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2021 Trade Deadline - Do the Cardinals buy a reliever or two?

Happy Trade Deadline week(-ish)! As I write this, the Cardinals have taken 4 of 6 from the Giants and Cubs after the All-Star Break, and really should have had 5 of 6, but we won't get into that. Actually, we kind of will, in a way.

I don't believe that I am alone in thinking that the St. Louis Cardinals could use some roster churn at the moment. Luckily for the club, the trade deadline looms as it is slightly over a week away; and what better time to utilize than that to churn the roster a bit more than they have over the last couple of months. One of the potential sources of need on the roster is a relief corps that is embattled at the moment - and really has been all year. Apropos as we've had two consecutive 9th inning collapses.

That is where I am going to begin today, in thinking like Michael Girsch and John Mozeliak and make incremental gains where I can. Today I am not looking at large splashes, so if you came here for that, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Today, I'm looking for guys that can help the club but also meet the goals that the Cardinals have set out in the press of not putting all their eggs in the 2021 basket. Let's begin.


Arizona Diamondbacks

If the Cardinals were to attempt to trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, it could be a one-stop shop type of situation. The Diamondbacks have two pitchers at different points in their careers that the Cardinals could attempt to get from Arizona. Jake Faria is in his age 27 season and is arbitration eligible through his age 30 season, so the Cardinals would be trading for 3+ seasons of Faria. Joakim Soria is in his age 37 season, is an established name at the back end of his career, and is set to make a prorated portion of $3.5M for the remainder of this season. Both pitchers are right-handed pitchers and both are on the 40-man roster currently. Besides being right-handed, there is another theme you will see as quite apparent, because that's how I searched for players, that will arise as we talk about these guys today.

Jake Faria has pitched in 8 games (starting 3 and finishing 1) and 19 1/3 innings this year. He has struck out 22.1% of batters faced and walked 5.8% of batters faced. For his career, those numbers are 21.0% K rate and 9.9% BB rate. So he's doing better than his career at this point this year. However, this year he's just allowing more hits than normal - but he's keeping the ball in the park more often as well. He's got a 4.19 ERA (career 4.51) but a 3.49 FIP (4.64 career) and 3.07 xERA (4.80 career). FIP and xERA are two predictive stats that say where his ERA should be based on his Ks, BBs, HRs allowed (for FIP) or his individual batted ball data at Baseball Savant (for xERA). In other words, he's getting unlucky to have that ERA this year. Faria is a guy to buy low on at the moment, I believe, and a guy who could fit in quite well with how he's really throwing strikes at a much better rate this year. He'd benefit from a home ballpark that is much more pitcher friendly as well. Also, as I said before, he has years of control, which are important to a team like the Cardinals. He's not a rental.

Joakim Soria was one of my favorites back when he was setting up and closing with the Royals a long, long time ago. His nickname is "Jack" but prior to that, Soria voiced his displeasure with this nickname in Kansas City: "The Mexecutioner" - named so because of how he mowed down hitters in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He has had one of the most unappreciated careers in the majors in recent years, I believe. He's been on 8 different teams and has been moved at the deadline before. Signing on with Arizona this year, I believe he knew that this was a possibility coming into the season and is probably expecting it now. He's not owed a ton of money to be a rental to the Cardinals, as the Diamondbacks currently owe him around just $1.4M of his $3.5M salary for 2021. That's not a lot to take on if you're the Cardinals. Even adding in Faria's salary, it takes us to around $1.5M to $1.6M being acquired in this deal. Let's talk more about Soria, though. In 2021, Soria is striking out 23.7% of batters faced and walking 6.8% of batters faced. This year he's got a 4.61 ERA, his highest ever. His FIP is 4.02 and his xERA is 3.66, however. He's also gotten burned a bit by Lady Luck. For Soria, part of that is that he's allowing home runs more often than normal - but is it a byproduct of Arizona's ballpark or is it a byproduct of him being 37 and not as good? Only time will tell but I think this is a better bet than bringing in Justin Miller, Luis Garcia, and the like. I'd have said it's a better bet than bringing in Wade LeBlanc, too, at least prior to him starting with the Cardinals the last few weeks!

So what would the Cardinals have to give up? Given past deadlines of trading for decent but not star relievers? Not much. A couple of flier type prospects. Either guys with high floors that are semi-close to the majors or way off ceiling types. Probably one f those prospects for Soria and two for Faria is my guess. My guess would be that offering up guys like: LJ Jones, Ludwin Jimenez, Logan Gragg*, Jack Ralston*, Alex Fagalde*, Evan Mendoza*, Evan Kruczynski, Scott Hurst, and Justin Toerner would get this deal done. The guys with an asterisk are guys I'd rather not move, so I'm going to use the others in this article. However, those are all guys that fit my description above according to what Prospects Live had in their 2021 Pre-Season Cardinals Prospect Rankings.

The potential trade offers:

Acquiring both: Joakim Soria and Jake Faria for LJ Jones, Ludwin Jimenez, and Logan Gragg


Acquiring just Soria: Joakim Soria for Ludwin Jimenez


Acquiring just Faria: Jake Faria for Ludwin Jimenez and LJ Jones


Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have helped Erasmo Ramirez complete his transition from starter in 2012-18, making 92 of his 192 appearances as a starter (with 63 of the relief appearances coming in one season) - to reliever in 2019-21. In 2019-20, Ramirez appeared in just 7 games and 17 1/3 innings between the two seasons at the major league level with the Red Sox and the Mets. This year, it's been another small sample size with the Tigers, as he has thrown just 5 games and 7 2/3 innings in the majors. He also has 5 games and 8 innings in the minors at AAA with the Tigers in 2021. In the majors, Ramirez has just a 5.87 ERA. NOT GOOD. However, his WHIP is only 1.30. His K:BB is 3:0 in that time. His FIP is just 4.07 (not great, but not bad) and his xERA is even lower than that at 2.86. Now, Ramirez is not a guy I would give up much for. Probably more like a Matt Adams for Juan Yepez type of move. Yepez at the time was a guy who was not on a single Atlanta Braves prospect list that I could find. But, Ramirez is a guy you might target to improve your bullpen slightly. To make an incremental gain over a Justin Miller or Bernardo Flores Jr. or Luis Garcia or TJ McFarland or Brandon Waddell.

The potential trade offer:

Erasmo Ramirez for Diego Cordero


Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers have a left-handed pitcher named Joely Rodriguez who is quite intriguing to me. He throws both a 94ish mph sinker and 4-seamer while also having an 88 mph change up that he uses frequently. He then has an 85-88 mph slider he uses sparingly, despite a 50% whiff rate on it this year (in 10 pitches). His 4-seamer has gotten creamed in the past two seasons. I'd have him ditch that, throw the sinker/change up more and utilize that slider more than just 16 times in his last 703 pitches!

Joely Rodriguez's results haven't been great this year, to be honest. In fact, he had an ERA over 6 in 2019 and has one again this year. Last year his ERA was 2.13. The last two years have seen him with an xERA of 3.35 (2020) and 3.66 (2021). Last year's FIP was 1.69 while this year's is 3.69. In the last two years combined, he's struck out 26.3% of the batters he's faced while walking 8.8%.

Rodriguez is 29 years old already and comes with a $2.5M price tag for this year, plus a $3M club option for next year (with a $0.5M buyout). That means it would cost the Cardinals around $1.76M (if they buy out Rodriguez next year) or $3.25M over the next two years if they choose to keep him around. All in all, I think that nets the Rangers a prospect similar to what the Diamondbacks would want for Faria and/or Soria. It seems as though they are a bit shy on pitching potential, so I'm going to give them...

The potential trade offer:

Joely Rodriguez for Evan Kruczynski


Washington Nationals

While the Washington Nationals have players like Max Scherzer and Josh Harrison that the Cardinals could be wise to go after; I want to discuss a relief pitcher here instead that, frankly, I really knew nothing about before diving into the stats. This guy throws just fastballs and sliders. He does have both a sinker and a 4-seamer, though, so it is a 3-pitch mix. But really, this dude just throws sliders. In the last two seasons, Kyle McGowin has thrown a total of 641 pitches and 441 of them have been sliders. He throws them to lefties. He throws them to righties. And it seems like all they do is whiff, whiff, whiff no matter what. Except for when they don't...and that leads to his current 4.56 ERA along with last year's 4.91 ERA.

So why would I want him? Well, his xERA in that same time is 3.40 this year and 2.86 last year. In fact, his xERA has bested his actual ERA in 4 straight seasons. Now, that is a bit of a knock against him. Maybe he's the opposite of Lance Lynn, who always outpitched his FIPs. Maybe he's just been supremely unlucky? He has a bit of a homers allowed problem and Busch III suppresses power to a great degree. Especially once we get out of the summer months. It could be a recipe for success, getting McGowin into a place where he can be a bit of a fly ball pitcher and miss some bats. The Cardinals don't have a lot of relievers that just miss bats.

McGowin is in his age 29 season and only has 43 games and 60 1/3 innings of major league baseball time to his name. That's both good and bad. Dude hasn't proven himself yet, so that drives down the asking price, but he also has 5 more years of cost control after this one. Despite the less than stellar track record, you might have to give up a bit because of that. It might cost you a guy that the Nationals can rely on sooner rather than later even. The Cardinals don't have much of that.

The potential trade offer:

Kyle McGowin for Scott Hurst or Justin Toerner - their choice.

Note: I just found out he is on the 10-day DL, currently. So maybe no deal here.


Pittsburgh Pirates

The last team I'm making an offer to today is the division rival Pirates. I want to try to get a lefty from them. Sam Howard is much like Kyle McGowin, but from the right side of the plate. He throws nothing but sliders until he has to throw a 4-seam fastball - he doesn't even have a sinker to go with it. Howard is arbitration eligible through 2025, so he'd be a piece to hold onto a while...well, if he's effective. He hasn't been super effective yet. In fact, he'd fit in well with our current bullpen with all of his walks he's issued this year. Why do I want him? Even though he throws tons of sliders, he gets whiffs on them over 40% of the time. Not only that, but he gets whiffs with his 4-seamer as well, unlike McGowin! The problems? Howard's given up homers a bit in his career. That's continued. Howard walks people - like too many. Cardinals have had trouble solving that issue already this year. Howard also has a career ERA over 5 in 73 2/3 innings pitched, including a 5.76 ERA this year in 29 2/3 of those innings. But with all those aforementioned whiffs come strikeouts, something this bullpen could use more of. His K% was 25.3% in 2019 and grew to 30% last year and 31.5% this year. That's likely more than one per inning. His career FIP of 5.18 doesn't seem to believe that his ERA will come down much, but this is where things begin to diverge a bit. xFIP regresses that home run rate to league average and in doing so his career xFIP drops him to a 4.74. That's still not great. If you start looking into batted ball data, his rates of GB and FB and LD are taken into account by another ERA estimator called SIERA (or Skill Interactive ERA). His career SIERA is just 4.18. Much better. That was my favorite ERA estimator until xERA came out; and xERA has Howard at 3.85 in 2020 and 3.88 in 2021.

If Howard can be that guy, the high 3s ERA lefty out of the pen who strikes out nearly 1 in every 3 batters, then he's probably worth going after. Now, are you going to get that? That's why the price might be low. The Pirates might be ready to shed themselves of a 28 year old who may just never figure it out. One thing about Pirates, though...they have a need for catcher in the upper minors and in the majors. Henry Davis, just drafted first overall, is really good but he's not going to be ready in the next year or two - or earlier.

The potential trade offer:

Sam Howard for Ali Sanchez


And there you have it. Trade offers with 5 teams that are quite realistic moves in my mind. They would be "buyers" without giving up anything on the farm that they can't live without. They would also be "buyers" in quotation marks because they're not getting anything super special, but probably improving over a few of the lesser bullpen arms that they've scraped together over the last two months during the middle of the season.

Next time, maybe I'll look at some more substantial moves. If I have the time. Until next time, thanks for reading!


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