The Cardinals Would Be A Good Trade Partner For The Marlins (Or Just About Any Team)


It’s been largely quiet from the Cardinals since the team inked longtime division rival Willson Contreras to a five-year contract, officially tabbing him as the heir to franchise icon Yadier Molina. Filling the void left by Molina was clearly the top priority for the Cards this winter, though they were also loosely tied to the market for the top available shortstops and some free-agent pitchers.

With Contreras now signed, a look up and down the roster in St. Louis reveals a strong group that’s likely to contend for another NL Central crown in 2023. The Cardinals could use another left-handed reliever — Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, Zack Britton and Brad Hand are among the still-available names — and perhaps they could stand to find a more potent backup to Contreras. Broadly speaking, however, it’s a deep and talented roster with a nice group of relievers, plenty of rotation depth and a good bit of positional flexibility, thanks to the versatility of players like Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan.

All that said, it also doesn’t feel as though the Cardinals are done this winter. For one thing, their entire rotation, aside from lefty Steven Matz, will reach free agency next winter. The Cards could also stand to add another bat to the mix; while young sluggers Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman offer upside as candidates who can spend some time at DH, neither has quite established himself as a proven big league bat just yet.

In left field, the Cardinals have a quality option in Tyler O’Neill — if he’s healthy. A shoulder impingement and two hamstring strains limited O’Neill to 96 games and quite possibly contributed to a diminished .228/.308/.392 batting line. In center, 24-year-old Dylan Carlson is a former top prospect whose numbers were solid in ’22 but not quite what they were in 2021. Lars Nootbaar had a breakout second half in right field.  It’s a talented trio, but not to the extent of the Cardinals’ star-studded infield. Moveover, the Cardinals have other young outfield options waiting in the wings, with Alec Burleson already having made his debut, Moises Gomez all but ready on the heels of a huge minor league season, and uber-prospect Jordan Walker also looming in Triple-A.

It feels like, for all the young talent the Cards have, there’s room for at least one more notable bat to be plugged into the lineup. And, with so many starting pitchers set to reach the open market (or, in Adam Wainwright’s case, retire) next offseason, the Cardinals would probably love to add some controllable pitching.

Looking through the Cardinals’ depth chart, there’s virtually no player who could both be conceivably available and also unattainable for the Cards. The Redbirds have prospects and young, MLB-ready talent at virtually any position, which sets them up for innumerable trade possibilities, be it with the Marlins or another club.

Let’s run through some of the talent they could dangle when seeking an impact bat or high-end pitcher to slot into the rotation:

A Top Catching Prospect

Ivan Herrera was viewed as the Cardinals’ catcher of the future for the past several years, but with Contreras now signed for a half decade, a cloud has been cast on his role with the club. Herrera could still function as a high-quality backup to Contreras, and Contreras is a good enough hitter that he could slot in as a DH on days he’s not behind the plate. Perhaps that opens the door for Herrera to carve out a larger role than most backup catchers might hold, but this is a 22-year-old who just batted .268/.374/.396 against older Triple-A competition and ranks as the game’s No. 84 prospect over at Baseball America. He’s a nice safety net and a potentially very overqualified backup to Contreras… but he’d also be highly appealing to any club lacking a long-term option behind the plate.

Outfielders Galore

As mentioned above, any of O’Neill, Carlson or Nootbaar would hold appeal to other clubs, albeit to varying extents. O’Neill has just two years of club control remaining and is coming off a down season … but he also mashed at a .286/.352/.560 clip and clubbed 34 homers while playing strong defense in 2021. Plenty of teams are looking for a righty bat and might be intrigued to gamble on a rebound. Both Carlson (who was mentioned in Juan Soto rumors) and Nootbaar (who was reportedly of interest to the Jays and A’s in their talks about catching trades this offseason) offer even more club control and plenty of long-term upside.

Trading anyone from that group would absolutely require the Cardinals to receive big league talent in another area: be it a more impactful, established offensive presence to slot into the outfield or perhaps a quality starting pitcher with multiple years of club control remaining. In either instance, any of O’Neill, Carlson or Nootbaar would probably be just one of multiple players moved as part of the return for an established big leaguer.

Beyond their stable of current MLB outfielders, the Cards have Burleson, Gomez and Walker. Burleson, the No. 68 prospect on Baseball America’s Top 100 list, struggled in 53 plate appearances during last year’s MLB debut but posted a massive .331/.372/.532 slash in 109 Triple-A games. Gomez played 60 games apiece in Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .294/.371/.624 with 39 home runs. Walker, a 2020 first-round pick who ranks among the sport’s top ten overall prospects on just about any publication, is perhaps the most “untouchable” of all the Cardinals’ young hitters. However, like Gomez and Burleson, he also offers a near-MLB replacement should the Cards move one of their current big league outfielders in a trade package. Walker was drafted as a third baseman, but Nolan Arenado’s presence means he’ll likely debut as an outfielder. After hitting .306/.388/.510 as a 20-year-old and one of the youngest players in Double-A, he’s probably not far off.

Young Infielders

The St. Louis infield is mostly set with Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt at the corners, Tommy Edman at shortstop and Brendan Donovan at second base. It’s unlikely the Cards would move anyone from that group, though if you wanted to argue that Donovan, the third-place NL Rookie of the Year finisher, could be included in a package for an impact player, that’s at least loosely feasible. The A’s reportedly asked about him in talks for Sean Murphy, although perhaps the fact that the Cardinals balked at Oakland’s asking price tells us most of what we need to know about Donovan’s availability (or lack thereof).

It’s a strong group, and both Edman and Donovan can be deployed virtually anywhere on the diamond. Each played at least five positions in 2022 alone. Perhaps Donovan will ultimately settle into some type of super-utility role, but that’d require a step forward from another young infielder — which the Cardinals just so happen to possess.

Nolan Gorman didn’t exactly explode onto the scene in his rookie campaign, but he held his own with a .226/.300/.420 batting line and 14 homers in 313 plate appearances. Much of his production came early on and was followed by a strikeout-laden slump — he fanned in 32.3% of his plate appearances — but Gorman is another former top prospect who also tattooed Triple-A pitching in the form of a .275/.330/.585 output, including 16 home runs in just 188 plate appearances. Originally a third baseman, he shifted over to second base because of Arenado. He now has a fair bit of experience at both spots.

Down on the farm, 20-year-old Masyn Winn occupies the No. 56 spot on BA’s Top 100 list. Like Walker, he’s already spent a full season in Double-A. He didn’t hit quite as well, but his .258/.349/.432 output was league-average by measure of wRC+ (100), and like Walker, he was one of the league’s youngest players. BA lauds Winn for having “by far the strongest throwing arm in the minor leagues” and touts him as a plus-plus runner and gives him a chance to be an above-average defender at shortstop. Winn was drafted as a two-way player, but he’s only pitched one inning in pro ball.

Starting Pitching Prospects

It’s perhaps counterintuitive to have just mentioned how the Cardinals need controllable starting pitching and then tout a deep crop of quality pitching prospects from which they could trade. But attrition among pitching prospects is even greater than position players. That’s not to say those arms don’t have value — of course they do — but it’s easier to bank on those arms converting when hoping to fill one rotation spot. Hoping to fill three to four rotation spots with in-house prospects is nothing short of insanity.

The Cardinals aren’t short on intriguing arms, with Gordon Graceffo, Matthew Liberatore and Tink Hence all actively ranking, or having recently been ranked on various top-100 lists around the industry. Hence (No. 57) and Graceffo (66) are just a few spots apart on BA’s top 100 at the moment.

Both Liberatore and fellow lefty Zack Thompson (the No. 19 pick in 2019) have reached the Major Leagues already but have not yet established themselves. Liberatore posted ERAs north of 5.00 in both Triple-A and in 34 2/3 big league innings last season, but he’s still just 23 years old and has at least six years of club control — plus a pair of minor league option years remaining. Thompson threw an identical 34 2/3 Major League innings in 2022 but did so primarily out of the bullpen. He also pitched to a pristine 2.08 ERA, and while his 19.9% strikeout rate and 10.3% walk rate both leave something to be desired, he averages just shy of 95 mph with his heater and did rack up an impressive 53.7% ground-ball rate.

St. Louis has further depth in the form of righty Dakota Hudson, who’s been pushed out of their rotation but is a ground-ball machine with two years of club control remaining. Hudson has just a 4.31 ERA and 13.3% strikeout rate since returning from Tommy John surgery, and his once-blistering sinker averaged just 91.6 mph post-surgery. Still, he’s a ready-made fourth or fifth starter candidate with three option years remaining. Jake Woodford is cut from a similar cloth as a low-strikeout, ground-ball oriented pitcher who could slot into the back of a rotation, although he also posted a 2.23 ERA in 48 1/3 innings out of the St. Louis bullpen this past season (albeit with some good fortune on balls in play and a fluky-low home run rate).

Some of these arms will be earmarked for opportunities in the 2024 rotation, and there’s a good chance some will see their stock dip after an injury or a step back in performance. Still, their present-day value gives the Cardinals the opportunity to condense some of that talent into a trade for a more established player.

Overall, the Cardinals’ wealth of young talent is remarkable for a perennially competitive team that hasn’t drafted higher than 18th overall in the past 15 years and, within the past four years, has pulled off trades for in-their-prime stars like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. It’s an excellent position in which to find themselves as an organization, but if there’s one “downside” (and I’m using that term loosely), it’s the timing of this surfeit of young talent.

The trade market, in general, is quite bleak right now. Miami’s quartet of available arms has dominated headlines, but there’s little else of substance on the market. The Pirates reportedly have a sky-high asking price on Bryan Reynolds that makes him unlikely to be moved in the first place, and one can only imagine they’d ask for even more from a division rival. There are certainly other names that could change hands between now and Opening Day, but the obvious candidates aren’t clear upgrades to the Cardinals. The Mariners have a pair of back-end starters (Chris Flexen, Marco Gonzales), while the Twins (Max Kepler) and A’s (Seth Brown) have some outfielders who could be available. There’s just not a ton to be excited about on the trade market right now.

That shouldn’t stop the Cardinals’ front office from trying to force other teams’ hands and convince them to part with starting pitching help or perhaps a slugging bat that might not be a natural trade candidate at first glance. Failing that, the Cardinals are as well positioned as just about any team in the league to swing a deal with the Marlins whenever Miami finally make what feels like an inevitable trade.

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