What should the Redbirds do at the deadline?
Also, are there other issues then just the roster?
I’ve been pretty quiet this season; it’s hard to write about a team playing this badly that shouldn’t be this bad. Coming into the season, this was not a bad team; not a perfect team by any stretch, but also not a team fighting to stay out of the cellar. They were a team built to win the division but little else.
This season leads to the following questions:
- How far behind are the Cardinals from other teams?
- Is John Mozeliak and the front office in touch with the current game?
- Was there more to Mike Maddux and Jeff Albert leaving?
- What’s the play at the trade deadline?
For question 1, I wonder if the Cardinals have truly embraced analytics and technology like other teams. Tampa Bay is competitive with no payroll because they understand both; the Braves are more in line with the Cardinals from a salary standpoint and they are far ahead of the Cardinals.
If you compare the front offices, the Cardinals list a lot more scouting with some analytics, the Braves have a lot more analytics with fewer scouts and an entire IT department, and the Rays have little listed for scouting and a ton of analysts along with an IT department. Now, some teams don’t list all of their analysts and scouts on the MLB websites, so these might not be complete lists; the point stands that the Braves and Rays have embraced the new way of baseball.
I also question if the Cardinals have incorporated technology like Rapsodo cameras, Swingtracker sensors, and PitchF/X and StatCast data to their upmost potential. I think it was 4 years ago or so that the Cardinals talked about creating a pitching at Blogger Day; subsequent years they only said it was still in development (there are rumors that Marlins put a hold on it because any update the Cardinals make need to also be made by the Marlins, and they weren’t interested in making the investment).
All of this ties into the second question; if the Cardinals aren’t totally investing in technology and analytics, can they really compete with the top teams? Let’s look at the last few years of free agents signings and their WAR:
- 2023, 0.0 bWAR: Tres Barrera (0.0), Willson Contreras (1.8)*, Oscar Mercado (-0.2), Taylor Motter (-0.1), Ryan Tepera (-0.1), Adam Wainwright (-1.4), Guillermo Zuniga (0.0)*
- 2022, 1.1 bWAR: Aaron Brooks (-0.2), Corey Dickerson (0.0), Steven Matz (0.3)*, T.J. McFarland (-0.8), Yadier Molina (0.0), James Naile (-0.5)*, Albert Pujols (2.0), Cory Spangenberg (0.0), Drew VerHagen (-0.9)*, Wainwright (1.9), Nick Wittgren (-0.6)
- 2021, 7.0 bWAR: Brandon Dickson (-0.1), Luis Garcia (0.4), Wade LeBlanc (0.5), McFarland (0.8), Molina (1.7), Max Moroff (-0.3), Jose Rondon (0.1), Wainwright (3.9)
- 2020, 3.2 bWAR: Nabil Crismatt (0.0), Rob Kaminsky (-0.1), Kwang Hyun Kim (2.1)*, Brad Miller (0.9), Rangel Ravelo (-0.2), Wainwright (0.5), Matt Wieters (0.0)
* multi-year deals
And this list doesn’t include Dexter Fowler (1.8) and Andrew Miller (-0.5), who were big signings when they happened. In those 4 years of contracts, you only have 3 guys (Pujols, 2021 Wainwright, and Kim) as players with at least 2.0 WAR, and 6 (Conteras [who will probably move to the 2.0 list in another few games], 2022 Wainwright, and 2021 Molina) with at least 1.5 WAR. Compare that to 13 players with negative WAR and another 7 with 0.0. Out of 33 free agents, 20 have no or negative value. You’ll also notice the value they are getting from the free agent market has decreased each year since 2021 (2020 is weird since it was the partial Covid season).
Just from those numbers, their signings are questionable; it’s a good thing they draft well. Add in the Contreras circus this year: there were known questions about his pitch calling and framing before they agreed to a deal, yet they signed him anyways and acted surprised when he wasn’t up to par (granted, he wasn’t that bad [other then calling pitches that pitchers didn’t throw] and it was going to be impossible to follow Molina successfully).
As far as the Maddux/Albert question, there could be more into them leaving then just being closer to home for Maddux and the disrespect that Albert was receiving from fans and media. Matt Holliday could be lumped into this question too after backing out of the bench coach position. I’m not going to speculate on any of that, as we’ll never really know. You can say that Oli Marmol is a dynamic personality and might not be for everyone, like maybe Tyler O’Neill; Marmol is vocal, but he never threw his coaches under the bus. The club also prioritized Albert’s hitting philosophy throughout the system and Oli was brought in Mike Shildt had his issues with it.
Finally, where should the team go. This season is done; no question about it. No team should try to count on a late season run like the Cardinals did in 2011 and 2021; the chances of it happening again are slim, like 1 in a million. It’s time to build for next year. There are reports that Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Jordan Walker, and Lars Nootbaar are untouchable, as the team sees them as next season’s core. I’d add Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson to that mix as well; Gorman has taken steps forward, and we’re only a year removed from Carlson being off-limits in a Juan Soto trade.
If an extension can’t be reached with Jordan Montgomery, he’s the first name I’m throwing out there. He’s pitching well and has value with a contender. Jack Flaherty is right there with him; I can see a contender wanting him as a change of scenery candidate. O’Neill could have some upward value if he’s hitting in the next week; I hope he does because he could net a decent return.
Contreras is a name that’s apparently floating around on the market; it’s surprising while not so. He’s in the first year of a 5 year deal with a lot of money still being owed to him; the Cardinals would have to eat some serious money to move him. He also has a full no trade clause, which might not be as big of an obstacle as it was when he signed the deal. While his offensive numbers are solid, I can’t see many teams being interested in him as a catcher, nor do I believe he’d want to be a full-time DH yet (even though that’s pretty much what he’s doing now).
Other names I’d listen on: Matz (little return and money going with him), Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, VerHagen, Chris Stratton, Ryan Helsley (if healthy), Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Andrew Knizner, Alec Burleson, Luken Baker, Jose Fermin, Moises Gomez, Kyle Leahy, Naile, JoJo Romero, and Juan Yepez. Guys like Edman and Helsley would bring nice returns, while DeJong and Matz would clear out both roster spots and some money.
Wainwright is untradeable, and frankly, shouldn’t be traded so he can finish up in St. Louis. The issue becomes his role. He’s not a good starter, and I don’t know how he’d hold up in the bullpen. Maybe shorter stints would help.
In these deals, they need to look at young MLB players, or those that are close to being ready. Maybe a change of scenery candidate that is under contract for a couple of years if it were to drop the amount of money we’d have to send somewhere with a Matz, DeJong, or Contreras. These young players probably need to be pitching; the outfield has plenty of candidates, even if they were to trade an O’Neill and/or Burleson. They have shortstop lined up with Masyn Winn.
While these moves are a step in the right direction, bigger things have to happen. I’m ready to clear out the coaching staff and front office; the only people who are safe are Willie McGee in the dugout and Randy Flores as scouting director/assistant GM (and maybe even promote him). Raid the Rays and Braves for the front office; as mentioned earlier, they’ve successfully embraced analytics. See if you can get Skip Schumaker back from the Marlins to run the dugout; he’s done a great job with a young Marlins team.
I’d also go back to some traditional scouting to go with the analytics; the team is down to 6 pro scouts and 15 amateur scouts (with 2 part-time scouts, 4 regional cross-checkers, and 3 national cross-checkers). I’d up both groups: 6 MLB scouts (1 per division), 10 MiLB scouts (2 for each level), and 30 amateur scouts (25 U.S. scouts, 5 international). Having scouts watching games is still an important part of baseball and would maybe help eliminate issues like we’ve seen with Contreras.
What’s next for me is watching the rumors for the next week or so. I’ll be posting more with updates until the deadline, then recapping the moves. I’m also tracking the Cardinals draft and the whole MLB draft as well. Also, check out next season’s schedule.