August 02, 2013

What should #Cardinals have done at trade deadline?

Losing four out of five to the Pittsburgh Pirates, plus having catcher Yadier Molina now on the 15-day disabled list, with St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz saying manager Mike Matheny (a former catcher, no less) overworked him, makes this more interesting yet.

Every Cardinals fan knows that the team is weakest at shortstop, where Pete Kozma's 2012 postseason heroics aside, he has little bat, and the Cardinals don't have any immediate options below him. So, without the benefit of hindsight on Molina's knee, that's the place to look at.

Alexei Ramirez was an earlier focus, but it seems like the White Sox overpriced him, and I wouldn't overvalue him, anyway

Elvis Andrus has backslid offensively this year, and the Rangers probably wanted too much. Plus, his contract is an albatross. I'm not paying $15M a year for him for the rest of the decade.

Erick Aybar from the Angels was more intriguing. Relatively cheap, Kozma's equal with the glove, and a moderate (more than modest, I think) upgrade with the bat. He's certainly the best of these three trade options offensively. And, until this year, I would have put him in roughly the same defensive category as Ramirez, but his range has slumped this year.

I woudn't have thought of Aybar until this weekend and the Angels' "openness" was mentioned. He's definitely the best financial option, signed for a reasonable number of years at a relatively low price. He's two years younger than Ramirez, and signed for one more year than him at approximately the same price per year.

That gives the Cards another year of cost control and another year to look for who it can develop, or to possibly even extend Aybar another year or two.

Meanwhile, the Cards reportedly kicked the tires on him. I say kick away. I'm not offering one of the top young-gun starters, but maybe another. I'd start with Carlos Martinez, then graduate from there. (The Angels likely wouldn't nibble on John Gast, even as part of a package.) I'd hope the Haloes wouldn't have asked for Michael Wacha, but that's a bridge to be crossed when it pops up. (I think Wacha has more topside than Martinez.)

Meanwhile, Bernie and I are engaged in an exchange on Twitter about this.

He wouldn't have offered any of the Cards' younger pitchers for Aybar. I acknowledged to him that his range has slumped this year, but mentioned all the positives. Range had been Kozma's equivalent before this year, he's a definite upgrade with the bat, he's relatively young, and he's got a favorable contract.

It would have been a bit of risk, but maybe change of scenery is all he needs. And, I mean, he was a Gold Glover just two years ago.

I don't know what the Angels were asking, and I wouldn't have done this as a straight up. I'd want a draft pick to have come back with Aybar, or international draft slotting, or both. But, any reasonable deal was worth considering.

And, he might have added a bit of speed to the lineup.

Not that I totally disagree, or totally agree, with Earl Weaver's ideas about small ball in general, but the Cards have only about 30 stolen bases on the year, and that may be part of what hurt them against the Pirates. They're horrible on double plays. Of course, not all of those are due to lack of speed. There's been a couple of DPs on bad baserunning ideas on fly balls, just as there's been a lot of poor baserunning outs on the bases after outfield hits. Hello again, Matheny; that's your baby.

And, as ESPN notes, the (lack of) speed kills elsewhere:
That team speed spread shows up in the defensive numbers as well. The Pirates are third in the majors with 48 Defensive Runs Saved (entering Wednesday's action) while the Cardinals rank 26th at minus-33. Holliday, who botched a fly ball into a home run on Tuesday, has been the biggest liability at -11 runs, but center fielder Jon Jay also grades poorly at -10. 
And, with Beltran both getting older, and a free-agent to be, the Birds could be facing a major OF overhaul sooner rather than later. It may be time to trade Holliday in the offseason, presumably to an AL team. And some Birds fans will probably need to stop the love affair with Jay (and David Freese).

But, I disagree with Bernie in saying you'd rule out having one of the young guns as part of an Aybar deal period.

That's part of a larger disagreement we're having.

He says the playoffs are a crapshoot of sorts. Yes, the 2011 World Series winners know that. But, the 1-game wild card has made the playoffs a lot more of a crapshoot for not winning a division. That's why the Red Sox chased Jake Peavy. And, the Atlanta Braves, victims of the Cards in that WC game last year, know that, too. Until the wild-card round goes to 2-of-3, it's important indeed to avoid that. There's a lot more randomness in a one-game play-in. That includes hitting the wrong spot on the pitching rotation, funny bounces of the ball, bad calls by umpires (we remember that, pop-fliers) and more.

And, speaking of pitching rotations, not playing in that wild card game lets a team best adjust its rotation for the first full round of playoffs, get a bit of rest, etc.

In fact, in the big picture, I predict that the 1-game wild card play-in will reduce the crapshoot nature of MLB playoffs. I think a wild-card team will be LESS likely to win the World Series in the future due to the issues above.

And, I'm not the only Cards fan, or baseball fan in general, thinking this way. Other sports friends think he overrates the degree of crapshooting in general, while underrating the degree of crapshooting of a 1-game wild card play-in. And, that's not even addressing the rotation realignment and other issues division winners now get.

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