I feel like I need to expand on my thoughts on the prospective Felix Hernandez trade David Schoenfield proposed earlier for the Cardinals. I already have my doubts that the Mariners would shop Felix, let alone trade him right now, but let’s say they did. Would it be worth the Cardinals’ effort and prospects to go after him?
As a review, Schoenfield was proposing that the Cardinals acquire Hernandez for a package of Matt Adams, Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, and possibly Tyrell Jenkins. As a summary of my views, this is WAY too much for the Cardinals to give up for Hernandez. King Felix is indeed a great pitcher, and he is under control through 2014. I can see something of an argument-at full health, a rotation of Adam Wainwright-Felix Hernandez-Jaime Garcia-Lance Lynn would rank among the top in the game, rivaling even Washington’s quartet.
But, at the same time, that’s clearly three of the Cardinals’ top four prospects at the moment, if not their top three (and even then, Adams is still in their top ten, too). And not just that, Taveras, Miller, and Jenkins would rank highly with any team. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked them 8th, 17th, and just outside the top 50 in his most recent prospect rankings. Baseball America just ranked Taveras and Miller 18th and 20th in baseball. This is a solid package. This is something like 24 years of team control for solid prospects in exchange for two-and-a-half of Felix Hernandez, and not even at a substantial discount, since he’s already guaranteed to be making about $20 million each of the next two seasons.
Schoenfield argues that this isn’t “gutting” their farm system, but then, what is it? Is trading almost half of your top ten prospects, including three of your top four, not a huge blow? Sure, it leaves Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, Zach Cox, and Trevor Rosenthal, but, at the same time, that leaves the Cardinals with one, maybe two top 50 prospects, instead of the four to five they had before. I know prospects aren’t a sure thing, but with that much talent, I wouldn’t exactly want to give away as many of them as possible.
That return just seems a little ridiculous. A year and a half of Cliff Lee didn’t get close to that much. Two years of Zack Greinke didn’t get nearly that much. And both of those two were still under arbitration, meaning their salaries were guaranteed to be lower following the trades. A much more reasonable trade would be something like one of those three (or Martinez), plus two of the other four (Adams/Cox/Wong/Rosenthal) and maybe someone lower level as a throw-in.
But even then, do the Cardinals want him? Again sure, he’d look great, but is that the best use of what the team has? I would personally love to see the team keep as many of those eight as possible so they can stay competitive into the future, but they won’t exactly help the team this year. So what does the team need this year?
Well, for starters, not a bat. The team leads the NL in runs scored. Fangraphs has them second in the Majors in batting Wins Above Replacement, so it’s probably not a fluke. Pitching could use a little help. The team has allowed the fifth fewest runs in the NL in, and is a middle-of-the-pack seventh in pitchers’ WAR. The team is getting Jaime Garcia back, which should help, but I wouldn’t blame them for looking at pitching. But what pitching do they specifically need?
Their starters rank fifth in the majors in runs allowed with 245, but they a stone’s throw from second (the Athletics, Pirates, and Giants have allowed 243, 244, and 244, respectively). WAR agrees, putting them sixth in MLB and third in the NL. Well, that doesn’t seem bad. But that leaves an obvious hole.
Just like last year, the St. Louis bullpen seems to be filled with gasoline-doused pyromaniacs. They’ve allowed the eighteenth most runs of any bullpen to date. WAR has them as the second worst in the Majors, and one of only three that’s actually been worth negative value. Win Probability Added, which measures how much a team’s chance of winning a game changes with each play and then tallies the results, has the bullpen as 26th in the majors (with a whopping -2.96 wins added). The team’s stock of relievers is, to use a common phrase, “not very good”.
The good news is that bullpens can be fixed a little easier. It usually takes less of a trade return to get a team to move relievers, and there are several bad teams with decent relievers who may be willing to make moves. The Cards may be able to deal from their depth of corner infielders; offering someone like, say, Matt Carpenter, who has several years of team control left but who can also play now adds teams in win-now mode with spare relievers to the Cardinals’ prospective trade partners. They may also be able to call up someone like Shelby Miller to serve as a stretch-run reliever, a la Adam Wainwright in 2006.
But, going back to the main point, the Cardinals trading for Felix Hernandez would make for an impressive rotation right now, but would represent a gross misread of their needs and a large misuse of the prospects.