There are two days left until the trade deadline. The Cardinals currently sit 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central. While the Cardinals’ offense is certainly miserable, there aren’t enough usable, inexpensive bats on the market to make a reasonable improvement to this team.
That only leaves improving the starting pitching. Sure there’s been talk of acquiring David Price, but the Rays are on a hot streak and balking at officially putting him on the market. In the last two days, the Cardinals have been linked to Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, and A.J. Burnett. All three of these veteran starters would make a great addition to this Cardinals’ club for the stretch run, but each are past their prime and much too expensive.
The Cardinals and GM John Mozeliak are not known for making big flashy moves. This offseaon’s deal for Peter Bourjos was an anomaly during Mozeliak’s tenure at the Cardinals’ helm. Therefore, all this speculation of the Cardinals making a move for one of those big name pitchers is foolhardy. If the Cardinals are going to make a move, it will be for relatively cheap, projectionable pitchers. Enter the Houston Astros.
On Monday afternoon, the Houston Astros made three of their starting pitchers available for “MLB-ready offense” as per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Those three pitchers would be Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Jarred Cosart, all three of which represent a complimentary starting pitcher that would help the Cardinals in the stretch run, but wouldn’t break the bank.
Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and has posted a 9-7 record with a 3.11 ERA. Keuchel is also only 26 years old and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2016. Keuchel isn’t exactly a high-strikeout pitcher, only averaging 7.0 K/9, but he has been worth a 3.0 WAR for the Astros while posting a 128 ERA+. Even the advanced stats love Keuchel as his 3.02 FIP indicates that his numbers are not nearly as good as the could be which can be easily explained by the team he’s playing for.
So what would it take for the Cardinals to get him? Probably Oscar Taveras which would be tough to stomach for the Cardinals. Using Taveras to acquire David Price, a Cy Young winner is one thing, but using him to acquire Dallas Keuchel is a far different ordeal. While Keuchel has great upside and years of team control, he’s not currently worth a Taveras level prospect, so I don’t see the Cardinals going after the Astros’ ace.
Over the All-Star break, Grantland’s Shane Ryan wrote a piece to honor the best pitches of the first half. And the winner of the best curveball? If you guessed McHugh, then I applaud your deductive reasoning, if not, you might want to invest in Lumosity. Anyway, Ryan named McHugh’s curveball as the best in all of Major League Baseball, narrowly beating out the Cardinals’ own Adam Wainwright.
Curveball aside, McHugh has been having a breakout season for the Astros, posting a 1.5 WAR and 116 ERA+, as well as posting an insane strikeout rate of 10.4 batters per nine innings. McHugh is also under team control through 2020, so he is by far the best option for this Cardinals’ club.
However, the Cardinals would most likely have to give up Stephen Piscotty and probably another prospect to get him. McHugh compliments the Cardinals’ rotation perfectly, and his inexpensive contract makes him the ideal trade target in my opinion.
Of the three pitchers the Astros are offering, Cosart would be the cheapest to acquire but also has the least upside. Cosart’s K/9 sits at an abysmal 5.8, indicating that his numbers have the potential to severely regress in coming years. However, his FIP of 4.02 shows that Cosart has actually pitched better this year than his peripheral numbers show, so how Cosart ages is anyone’s guess.
On the brighter side though, Cosart is the youngest of the three pitchers and is under team control through 2020, so if the Cardinals hope for upward progression, they won’t have to pay much for it. To acquire Cosart, the Cardinals would likely have to give up James Ramsey or Stephen Piscotty, a deal which I believe is unfair to the Cardinals.
Overall, I believe Collin McHugh is the Cardinals’ best option to acquire before the trade deadline, but all information points to the organization being interested in bigger names. If the Cardinals do acquire a David Price or Jon Lester, it will most likely only be as a rental because both seem to want to go to free agency after the 2015 season. Hopefully, whatever John Mozeliak decides to do will guide this club to the World Series without sacrificing the years to come.