Meet the Sellers: The Blue Jays and Cardinals were in trade rumours all winter and talks could heat up again
Photo credit:© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
By Evan Stack4 months ago
Of all the sellers that are presenting themselves halfway through this season, not many people would’ve picked the St. Louis Cardinals to be one of them. In fact, if you predicted this, you’re probably lying…or a Cubs fan.
The NL Central didn’t look to be very daunting at first. The Pirates and Reds were predicted cellar dwellers, and the Cubs and Brewers were good at best. This was made for the Cardinals to win the division for the third time in five years.
Alas, things have taken a turn for the (literal) worst. St. Louis sits at 35-50, 11.5 games back of the division lead, and 10.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. The division, given it still appears fragile, is really all they can still play for, but it doesn’t seem likely at the rate they’re going. Unfortunately, the addition of Willson Contreras has not paid any dividends at all for them (.226 batting average, .709 OPS), none of their batters has an average over .288, and the pitching is scattered with high ERAs.
With the Blue Jays still holding three catchers on their major league roster this past offseason, they were involved in offseason rumours for a catcher-for-outfielder deal with the Cardinals. Lars Nootbaar and Dylan Carlson were among the names of possible returns for one of the backstops, but they decided to retain their outfielders and spend their money. At this point, are outfielders still for sale? Can the Blue Jays capitalize on many expiring deals and first-time free agents?
Notable trade history with the Cardinals
July 27th, 2011: Traded Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and PJ Walters to Toronto in exchange for Edwin Jackson, Marc Repczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson.
December 1st, 2017: Traded Aledmys Diaz to Toronto in exchange for J.B. Woodman.
January 19th, 2018: Traded Randal Grichuk to Toronto in exchange for Dominic Leone and Conner Greene.
July 25, 2021: Traded cash considerations to Toronto in exchange for TJ Zeuch.
Flaherty is about to enter his first bout with free agency this offseason. At one point earlier in his career, Flaherty appeared to be a stud whose resume could end up being scattered with Cy Young votes and All-Star appearances. In 2019, he posted a 2.75 ERA through 33 starts, only four innings shy of 200 for the season. He led the National League in WHIP (0.968 – disgusting) and hits per 9 (6.2). That performance placed him 4th in NL Cy Young voting and 13th in MVP voting. After a subpar (albeit shortened) 2020 season, Flaherty ran into a series of injuries, particularly with his right shoulder. He appeared in only 26 games between ’21 and ’22 featuring two 60-day IL stints.
This season, Flaherty has remained healthy, but his production is nowhere near his pre-injury stats. This season, he has a 4.60 ERA, 1.558 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9. The issue with Flaherty is the baserunners, with the walks being the outstanding ones. He leads the NL in walks and HBPs, and has the second-highest BB/9 of his career.
If Alek Manoah proves that he can be a feasible option in Toronto’s rotation the rest of the way, the need for another quality starter decreases a bunch. Manoah’s situation remains to be clear, and we don’t know how good Hyun-Jin Ryu will be, so being more safe than sorry in this case would be preferable. Furthermore, reiterating the Blue Jays’ lack of starting pitching depth at this point in the season would be beating a dead horse. Due to his recent performance and injury history, Flaherty may be a cheaper rental option than he once was. I think he’d be worth it for Toronto.
Similar to Flaherty, Hicks is set to become a free agent after this season. The last time most Blue Jays fans saw Hicks, he couldn’t throw a strike during his outings in the season-opening series. The walks continued to be a problem through April, but he has countered that with a career-high K/9 and a much-improved mid-season surge. All told, Hicks has a 3.93 ERA with a 13.6 K/9 and a 1.46 WHIP. His BB/9 on the season is 5.8, but that is highly inflated due to his April numbers.
He’s coming off a month of June in which he only walked 4 batters versus 17 strikeouts in 11 outings. More importantly, Hicks has been untouchable in high leverage this season. Between low, medium, and high-leverage situations, his high-leverage numbers are the best among the three. His opponent’s batting average and OPS sit at .170 and .577 respectively, with 75% of the hits allowed in those situations being singles.
Hicks would likely be a rental in this case, but I could also see the Jays bringing him back after this season concludes. The stuff is undoubtedly electric; a sinker and a four-seamer that both averages over 100 mph are qualities that would stand out in Toronto’s ‘pen.
The Cardinals had a relatively long list of outfielders that they could have sent to Toronto in the aforementioned catcher-for-outfielder deals this past offseason, but O’Neill was not one of them as Toronto was searching for a lefty bat and not a righty. Well, fast forward to now, and the Blue Jays could use a right-handed fourth outfielder.
This season, O’Neill is batting .228/.283/.620 with two home runs and six RBIs. He’s only played in 29 games, as a back injury has kept him on the IL since May 5th. It was moved from a 10-day to a 60-day a few weeks ago, so he could theoretically return in a matter of days. Regardless, his numbers this year and last year haven’t touched what he was able to do in his 2021 campaign. That year, he smoked 34 home runs and 80 RBIs with a .912 OPS en route to an 8th place MVP finish.
The sample size this year against left-handed pitching is not pretty, but he hasn’t even played a full month of baseball yet. If they get to look anything like his ’21 and ’22 numbers, then this may be a worthwhile option for Toronto. Albeit minimal, O’Neill does have experience in center field, as well as two Gold Glove Awards. He won’t be a free agent until 2025, so if the Blue Jays decide not to retain Kevin Kiermaier, this could be an option for Toronto’s future as well.
The Burnaby, Canada native did have some newsworthy beef with Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol earlier this season. The Cardinals skipper was publicly critical of O’Neill’s effort during an April series against Atlanta, and O’Neill expressed his frustrations about the discourse being externalized. Coupled with how the season has gone for O’Neill and the Cardinals, it may further encourage the team to move on from him.
The long-time Yankee was dealt to St. Louis last season in exchange for Harrison Bader, a deal that was scrutinized by some Yankees fans as it was a hit to their already-depleted pitching rotation. The Cardinals gladly accepted Montgomery, and he has been the most reliable arm in their rotation this year. Through 17 starts, Montgomery has a 3.28 ERA, 1,24 WHIP, and 8.3 K/9.
He doesn’t boast high-90s fastballs or any devastating breaking pitches, but he has proved effective with his sinker, curveball, and changeup mix. The changeup generates a 38.1 whiff%, with the curve behind it at 31.1. Montgomery also keeps the ball in the ballpark with a 0.8 HR/9, only 0.1 points behind Kevin Gausman.
Montgomery will be a free agent at the conclusion of this season, yet another name on this roster that falls in that category. He’s pitched into the sixth inning in 13 of his 17 starts, so he could be an innings-eater for the Blue Jays down the stretch if they explore this option.
The numbers might not back it up, but Cabrera does meet a couple of needs that Toronto could benefit from out of the bullpen. For one, he’s a left-handed reliever and the Blue Jays only have one. Second, he offers a lot of swing-and-miss; Cabrera ranks in the 84th percentile on Baseball Savant in terms of whiff% mainly due to the effectiveness of his two breaking pitches.
On the season, Cabrera has a 4.75 ERA through 30 games. He has a 1.52 WHIP, 5.0 BB/9, but a 10.4 K/9. Again, the stats might not be too appealing, but Cabrera might be worth taking a flyer on here. He’s 26 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2026. Since there are still years of control over him, it might raise the price, but the stats from this season may also bring it down considerably.
Cabrera features a four-seam fastball that averages 95 mph, but he counters that with a devastating slider and curveball that has a 47.1 and 42.1 whiff%, respectively. If Toronto is looking to bolster its options for facing lefties, Cabrera would be an excellent choice.
I didn’t think Edman’s name would be on the trade block until I continually noticed it on multiple sites. While Edman isn’t a “need” necessarily for the Blue Jays, Ross Atkins is good for a move like this (see acquiring Whit Merrifield last season). In Toronto’s case, acquiring him may involve some movement with their current roster. Merrifield splits his time between left field and second base, but the Blue Jays may not move him as he is one of the better hitters on the team right now. Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal are both underperforming, but keeping them both and adding Edman wouldn’t make a ton of sense. I don’t know who the suitors for Biggio and/or Espinal would be, but moving on from them or demoting either of them to Buffalo would be the only likely scenarios in which Edman is acquired.
This year, Edman is batting .237/.303/.693 with 7 home runs and 29 RBIs. The numbers aren’t easy on the eyes, but they are better than what Biggio and Espinal offer right now. He also offers positional flexibility by playing second base, shortstop, and outfield spots. He also hits lefties far better than righties and is a switch-hitter. Edman has also proved very durable throughout his time in the big leagues; he has played in 90% of his team’s games since 2020. He’s under team control until 2026.
I don’t think Toronto would want to trade for Edman given they already have a surplus at this position, but it is still worth diving into because you never know!
Pitching in his eighth MLB season, Stratton will also be a free agent after this year. This year, he has a 4.65 ERA through 30 appearances and a 9.5 K/9. After a few nice seasons in Pittsburgh, Stratton was traded to St. Louis in a deal including Jose Quintana. Stratton finished the 2022 season with the Cardinals with a perfect 5-0 record and a 2.78 ERA, but he hasn’t been as good this season.
The numbers aren’t horrible, but he’s a veteran arm that will probably come at a cheap cost.
Writer’s note: All stats are as of 3 PM ET on July 5th, 2020
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