Remember the St. Louis Cardinals? A team that had nothing going for them dropped to fourth in the NL Central division in mid-June but has made a surge back into the playoff picture, currently occupying the second wildcard spot just behind the Washington Nationals – one of the very few teams hotter than the Cardinals. That streak has turned them into buyers for the July 31st trade deadline.
In addition, they recently got even stronger with the return of pitcher Carlos Martinez from a long injury, who immediately settled into the closer/late-inning reliever with mixed success up to date.
But his biggest value for the Cardinals, despite seven saves in his last eight appearances, might not be on the field starting August 1st because ever since his return the Cardinals front office has been said to have serious interest of trading the 27-year-old Dominican.
With only the Giants and the Indians having won more than St. Louis’ 14 of 20 games, the Cardinals are the only teams in the Majors to have won at least five straight games. And the biggest factor in the turnaround for the Cardinals has been an improved rotation that didn’t live up to the expectations before the All-Star Game. The Cardinals ended their first half with a series loss in San Francisco, which raised serious questions about their position on the market.
But the rotation has been able to get it going post-break. Pitching has finally seen a leap of faith by Miles Mikolas, who has been one of the best starters since the All-Star break with 2-1 record in 3 starts and an ERA of 2.57. He’s also pitched the third-most innings (21.0), which includes his complete game, 1-hit shutout affair against Pittsburgh on July 15th. He has finally been able to support a season-long effort by Dakota Hudson, who’s clearly been the Cardinals’ best starter in 2019 and is the only starting pitcher to have a sub-4.00 ERA, although his 1.62 K/BB is the lowest alongside Brad Keller of the Royals among the 52 MLB pitchers with most innings pitched.
The Cardinals’ 9th best rotation in July has been able to also show what the bats, which have come a long way, are capable of. Although statistically the club is only 20th in runs scored (472), they have been able to overcome the absence of star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was in All-Star shape before suffering a concussion.
That forced Harrison Bader and rookie Tyler O’Neill to take advantage of their chances, which they have done excellently. Paul Goldschmidt also leads team with 22 homers, six of which after the break, so he also lives up to the hype.
That leaves Martinez in the middle of one of the best bullpens in the game. He’s second in saves behind Jordan Hicks, whose season was ended by an injury. But currently with this injury the Cardinals have holes in the rotation and the bullpen, which they wouldn’t be able to fix without trading Martinez. Because the only other trade candidate is Michael Wacha, who has had so rough a season his role was limited to a reliever. John Gant can easily take over the closer role.
But what has made him a trade priority for the Cardinals’ front offices from the very start is his high value, even while being injured. Let’s not forget that Martinez was once considered the ace of the rotation, before Mikolas showed his brilliance. His success after coming back from that injury could provide a pitcher that a contender can use as a starter and a reliever in the postseason equally effectively.
On the other hand, the Cardinals can replace Martinez with a healthy traditional middle-inning reliever and even receive more from a trade. Now let’s explore who St. Louis can look for deal with:
Currently the Padres are struggling on the mound, especially with the rotation. A pitcher who has experience as a starter could be priority for a rotation where only Chris Paddack is consistent.
San Diego probably wouldn’t be open to including Paddack in the deal, but the Cardinals can easily get Craig Stammen and Eric Lauer, giving them an upgrade in both the rotation and the bullpen. Meanwhile, the Padres are in desperate need for a starter.
The Nationals should be open to using Martinez as a reliever. After all, they have MLB-worst 5.84 bullpen ERA.
Washington can’t offer the Cardinals a great deal of quality pitchers that could spark an interest, but St. Louis can turn its attention to another place. Matt Adams, a first baseman who has 16 home runs but can also play third base, fixes an infield problem, while Adam Eaton provides a quality bat that will create an outfield depth. Both moves have the intention of providing an even bigger spark to the hot 20th-best offence.
The Red Sox are clearly willing to battle for the wildcard and be buyers so they are probably also willing to give up something big to fix their bullpen problem. Boston is 5th in blown save opportunities. With the return of Nathan Eovaldi, Martinez can set up for the former Rays pitcher, and the Cards can get Josh Taylor and Brandon Workman to set up for Gant.
Of course, as I said a lot of teams can be expected to show interest towards the Puerto Plata native because of his flexibility. Very few players have that kind of a value coming off an injury, but Carlos Martinez provides a value in a player that the team can afford to simultaneously lose due to their bullpen being so good without him, and can use him for either middle-relief bullpen or batting assets.