How first half has left Cards in rare predicament

July 13th, 2023

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Forgive the Cardinals right now if they aren’t exactly sure how to handle this predicament that they find themselves in as likely sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline. Not only is it a place they never expected to be this season, but it’s a spot the franchise hasn’t experienced in more than a decade.

Late last month, just before the Cardinals were about to take on the Cubs in London, team president John Mozeliak shot down any notion of selling off parts before the Trade Deadline, insisting that he instead wanted to supplement the roster with reinforcements. I specifically asked Mozeliak if the Cardinals, with their rabid fanbase and an intense expectation of winning on a yearly basis, were allowed to rebuild. He responded that he hoped the franchise would never be in that situation.

Fast forward three weeks, a stretch in which the Cards went a pedestrian 7-8 and limped into the All-Star break at 38-52 and 11 1/2 games back of the top spot in the NL Central. Now, Mozeliak has seemingly gotten to a place where he is entertaining the thought of selling before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.

“We’re not waving the white flag, but all decisions or all moves we do will really try to set us up for next year,” Mozeliak told KTVI-Fox 2’s Martin Kilcoyne in an interview that aired Tuesday night after the All-Star Game.

Why the change of heart? Will the thinking change again if the Cardinals start to finally put things together and rip off a prolonged winning streak over the next few weeks? After all, the Cardinals have not endured a losing season since 2007, and this was the first time they entered the All-Star break in last place since 1995, when they dismissed manager Joe Torre midseason. Also, it has been a staggering 37 years since they last hit the break for the Midsummer Classic at 14 games below .500.

Which way the Cardinals head in the coming weeks is anyone’s guess, but future free agents , , and are far more likely to be dealt than any moves involving franchise fixtures Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, who have full no-trade clauses.

Here's a look back at all that went wrong in the first half for the Cardinals and what could be ahead for the franchise before the Trade Deadline:

What we learned in the first half
The Cardinals went into the season with questions surrounding their pitching and those issues have impacted their season. Their starters have an ERA of 4.74, good for 25th in baseball. As for the relievers, they have blown 21 saves and have an ERA of 4.48, which ranks 24th in baseball. Ryan Helsley, an All-Star in 2022, is likely out another two weeks, meaning the Cards will continue to search for ways to close games.

Likely Trade Deadline strategy
Ignore the rumors of the Cardinals looking to move Goldschmidt or Arenado. It’s not going to happen. What is more likely to happen is the Cardinals dealing Hicks and/or Stratton to teams looking for relief help down the stretch, in return for pieces that will help improve the team.

Key players
Montgomery and Flaherty can become free agents at the end of the season, and both could potentially command a strong return based on how well they have pitched of late. Montgomery, acquired in a trade last August for Harrison Bader, leads the Cards with 10 quality starts and his 3.23 ERA is tops among the team's starters. Flaherty was brilliant in his last two starts, extending his scoreless streak to 12 2/3 innings.

Prospect to watch:
The top-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system could get a callup to the big leagues for his MLB debut if the Redbirds deal shortstop Paul DeJong, infielder Nolan Gorman or utility aces Tommy Edman or Brendan Donovan at the Deadline to acquire pitching. Winn, who opened eyes in Spring Training, hit his 10th home run of the season on Sunday for Triple-A Memphis. The slick-fielding shortstop has hit .266 with 37 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts.