I'll just start today's post with telling you that I really dislike the two trades the Cardinals made at the 2021 Trade Deadline. In fact, I dislike it so much that I think it is the worst series of moves since the Ozuna, Grichuk, Piscotty debacle. I would imagine that those three trades had a minimum of 5-7 players that are at a higher caliber than anyone in these two deals and I am nearly as pissed off about these as I was that. Not quite.
Now, let me be absolutely clear, I am rooting for this to work out because I want the Cardinals to succeed - much like I rooted for Ozuna even though I was against the moves from the beginning and he made it really hard to root for him at times.
The deadline deals:
St. Louis Cardinals trade John Gant and Evan Sisk to the Minnesota Twins for 38-year old J.A. Happ and cash (to cover the difference in MLB salary in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals trade Lane Thomas to the Washington Nationals for 37-year old LHP Jon Lester.
That was the extent of what the Cardinals did in the last 48 hours prior to the trade deadline. The Cardinals did make one more non-MLB move, acquiring TJ Zeuch from the Toronto Blue Jays for for cash considerations on July 25th, 5 days before the trade deadline. While he may have reported, as of August 1st, 2021, he had not yet played an inning for the Memphis Redbirds (to whom he was assigned upon the completion of the trade).
The only semi-coherently logical reason to make these two deals (not including the Zeuch deal) at this time is because the Cardinals need to just cover innings to get to 2022 without burning out their youth. That is the sole reason. The team is giving up on the 2021 season if that is the case. If that is the case, then this is still a bad couple of moves for many reasons. The way that I am going to work through those reasons is to go through and debunk every other argument I've heard.
This was a bad deadline, reason #1:
If you are going to go ahead and call it quits on a season with 62 games and 38.3% of your schedule to go, do what the Cubs did. The Cardinals didn't have the big pieces to trade like the Cubs, but you sell Kwang-Hyun Kim for all you can get from someone; you sell Andrew Miller for all you can get from someone; and you shop TJ McFarland, Wade LeBlanc, and Luis Garcia unsuccessfully for as long as you can. You don't add two arms for the sole purpose of moving you to next season while giving up 12+ years of cost controlled players no matter what you think you might plan to do with those players in the future. At the deadline alone, Craig Kimbrel got Nick Madrigal (who the Cardinals could use, frankly) and Codi Heuer (a RH reliever) from the White Sox, while Andrew Heaney (much worse than Kim) brought in two AA pitchers (one starter and one reliever who were both pitching quite well in AA), and Tyler Anderson netted the Pirates two prospects from the Mariners.
Furthermore, Kim could be a reliever for a team with enough starting pitching and a guy like Hansel Robles even brought back a pretty good 23-year old AA reliever in return. Joakim Soria brought back two players to be named later (which I basically predicted here), and Tony Watson brought back an MLB reliever and two more relief pitching prospects all by himself.
This was a bad deadline, reason #2:
People keep telling me that the Cardinals did this to eat innings. Well, Happ and Lester have combined to pitch <5 innings per start this year. Their ERA is higher than their # of innings per start. Again, their combined ERA of 6.01 is actually more than one higher than 4.96 combined innings pitched per outing.
This was a bad deadline, reason #3:
Both of the aging pitchers that the Cardinals acquired have gotten worse since the "sticky stuff" crackdown came down by MLB. JA Happ has averaged 5.17 innings per start this year with an ERA of 6.77. It has jumped nearly 50% higher than that in the month since the "sticky stuff" decisions came down from MLB. Jon Lester has averaged 4.71 innings per start this year with an ERA 5.02. Since "sticky stuff" came down, Lester has averaged less than 13 outs per start (less than 4 1/3 innings) and has allowed 7.11 runs per 9 innings.
This was a bad deadline, reason #4:
John Gant and Lane Thomas were not the best players in the world. They were far from it. Lane Thomas is a guy who likely was both looking to get traded to get a shot somewhere else and a guy that the Cardinals were just looking to trade to get anything back in return. However, if Jon Lackey were put on waivers with those numbers above, it would have been complained about as the Cardinals just going after more low hanging fruit. The Cardinals gave up 5 years of Lane Thomas for that low hanging fruit instead of just waiting until Lester got DFA'd by Washington in the last couple of months.
John Gant failed as a starter this year. He failed pretty miserably if we're being honest. IF we're being really honest, we could say that John Gant failed enough as a starter this year that he'll probably never get a look as a starter again in his career - except for as a swing man or spot starts here or there if someone is hurt and his team has no one else to turn to. However, Gant has been plenty fine as a reliever in his career. In 509 plate appearances against him as a reliever, opponents have hit .218/.315/.338/.652 against Gant. He has a 13-5 record with a 3.47 ERA and 1.293 WHIP as a reliever. He even has a FIP just under 4.00 as a reliever who can go multiple innings. Teams can use that kind of player. Hell, the Cardinals could use that kind of player, no?
Jon Lester and JA Happ have combined for 173 2/3 innings in 35 starts this year (4.96 per start), a 6.01 ERA, a 5.41 FIP, and a 5.24 xFIP. They're 8-11 with a 16.3% K rate and 7.6% BB rate along with a 1.59 WHIP. John Gant has 76 1/3 innings of 3.42 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 5.61 xFIP ball. He's 4-6 with a 16.2% K rate and 16.2% BB rate along with a 1.57 WHIP.
Let's look at this another way:
Opponent batters against John Gant in 2021:
1st time through the order (SP): .186/.331/.314/.644
2nd time (SP): .276/.383/.388/.770
3rd time (SP): .289/.451/.447/.898
1st time (RP): .167/.327/.214/.541
Opponent batters against JA Happ in 2021:
1st time through the order: .318/.376/.597/.974
2nd time: .263/.322/.500/.822
3rd time: .363/.385/.538/.924
4th time: .286/.286/.714/1.000
Opponent batters against Jon Lester in 2021:
1st time through the order: .283/.347/.496/.843
2nd time: .297/.353/.461/.813
3rd time: .333/.386/.627/1.013
We traded John Gant and a prospect for two guys as bad or worse than John Gant who are 9 and 10 years older.
This was a bad deadline, Reason #5:
Well, Lester and Happ certainly have to be better than what the Cardinals have thrown out there lately...especially since Flaherty is down. Here is how Cardinals pitchers fared from June 1st when Flaherty went down to July 30th, when I looked up this data:
5 IP per start 4.58 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 4.73 xFIP 1.36 WHIP, 1.91 K:BB
They traded for Happ and Lester to improve those numbers. Their 2021 line:
4.96 IP per start 6.01 ERA, 5.41 FIP, 5.24 xFIP 1.59 WHIP, 2.13 K:BB
This was a bad deadline, Reason #6:
According to ZiPS, the trade deadline changed #STLFLY odds of winning the division DOWN 0.4%, of making the playoffs DOWN 0.9%, and of winning the World Series DOWN 0.1%.
This was a bad deadline, Reason #7:
Lester and Happ have no bearing on 2022 or beyond. Lane Thomas, Evan Sisk, and John Gant might not have been thought (by the organization) to have any bearing on 2022 or beyond either. That's an argument for sure. Is getting Lester and Happ maximizing the value of those players? You're trading John Gant when he had a 16.2% BB rate and 16.2% K rate on the season - a season after throwing him only in relief and getting a 2.40 ERA, 1.067 WHIP, and 29.5% K rate out of him. You're selling low on him and had 2 months to improve that outlook before 2022 or even 4 additional months prior to the trade deadline next year to improve his outlook. Lane Thomas was absolutely miserable at the major league level (after a shimmering 44 PA debut in 2019) during the last two seasons. Even if you were (likely) giving up on him after the 2021 season, could you not have played this out? He was finally starting to hit again at AAA:
.265/.339/.451/.790 for a 108 wRC+ at the AAA level this year.
Surely if he continues that over the last two months of the season he's worth more to a team than getting back a starter who hasn't average half of a game pitched for the last month at age 37.
This was a bad deadline, Reason #8:
Anyone who follows Cardinals press conferences and transactions closely knows that in 2021, the St. Louis Cardinals goal was to opt for the youth movement and see what they have in younger players for the future. The goal was never about 2021 anyway, or so it seemed. These two moves were not an "all in" move for 2021, by any means. But these two moves were band-aids for 2021 that might not hurt 2022 by not giving up key pieces of the youth movement. However, the youth movement has been stymied by these trades.
The St. Louis Cardinals held Matthew Liberatore back from going to the Olympics because he might be needed here at home. In fact, prior to Carlos Martinez's last couple of starts in the first half, it was widely assumed that Carlos was being moved to the bullpen shortly to get Liberatore into the rotation then, even. By making these two trades, you are showing an attempt to Liberatore to allow him to finish his season at AAA (again, after not allowing him to go to the Olympics and attempt a gold medal finish for his country).
They did not learn from the outfield scenarios of 2018-2020. Not in the slightest. They simply decided that they were going to have a veteran come in and do what they aren't yet quite sure that their youth can do - despite those veterans being guys who haven't done it this year.
This was a bad deadline, Reason #9:
What's even more ridiculous than the above reason #8 about these two trades is this. In an ideal world, which frankly the Cardinals oftentimes live in, you are getting back Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty 2-3 weeks after the trade deadline. The St. Louis Cardinals took two months to fill in 40% of their rotation with guys that have been absolutely wretched this season in order to, in a perfect world, pitch just 2-3 weeks for them by trading away 12+ years of cost controlled players that were between 9-12 years younger than the guys they acquired. If after 2-3 weeks, we have a rotation that can feature:
Daniel Ponce de Leon (not yet mentioned, but potentially could be back in the majors by then)
Connor Thomas (not yet mentioned)
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE PICKING HAPP OR LESTER IN THEIR 5-MAN ROTATION AT THAT POINT?
I rest my case. This was a very bad trade deadline for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That said, good luck tonight and tomorrow Lester and Happ, because despite it being the WRONG moves, I'm rooting for you.