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Hochman: Cardinals should bolster their pitching rotation via a deadline deal

Hochman: Cardinals should bolster their pitching rotation via a deadline deal

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman recalls great Cardinals pick-ups, from Will Clark to Rafael Furcal to Cesar Cedeno to, perhaps the most-famous acquisition, Lou Brock. And, as always, Hochman chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented Monday-Friday by The Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center.

St. Louis’ Redbirds are playing better ball of late — not “Red Sox” better, but perhaps “Reds” better.

And the Cardinals’ next nine games are at home. And 24 of their next 27 games are against teams not above .500. And starters Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, currently rehabbing at Class AAA Memphis, should return in August. And from now until the end of the season, the Cards have 13 games against first-place Milwaukee (13!), which isn’t a juggernaut but instead a good-but-unbalanced team, last in the National League in hitting (.225) and 11th in OPS (.699).

All of these signs point to the Cardinals — currently at .500 with 60 games left to play — at pointing upward in the standings. It appears they could be in the hunt, after all. In the mix. So why not see it through? If you’re doing it, then do it. Why not trade for one more starting pitcher and confirm some quality starts for, at least, that spot in the rotation?

The Rangers’ Kyle Gibson (2.87 ERA) has 13 quality starts, the second-most in the American League.

The Cardinals are 18-1 when they get a quality start and at least one homer, per Bally Sports Midwest.

Even with Flaherty and Mikolas returning, there’s no guarantee that both pitchers will be at their best, considering they’re coming off injuries and haven’t pitched consistently. Maybe they will be at their best? Even so, why not lock in an additional starter in the rotation, instead of having to gamble with Johan Oviedo or Wade LeBlanc or whomever?

Gibson and Minnesota’s Jose Berrios have an additional season on their contracts. Washington’s Max Scherzer doesn’t. But you’d still be getting two months of Max Scherzer.

The Cardinals annually are hesitant at the trade deadline, and even so, they’ve made some late-season pushes under manager Mike Shildt — notably in his first year, 2018 (and missed the playoffs), and famously in 2019, when they won their division and he won NL manager of the year honors. Still, they won just one playoff round. Maybe a trade would’ve strengthened those Cards.

As for this Cardinals team, it already made the franchise-defining trade for Nolan Arenado. Why not see it through by enhancing the weapons around him? Yes, you’d have to think that the following prospects are off limits for a trade: Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson and Jordan Walker (and the 2021 picks). But that leaves you with plenty of other minor leaguers.

Of course, it’s all about value. The future value of a player that the Cardinals internally identify and quantify. What value does each player give the team — and for how many years? And so, the front office could proclaim that Class AA catcher Ivan Herrera has way more value to the Cards from, say, 2023-2029, than Kyle Gibson would give them in two months in 2021 and a full year in 2022.

But what’s the value of a World Series championship?

The Cardinals pride themselves on being contenders every year — when is the year they’re going to be the frontrunners? When are the Redbirds going to be the Red Sox or Dodgers?

Gibson joining the 51-51 Cardinals doesn’t make them frontrunners, I know. But it sure makes being optimistic about the playoffs closer to being realistic about the playoffs. And you’d have him for next season, when your rotation could be: Flaherty, Gibson, Dakota Hudson, Alex Reyes and Mikolas or Adam Wainwright or others. Oh, and Liberatore would likely be a rookie, too. And we sure know about the money coming off the books at the end of this season, if they’d want to purchase some OPS.

The skipper Shildt thinks the current Cardinals are good. He definitely thinks they’re better than their record. After their loss Wednesday, he showed some anger at the notion that the Cards are playing like a .500 baseball team of late. To his point, they’re 7-5 since the All-Star break. And the Cards made some big changes to offensive approaches on June 24.

They promptly lost three of four at home to Pittsburgh, but Shildt was reassured by their at-bat approaches even in defeat (to a last-place team). Since that series, from June 28 until today, the Cards went 14-9.

Guys who had been in slumps, such as Dylan Carlson for a few weeks and Paul DeJong for a few months, now are mashing. And Paul Goldschmidt and Harrison Bader were two of the better July hitters in the entire National League.

In June, the Cardinals’ offense was an embarrassment, ranked 30th in OPS in Major League Baseball. But in July, the Cardinals’ offense was 13th in OPS in MLB.

And a lot can happen in the final 60 games, the duration of the entire 2020 season.

Now, as for Scherzer, it’s easy think the Cardinals would be a good fit for him — he’s from here and pitched at Mizzou — but Scherzer is looking at West Coast teams such as the Dodgers, Padres and Giants, per MLB.com reporter Mark Feinsand. Max won a ring in 2019 and appears to want another one.

Now, he’s already achieved essentially everything he’d want in baseball. And he’s headed to Cooperstown. So why not come to St. Louis, try to make some magic and become a hometown hero if the Cards make the playoffs?

Sounds enticing perhaps to you and me, but maybe not to Max. And with his “five and 10 rights,” he can refuse any trade. But — what if the Cardinals gave Washington the absolute best trade offer, and the sub-.500 Nats said to Scherzer: “It’s either St. Louis or staying with us?” Some toasted ravioli for thought.

The trade deadline is Friday, the day the Cards return to action. They’re back at Busch against woebegone Minnesota. The first of 24 of 27 games against teams not over .500. It’s been a frustrating season, but the Cards seem in a position to, finally, chip away at their deficit.

But it could be even more frustrating is if they don’t make a trade and finish just a few games out of first.

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