and the just recent emergence offensively of Jason Heyward and Grichuk, the Cardinal offensive identity has changed significantly. The jolt of the type that Moss is capable of addresses clear needs at two positions, as well as in the lineup, and makes for a more fortified offering overall for the stretch run.
But does the reward outweigh the risk? Such a gamble coming at the cost of the chance of being able to cash in on the talent return –and contract control years— of Kaminsky as a Major Leaguer is a clearly questionable risk. However, it also affirms a fact that is clearer than ever: the Cardinals are in more of a win-now mode than they have been in than at any other point of the Mozeliak era. For a team that has been notoriously cautious in dealing its minor league talent over the years to make such an aggressive move, it signals that anything less than a World Series title is unacceptable this year from management. 2015 has been the most aggressive years of roster management that the team has put forth, with the patient and measured eye to the future taking a secondary role to breaking through the postseason glass ceiling that has loomed over the team’s final fortunes for the past three years.
The acquisition to bring Moss to the team is one that rings alarms of all different kinds. But regardless of the outcome, what it most clearly shows is that the Cardinal way of doing business is undergoing a steady, but unmistakable face lift to its formula.