This Cardinals team is a pretty solid all-around team but I think most Cards’ fans would agree that it lacks the star power that teams like the Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs, Yankees, and Astros possess. The entire offseason, no element of the squad has exemplified that lack of star power more than the starting rotation. What I keep coming back to is that in game 2 of any postseason series the Cards would be starting Michael Wacha. Now, Wacha’s a pretty good pitcher but I just don’t like the team’s chances if we’ve got Wacha on the mound against Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, or Rich Hill. And if we end up in the Wild Card game that means Wacha on the hill in game 1 against Max Scherzer or Jose Quintana. I think the Cards’ #1 can match up against anybody else’s but our #2 just can’t. So I’ve felt all offseason that we needed another top of the rotation guy, not because our rotation lacks depth, but because it lacks another guy to match up with one of our opponent’s stars.
This offseason, that made 3 pitchers available – free agents Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish and the Rays’ Chris Archer – thought by most to be available in trade. As a result, like a lot of others, I’ve been banging the “Trade for Chris Archer!” drum all offseason.
The rest of this is a thought experiment – my thought process as I talk to myself (think that’s crazy? That’s basically what blogging is!) about how the team can arrange a trade for Archer. So the conversation below is my conversation with myself as I try to figure out how to write about a potential trade for Archer.
So, what’s it going to take to get Archer? He’s really good, controllable for 4 years and owed just $34 million for those 4 years. It won’t come cheap. They’re going to want Reyes +.
But I’d rather not trade Reyes. Surely they’re going to want a pitcher if they’re trading one, and that’s where the farm system’s depth is anyway. Can we build a package around Flaherty? I’d rather not. I love Flaherty. So what about Luke Weaver?
Most prospects guys have never really seen him as more than a #3 or 4. So why would the Rays want him? He does have 6 years of team control! The Rays love them some team control! Reyes, on the other hand, only has 5 and if he’s only really able to pitch in relief this year since he’s just coming off Tommy John surgery, that only means 4 years of starting. So maybe they’d take an extra 2 years as a starting pitcher from Weaver over Reyes.
So let’s look at their projections (quickly clicks to Fangraphs’ projection page). ZIPS has Weaver at…2.6 WAR. Wow! Not bad. That’s more than I expected. Hmm…what about Steamer? Also 2.6. In how many innings? 134 for ZIPS and 145 for Steamer. I just didn’t expect that in 2018, his rookie season. I expected that the projection systems would be a little more conservative based on the lack of a track record. Where is that coming from? Well, they’ve both got his K:BB ratio at more than 3.5:1. And, I guess, why not? He was more than 4:1 in limited innings with the Cardinals last season. That sounds good. Is there any other pitcher that his numbers look like?
Pitcher 2 is Luke Weaver (granted, in only 60 innings). Pitcher 1 is Stephen Strasburg. As Darth Vader would say…”Impressive!”
Maybe the Rays really would have some interest. What about Fangraphs’ depth chart projections? 2.7 WAR in 147 innings. That’s 3rd highest on the team and just behind Wacha. Pretty good for a rookie who’s only ever been thought of as a mid-rotation guy. Would the Rays take Weaver + some other stuff if it meant getting 2 extra years of team control and paying less money over 6 years than they would pay Archer over 4? Maybe they would, especially since they’d get 2.5 – 3 WAR starting pitcher this season. Maybe…just maybe.
Let’s look at this a little deeper. I’d really love to have Archer, and I think the team needs him this year to win a playoff series, but now I’m wondering if we really want to trade Weaver. Is he really this good? Those WAR projections are really good but they’re only pegging him for 145 or so innings. So, according to Fangraphs, what’s keeping him from being a really good pitcher this year isn’t talent, or home runs, or the ability to miss bats. What’s keeping him from being really good – this season, as a rookie -- is ONLY the number of innings they’ve got him pitching.
Craig Edwards just examined the Cards’ rotation for Fangraphs and scaled all of the team’s potential starters to 180 innings and Weaver’s at 3.3 WAR/180. Now, he’s the 2nd best starter on the team? In other words, in terms of ability, the projection systems think Weaver is, right now, the team’s 2nd best starter! If he goes 180 innings and is worth 3.3 WAR…that’s Rookie of the Year territory. Seriously? Luke Weaver?
I wonder what does Baseball Savant has to say. In 2017, Weaver’s wOBA against was just .307. That’s pretty good. Martinez’s was .304. I’ll take that. But maybe he was just really lucky. I know his K rate and BB rate were in the same neighborhood as Stephen Strasburg but maybe that was a function of luck or small sample size. What about his xwOBA? It was .287. Martinez was .284. If anything, he was unlucky! Is it possible that Luke Weaver is just really good?
If he’s a 2.5 - 3 WAR pitcher this year in just 145 innings and the projections think he’s a 3.3 WAR pitcher over 180, it’s reasonable to think that he might be a 3.5 – 4 WAR pitcher over the next few. This is Luke Weaver? If that’s the middle of the team’s rotation, then the Cardinals are going to have a really great rotation!
I wonder how many pitchers last year had 3.5 WAR or more. 17. 17? Seriously? That’s not a mid-rotation starter! What about 3.3, where the projection systems have Weaver in 2018 if he can get to 180 innings? 20. Twenty! That’s less than one 3.3 WAR starter for every team. But that’s probably not evenly distributed, right? I mean, the Orioles probably had 0 but surely the Nationals had at least 2. I wonder how many 3.3+ WAR starters the 2 World Series teams had. Two. That’s 2…TOTAL! And one of them, Justin Verlander, was only with his team for 1 month plus the playoffs.
So where does that leave the Cardinals right now in the rotation? Sure, I’d love to have Archer but how much better would the team really be with Archer than it is with Weaver? It doesn’t seem that they’d be that much better. And while the scouts have always thought that Weaver might project as a mid-rotation starter, maybe he projects to be that good, this year, as a rookie. Would we be better off with Archer starting that crucial playoff game? Of course. While a playoff rotation of something like Martinez, Reyes, Weaver, and Wacha may not sound as good as the rotation some of the other teams might throw out there, did anyone really think the Astros could win the World Series with Charlie Morton on the mound?
I started this thought exercise wondering if we could get the Rays to accept Weaver instead of Reyes to head the package in a trade for Archer. I’m ending it thinking that the Rays would be fools not to accept Weaver + in a Chris Archer trade. Sure, I’d trade Weaver straight-up for Archer, but how much more would they really want? And how much more should the Cardinals be willing to offer? The difference between the 2 just isn’t as large as I originally thought. So while I’d like to have Archer, I’m less convinced now that we need him. Do I think that the Cardinals shouldn’t trade for Chris Archer? Of course not. Should we, however, offer the Rays a package of players that treats Luke Weaver as a prospect and then includes 2 or 3 other really good pieces? I’m inclined to think not. This isn’t a team with a #1 and a bunch of #4’s, if only because there’s a pretty decent chance that Luke Weaver is going to be a lot better a lot faster than anyone really thought he’d be.
Thanks for indulging my thought experiment.