The Cardinals, absent from the bonanza of blockbuster moves that took baseball by storm Thursday evening, continued to work and wait downstream from all that fun, still keeping tabs on available pitching should asking prices shift.
Whether they participate or not, the trade deadline is coming to their doorstep.
The Minnesota Twins arrive at Busch Stadium for an interleague series as one of the most compelling sellers in the market — one the Cardinals have had discussions with — and it’s possible their announced starter for Friday’s game, Jose Berrios, will be on a new team before first pitch. Two Twins pitchers slated for the series could be dealt before the 3 p.m. St. Louis time deadline.
The market for pitchers was poised to accelerate as the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly agreed Thursday night to acquire the biggest name available, Max Scherzer, along with All-Star shortstop Trea Turner from Washington for a haul of prospects. A three-time Cy Young Award winner traded to the reigning World Series champions headlined a kinetic day that also saw Cubs fixture Anthony Rizzo follow Texas slugger Joey Gallo to the Yankees and former MVP Kris Bryant soak in what could be his final home game at Wrigley Field.
The aisle of the market with the most buyers and, thus, the most competition and highest asking prices is starting pitching, and that’s where the Cardinals have been strolling, looking to inject some needed innings onto the pitching staff without them costing a top prospect.
The most substantive step for the Cardinals on Thursday came at Class AAA Memphis, where Miles Mikolas made his second rehab appearance and put himself closer to return. Mikolas pitched four scoreless innings on 58 pitches (36 strikes) for the Triple-A Redbirds. He allowed three hits and one walk while striking out two. The Cardinals advertised Mikolas’ target pitch count as around 45 for the second consecutive outing. He zoomed past that to throw the fourth inning, and how he recovers will decide where he next throws a competitive pitch.
“Feel really good right now,” Mikolas wrote in a text message. “Ball is coming out of my had better than earlier in rehab. I like where I am.”
The Cardinals expect him in the rotation by mid-August.
What roster they have when he rejoins will be shaped by what happens before Friday’s deadline and then where the next three weeks leaves the Cardinals in the standings.
It is not unusual for the Cardinals to work in the wings, offstage while scene-stealers like the Dodgers make spotlight moves. The Cardinals don’t surface in rumors much, and that’s pretty much club policy, and executives have declined comment when asked this week. They’re not going to give Twitter a sugar rush. They have mostly fine-tuned at the trade deadline in recent years, a far different approach than John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, had with his signature deadline moves in 2009 (Matt Holliday) and 2011 (Colby Rasmus exchanged for a bullpen overhaul). The Cardinals’ biggest recent trades have come in the winter, like this year’s for Nolan Arenado.
The past two seasons they’ve not made a significant trade at the deadline, and manager Mike Shildt has pointed to how each of those teams reached the playoffs.
Those clubs did not have the same gaping need for innings that this year’s team has had since the start of June. The Cardinals have been shopping for pitching since — and among the calls they made was to explore a trade for Berrios with the Twins. They found the asking price steep. Berrios, a righthander, has a year remaining on his contract to go with a 3.48 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings. With Scherzer likely dealt, interested teams are expected to pivot to bidding for Berrios, and the San Diego Union-Tribune reporter the righthander had become a focus for the Padres.
The Twins are also entertaining offers for starters Kenta Maeda, who is under control through 2023, and Michael Pineda. Pineda, set to start Sunday at Busch, fits a profile the Cardinals have considered. A free agent at year’s end, Pineda has a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts and 64 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. Similarly, Angels righthander Alex Cobb is a free agent at year’s end, though he missed a start this week due to a blister. The Cardinals also had contact with Texas, two sources confirm, about the cost of acquiring Kyle Gibson, a former Mizzou pitcher who lives in the St. Louis area during the offseason and is signed through 2022.
The Cardinals knew because of their need for pitching they lacked leverage earlier and could regain some if prices shift nearer the deadline.
After the Brewers’ 12-0 rout of the Pirates on Thursday night, the idle Cardinals (51-51) sat 9 ½ games back in the National League Central.
They trailed in NL’s second wild-card race by seven games.
That gap, along with the goliath move by the Dodgers, informs the Cardinals’ view of how much future to give up for a present that hardly guarantees a postseason berth. Mozeliak said the team has little interest in trading its top prospects, like Nolan Gorman or Matthew Liberatore, and has recently acknowledged the possibility they stand pat and wish on the roster they imagined. The return of Mikolas and Jack Flaherty from injury in August gets closer to the roster the Cardinals designed, and that could happen before the first of 13 games remaining against the Brewers.
The Cardinals start a stretch Friday against the fire-sale Twins where 24 of their next 27 games will be against losing teams, the majority of whom are out of their division races.
The opponents in those 24 games have a combined winning percentage of .442.
That includes 10 games against the sinking Pirates (38-64).
The whirlwind of moves Thursday and the names involved already made this trade deadline one of the most dramatic in years, and there are still players available, from Berrios to Bryant and possibly Colorado shortstop Trevor Story. Trades have come to define races. The first-place Brewers moved fast to address their need. The second-place Reds moved strategically to add three pitchers. NL teams, like the Dodgers and Padres, sought to move big. And the Cubs started to move on.