When the St. Louis Cardinals traded for super-star third baseman Nolan Arenado this offseason it appeared that the Cardinals were making an all-in push on the 2021 season, but on June 14 they are in fourth place in the NL Central with a 32-33 record after getting swept at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
At one point this season, the Cardinals had the best record in the National League, but since then they have been torn down by injuries and the amount of losses has started to pile up as everyday starters Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill and Yadier Molina have all spent time on the injured list. Meanwhile, St. Louis has seen four of their five starting pitchers sent to the injured list this season including Jack Flaherty who was on track to potentially start the All-Star game until an oblique injury sidelined him.
In the last month, the Cardinals have a record of 9-18, but they have a favorable schedule to conclude the first half of the season before the All-Star break comes on July 12. Starting Monday night against the Miami Marlins, the Cardinals play 20-of-26 games against teams that are currently under .500 to conclude the first half of the season. The first 20 games are all against teams under .500 before St. Louis travels to San Francisco and back to Wrigley to conclude the first half of the season.
Questioning whether or not the Cardinals should buy or sell at the trade deadline is difficult to find the answer to. It’s likely a question that the Cardinals front office will have an answer to come the All-Star game. If the Cardinals continue to struggle against teams that are under .500, the decision to sell becomes easy, but what if they go 17-9 including a pair of series wins against the Giants and Cubs to enter the All-Star break? Well, then one might suggest they buy help for the starting pitching and bullpen, in hopes of making a second-half push.
Really, what makes this decision so difficult is that the Cardinals don’t really have many players on their roster that other teams would want or players that the Cardinals are willing to part ways with on the Major League roster.
Who do the Cardinals Sell?
No other team wants to take on the remaining $37-million-dollars of Matt Carpenter’s contract that keeps him in St. Louis until the conclusion of the 2023 season. No team in baseball is trading for a below-average defender at all three of his positions and current.179 batting average to go along with a .639 on-base plus slugging. And the Cardinals don’t have enough depth to trade any starting position players.
Down on the farm, the Cardinals have two premier prospects in left-handed starter Matthew Liberatore and third baseman Nolan Gorman. But with the lack of depth that the Cardinals have in their starting rotation and bullpen, Liberatore is near untouchable as a trade piece. Gorman could be used in a trade because the Cardinals have Arenado playing third base, but the Cardinals want Gorman to eventually learn to play a different position, most notably nine games at second base in AA Springfield this season.
The real expectation is for Gorman to either play third base as Arenado’s defense slips with age or to be the Cardinals’ designated hitter with the National League expected to adopt the universal DH starting next season.
Who Should the Cardinals Buy, if Anyone?
The biggest need for the Cardinals, should they decide to buy at the deadline, is going to be pitching, both starters and relievers.
The most attractive starting pitcher that appears to potentially be on the trade block is Nationals starter Max Scherzer, a St. Louis native. In Scherzer’s 13 starts this season he has a 2.21 earned run average and 104 strikeouts. However, the Nationals presumably would ask for quite the price even with Scherzer being a free agent.
The Cardinals also really need relievers, but that’s a market that most teams across the major leagues will be shopping for. There are some names that would be interesting for the Cardinals to go after, including Ian Kennedy, Yimi Garcia, and Raisel Iglesias. All three would be stable arms to add to the bullpen.
In 21 games this season, Kennedy has a 2.53 ERA and 12 saves out of the Rangers bullpen. The Cardinals don’t need a closer with the way Alex Reyes has pitched this season, in the same role.
Garcia has closed out 11 games for the Marlins this season in 27 games. The 30-year-old righty has a 2.42 ERA, which is a career-best with as many appearances as he had this season.
Iglesias was one of the better closers in baseball with the Reds from 2015-19, but he was dealt to the Angels this offseason. He has a 4.15 ERA this season in his 25 games this season.
The Cardinals could also be in the market for a lefty reliever, but since his return from the IL on June 4 he hasn’t allowed a run in his four appearances.
What’s really going to determine if the Cardinals are going to be buyers or sellers come late July, it very well could come down to how well the Cardinals play in their next 26 games.