The 2022 Deadline was NOT the 2021 Deadline


There is a relatively small, but relatively loud contingent of the St. Louis Cardinals fanbase who was (prior to the double sweep of the Cubs and Yankees) deriding the Cardinals for their 2022 Trade Deadline decisions. Of course, part of this is because Mozeliak and company did not land Juan Soto, part of it was because they haven't really done anything major since acquiring Matt Holliday back at the 2009 deadline, but part of it also was that those fans viewed what they did this year (getting two left-handed pitchers to fill holes in the rotation) was the same was what they did last year (getting two left-handed pitchers to fill holes in the rotation).


While on the surface, it is very much true that they got two left-handers to fill out their rotation that was in shambles because of a terrible offseason, the pickups of JA Happ and Jon Lester in 2021 is not the same deadline as the pickups of Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery this year. In fact, they're not even on par with signing Steven Matz to basically attempt to fill Happ and Lester's (and Leblanc's) 2021 production for the next 4 years - so far unsuccessfully. Let's outline why.

 

When JA Happ and Jon Lester were acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, the two had combined to start 35 games. They had also combined to compile a 6.01 ERA, 2.13 K:BB, an 8.6 K%-BB%, a 1.59 WHIP, and a line against of .303/.357/.529/.896! Their expected stats did not look much better with a FIP of 5.42 and xFIP of 5.22. That means, sure they might be a half run or three-quarters of a run better than a 6 ERA type pitcher...but that's still a 5+ ERA type pitcher. The two they acquired last year were terrible pitchers prior to being added. Not only that, but they were 37 (Lester) and 38 (Happ) years old and were about to come to their last team they ever pitch for.


When Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery were picked up this year, not only were they younger (Quintana 33 and Montgomery 29), but they were much better pitchers. The two had combined to start 41 games for their respective teams prior to being dealt to the Cardinals. They had combined to compile a 3.60 ERA, a 3.44 K:BB, a 14.7% K%-BB%, a 1.18 WHIP, and a line against of .243/.296/.378/.674. Their expected stats showed that the 3.60 ERA was something that was likely about right with a combined FIP of 3.58 and combined xFIP of 3.69 (and an xFIP that the ERA likely won't regress too much towards since Busch III typically plays as a park at which it is difficult to hit home runs).


While this has nothing to do with the move at the time, the two starters picked up in 2021 thankfully combined to play much better baseball than they had prior to the deadline. Happ and Lester combined for 23 starts with an ERA of 4.20, a WHIP of 1.36, a K%-BB% of 8.2% and K:BB of 2.00. This was helped by their defense a bit as their combined FIP was 5.05 and combined xFIP was 4.92. They got about 1.8 earned runs better per 9 than they were throwing previously - largely due to hits being stymied by their new stellar defense.


The first time through the rotation after the trade deadline in 2022, Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery have proven to be excellent pickups. Of course, they will need to continue to do so for 20-some starts combined. However, a quick peek shows that they threw 11 innings of 3 hit, 1 run, 8 K, 3 BB, ball. That's a 0.82 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, and 2.7 K:BB. However, if they get the same bump that last year's crew got, we're talking a 2.52 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. That would simply be astounding.

 

Another aspect of this is that the Cardinals acknowledged in 2021 that they were simply seeking to cover innings to get them through the end of the season. It wasn't a "we're going all in" move at the deadline at all, but it much more screamed "we're done without selling" than "we're buying."


This year was a definite "we're buying" without going "all in." The Cardinals were looking for innings at this year's deadline as well, but they were going for guys who were definitely higher end arms than what they currently had as options in the rotation with the current injuries.


Jose Quintana has been really good for a bad team this year - in fact, he had numbers similar to or better than Frankie Montas' and isn't coming off of an IL stint due to a shoulder injury - and they didn't have to give up the prospects that a Montas return would have assumed (granted, the Yankees now have Frankie Montas for next year as well).


Jordan Montgomery has been pitching well since the beginning of the 2021 season, with 52 games started (including his one with St. Louis) going 277 innings, with a 3.70 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 3.47 K:BB, and 1.19 WHIP. That's actually better than he was prior to his 2018 injury even - in 2017-18 he combined to throw 35 games of 3.84 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 2.65 K:BB, 1.25 WHIP ball. He then spent 2019 mostly recovering and only threw 44 innings in the shortened 2020 season.


Lastly, this year the Cardinals - in acquiring Jordan Montgomery - went after a guy who has another year left on his contract for next year. The Cardinals not only filled a current hole, but went after someone who could fill a hole for next year, getting a jump start on the offseason (which I think is quite possibly already better than the 2021-22 offseason with this addition).

 

*shout out to Nick Childress on the cover art.