Cards' roster realities a Deadline curveball

August 27th, 2020

ST. LOUIS – Monday's Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching, and the Cardinals must answer a series of questions within the roster before looking at outside additions. After a COVID-19 outbreak affected a third of their roster and paused the schedule for two weeks, the Cardinals hope that reinforcements coming back from the COVID-19 injured list will boost the roster heading into the final month of the season.

There are complications for every team heading into the Deadline, but the Cardinals’ include that they have played 21 games entering Thursday -- or just over a quarter of the schedule -- as well as how many roster decisions they have to make when some players do return. The Cardinals have 46 players on their 40-man roster because players on the COVID-19 injured list do not have to count against that number. But when those players return to the active roster, the St. Louis must make a transaction on the 40-man roster and 60-man player pool. Last week, the team put pitcher Alvaro Seijas on waivers to get him off the 40-man and out of the player pool to create room for Yadier Molina's return.

The Cardinals have eight more players on the COVID-19 injured list to return to the Majors or the alternate training site camp in Springfield, Mo. Removing a player from the 40-man roster is the same process as in previous years: he can be designated for assignment, put on waivers, released or traded. Thus, part of the Cardinals’ Trade Deadline could include trading players who helped them return to their schedule.

“I think we’d be open to anything because at some point, we’ll have to create room,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “That’s why we’re not going to be silent through all of this or close-minded. … Our mindset would be we’d be looking to add, but where do we do that and how do we do it? There are a lot of questions.”

An important wrinkle to this year’s Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big-league team or the alternate site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.

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Despite taking a different route than expected, the expectation for the Cardinals hasn’t changed: Contend for a championship and reach the playoffs annually.

Buy/sell/hold: Hold

The Cardinals will be in talks around the industry to see who’s available and measure whether deals are right for them. But the team doesn’t expect to be overly active, hoping first to get the COVID-19 injured list players back.

“As we’re looking at the trading deadline for us right now, it’s really probably most important to get healthy,” Mozeliak said. “It’s a really small sample size with what our team’s been through. Making these types of decisions is going to be very challenging. And I think for us it’s probably going to be hard to be overly active at the trading deadline, but if things get more intriguing, maybe there’s something we can consider. But at this point, the team that we get when we’re healthy is probably the team that we have.”

What they want: Pitching

Or a fully healthy club. But if you’re looking to add, pitching is at a premium this year. And the Cardinals need pitchers who can give them innings, with eight doubleheaders still on the schedule, including Thursday’s against the Pirates. The load will be a little more manageable with pitchers generally back to normal in their workloads, rather than on the strict pitch count and limited availability they were on when the Cards had eight games in five days in Chicago earlier this month. Still, with only two scheduled off-days the rest of the season, a lot of innings must be covered. Adding Major League reinforcements would help.

What they have to offer

As always, the Cardinals are not willing to deal their top prospects, like Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman. There are other prospects on the 40-man that they could move: young pitchers who helped them return, such as Ryan Meisinger or Nabil Crismatt, or outfield depth like Justin Williams.

Chance of a deal: 50 percent

The Cardinals expect to be competitive with the team they have when they’re healthy, so a blockbuster deal is pretty unlikely. But if the price and value are right, moves could happen based on the roster complications mentioned above.

“I think the bigger question is what’s the value proposition or how do you think about adding someone,” Mozeliak said. “Typically, when it’s July 31, you’re adding help for the last two months of the season. Theoretically, in this one, you’re almost getting half a season because the number of games that you play relative to late July and August. And in the Cardinals' case, it’s over half a season.”