In an interview posted yesterday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak revealed a great deal about the team's thought process as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Of course, Mozeliak did not explicitly say what specific course the club plans to take in the coming days, but reading between the lines one could get a definite sense of the general direction of the team, and maybe even the players who might be involved.
The Cardinals have struggled greatly to produce runs in the first half of the season and injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia have raised new concerns about the starting rotation. Some have suggested this may lead the team to trade for ace David Price or a big bat like Adrian Beltre, but Mozeliak seemed to temper those expectations with the following quote,
When you look to get better it almost has to come internally. The cost of playing poker is going to be very high. And say you find that talent or make a move, then the question becomes, 'Where do you put that?' We don't have an obvious place."
Indeed, assuming that Wacha and Kelly come back to pitch at some point this season, which seems probable at this point, one of them would have to be placed in the bullpen, along with Carlos Martinez, if the Cardinals acquired David Price. If the Cardinals acquired Adrian Beltre it would require shifting Matt Carpenter to second base and sitting Kolten Wong.
At the same time, Mozeliak hinted to a solution in the long term saying,
At some point you may have to look at the situation and say, 'This isn't working. Somebody needs a change of scenery.' If you decide this isn't working, the performance isn't there, then maybe that's how to find a place."
While Mozeliak did not name names, the most obvious candidate for a player who "isn't working" in his current place is Allen Craig. Craig has a .299 OBP this year and just a .365 slugging percentage which is well below average for a rightfielder/first baseman. The other player who has disappointed this year is Shelby Miller, who has a 4.15 ERA and an even worse 4.73 FIP through 104 innings pitched this season.
Craig would be harder to deal than Miller given the $31 million, five-year contract extension Craig signed in 2012. Still, Craig's contract could be bearable for a team betting on his turnaround, particular a team with deep pockets like the Yankees. Craig is due just 2.75 million in 2014, then 5.5 million in 2015, 9 million in 2016, and 11 million in 2017. The 2016 and 2017 numbers are the most distasteful, but it is not an untradeable contract like that of Alex Rodriguez.
Miller is much more attractive given that he is not eligible for arbitration until 2016.
Finally, Mozeliak also may be referencing Peter Bourjos, who has generally disappointed with a horrible .276 OBP this year and .320 slugging percentage. Bourjos will qualify for his second year of arbitration next year, but does not qualify for full free agency until 2017.
Trading Miller or Craig would open up opportunities for others. Mozeliak spoke about opening up opportunities later in the interview,
Creating opportunity has been the biggest obstacle this year compared to in the past. From a positive standpoint, that means this roster has a lot of depth and flexibility. But it also means there has been some repetition. The depth that we've created in the outfield does give us assets to move. At some point we're going to have to."
Read those three quotes together and three conclusions become fairly clear:
- The Cardinals are unlikely to trade for big names like Price or Beltre given the high price for "playing poker" in the current market as Mozeliak put it.
- The team is going to move some outfielders either before the trade deadline or in the offseason. The most likely candidates for being sent off include Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos, or potentially even Jon Jay.
- If the team is to improve dramatically the solutions will have to come internally with better play from the current starters and/or the promotion of prospects like Oscar Taveras. Any additions at the trade deadline are likely to be of the smaller, bench player or bullpen arm variety.