July 31, 2019. The most important day of the Cardinals’ season.
MLB’s Trade Deadline is, perhaps, the most exciting time of the regular season. For the latter two weeks of July, the fanfare surrounding the deadline offers constant fan-made trade proposals and an all-around giddiness at the thought of your favorite team snatching up a big name player (or two) to aid them down the stretch.
However, that isn’t always how it works. Typically, a few teams land a player for the sole intention of winning now, while other teams make smaller moves to improve their club in the future. Last July, the Cardinals found themselves somewhere in the middle — not really “buyers”, but not quite “sellers” either — leading to a few polarizing decisions made by the front office, as listed below:
- Sending Sam Tuivailala to the Mariners in exchange for RHP Seth Elledge
- Sending 1B Luke Voit to the Yankees in exchange for LHP Chasen Shreve and RHP Giovanny Gallegos
- Sending OF Tommy Pham to the Rays in exchange for OF Justin Williams, LHP Genesis Cabrera and RHP Roel Ramirez
In addition, the Cardinals also made two more acquisitions in the days following July 31st at the Waiver Deadline (which is no longer in use, effective this year.) Those two acquisitions were 1B Matt Adams (acquired from the Nationals) and RHP Tyson Ross (acquired from the Padres).
Essentially, those aren’t really moves that a playoff caliber team makes. However, one year later, the team is already reaping the benefits of some of those moves. Namely, Giovanny Gallegos has seemingly come out of nowhere and proven himself to be one of the best relief pitchers in the National League. There are other bright spots as well, such as the incredibly talented Genesis Cabrera, who has some of the best pure stuff in the Cardinals minor league system. All of this is to say that the 2018 Trade Deadline, while beneficial in its own right, was less than optimal for a team in the hunt for October, and that Mozeliak and company should instead try a more “win now” centered approach this time around. After all, the team is clearly better suited for a playoff run now than it was one year ago.
Entering Monday, the Cardinals have been red-hot, despite losing the series to the Astros over the weekend. They had won four consecutive series since the All-Star Break, ultimately going 5-2 in the past week. For the first time since early May of this year, the Cardinals sat alone atop the ever-competitive NL Central division; however, they now sit tied with Chicago prior to the three-game series against their rivals this Tuesday. The players have done their job, and now the pressure shifts to the front office. There is precedent now — an expectation — to make waves at this deadline. The ball sits in their court. The only question now is, “who should the front office target?”
Toronto’s right-handed closer Ken Giles.
In 2018, Giles (along with RHP Hector Perez and RHP David Paulino) was acquired via trade from the Houston Astros for closer Roberto Osuna. This season, Giles has established himself as one of the elite closers in the game, posting a 1.54 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 41.4 K%, 7.9 BB%, a 2.30 SIERA and 1.5 fWAR in just 35 innings pitched. According to Baseball Savant, he ranks in the 97th percentile in xSLG, 98th percentile in xBA and 99th percentile in xwOBA and 99th percentile in K%. “Eye-popping” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Now, the immediate reaction of some would be that the Cardinals don’t need just any reliever, they need another left-handed reliever to assist Andrew Miller. I disagree. Ken Giles is elite at getting lefties out. In fact, he’s held LHB to just a .148/.212/.295 slash line in 2019. In that time, he’s only allowed five earned runs against LHB in 17.1 IP (2.60 ERA). Plus, the Cardinals already have a secret left-handed specialist of sorts in Giovanny Gallegos, who has a 3.00 ERA vs LHB this year (.141/.197/.268 slash line) in 21.0 innings pitched.
Despite Giles’ great numbers, an equally intriguing part of making such a trade means the return of a prominent arm to the rotation: Carlos Martinez. With Giles theoretically taking up the role of Martinez’s (mostly) full-time closer status, Carlos could be stretched out over a few weeks and slotted back into the rotation, regardless if the front office makes a separate move for a starter outside the organization.
Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. Well, technically, make that three birds, because Giles’ contract runs until 2021, which is reportedly around the time that Jordan Hicks should return from injury. It really is a match made in baseball heaven.
Clearly, the Cardinals won’t be the only team in the hunt for Giles, as it’s already been reported Boston and a handful of other teams are interested in striking a deal with Toronto. Since he won’t be a free agent until the end of next season, the trade package would likely need to be more robust than one for, say, someone like San Francisco’s LHP Will Smith, who is a free agent after this season. Still, it stands to reason that the Cardinals would have just as much to offer as any other team. If now isn’t the time to trade for him, or if Giles just isn’t the pitcher they’re looking for, I’m not really sure who else it may be.
If the front office is serious — and I mean really, truly serious — about this team being a playoff contender, a move like this would go a long way in showing their intent on just that. Until then, all we can do is wait, wait some more, and participate in the fanfare.
Shout out to fangraphs and baseballsavant for providing any and all statistics referenced above, and huge shoutout to @joelchulsey for graciously editing this piece