Potential arms for Cards at the Deadline

July 29th, 2021

The focus of Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak's last chat with reporters often circled back to a discussion on the pitching -- often prompted, sometimes not. Asked about potential offensive upgrades, or which path the club might take before Friday's Trade Deadline -- buyers or holding pat -- Mozeliak consistently pointed to the pitching. Of the new faces that St. Louis has added to the fold through the free-agent or waiver markets this season, all have been pitchers.

Could another arm be on the way?

The impending return of both and ameliorates the Cardinals’ situation, but the rotation -- even when at full health -- could use another stalwart to shore things up. Whether that comes at the Trade Deadline or in the offseason remains to be seen, but the Cards will assuredly not be full-fledged sellers, Mozeliak said.

St. Louis’ performance to this juncture of the season makes it hard to fathom it will bid for a pure rental, with a 51-51 and in third place in the NL Central, nine games back of the first-place Brewers, before the Trade Deadline Friday at 3 p.m. CT.

But if the Cardinals seek an addition, here’s where they might want to look:

RHP Kyle Gibson
Key nugget:
2.87 ERA
Under contract through: 2022
Buzz factor: 8
Might there be a more logical choice than Gibson? The Rangers are sellers, and the right-hander is a local product from Mizzou. He hasn’t had his crispest stuff as of late, but he still carries a 2.29 first-half ERA that helped him make his first All-Star Game. It might take a nice-sized return, but Gibson might be the most pragmatic approach for a mid-rotation addition -- for this season and beyond.

RHP José Berríos
Key nugget: 119 ERA+ over last three seasons
Under contract through: 2022
Buzz factor: 4.5
Berríos is widely seen as the best pitcher being shopped around. The only question is whether the Cardinals would be willing to meet the Twins' price, knowing there are several teams vying for the 27-year-old who still has plenty of prime years left. That Berríos remains under contract next season makes him even more enticing -- it’ll likely just take St. Louis a larger package to get a deal done.

RHP Max Scherzer
Key nugget: Local kid, local product
Under contract through: 2021
Buzz factor: 3.5
The Nationals have said that they’ll listen to offers up and down their roster, doing their due diligence should they fall further out of the NL East race. Scherzer, with his expiring contract, is the biggest trade chip -- and widely expected by industry experts to be moved. The Cardinals appear to be a great fit: he was born in St. Louis, went to Mizzou and is a front-of-the-rotation talent. But the expected return, and the fact that Scherzer has expressed his desire for a contract extension should he waive his no-trade clause, likely will price the Cards out.

RHP Jon Gray
Key nugget:
3.14 ERA at home; 4.54 on the road
Under contract through: 2021
Buzz factor: 3
The Cardinals have seen one Rockie perform this year after trading the purple in for the red. Might another? Gray has performed admirably in a contract season -- though that fact alone might squeeze him out of St. Louis’ plans, with a rental seeming less likely. Might he be a candidate for an offseason signing?

LHP Matthew Boyd
Key nugget: 6.4 percent walk rate
Under contract through: 2022
Buzz factor: 6.5
Boyd was having a great season -- the best of his career -- before going down with “left arm discomfort.” He’d be an enticing option, another southpaw in the rotation alongside Kwang Hyun Kim, and would come from another team lining up to be sellers at the Trade Deadline. It’d be a move more for 2022, though, given his injury and required buildup, and might be more practical in the offseason, when the Cards tend to make their bigger deals.

LHP Danny Duffy
Key nugget: Placed on IL with a left flexor strain
Under contract through: 2021
Buzz factor: 1
Duffy would have been a fascinating pickup by the Cardinals, making a deal with their cross-state counterparts for a pitcher amid a revival season. But Duffy landing on the injured list with a flexor strain makes it hard to imagine a swap, given the recovery that may be in store for him and given St. Louis’ own injury woes.

LHP Mike Minor
Key nugget: 2.7 walks per nine innings
Under contract through: 2022
Buzz factor: 5

So if Duffy is less feasible, how about a fellow Royal southpaw, with even more time left on his contract? Minor would provide an interesting left-handed look out of the rotation. The 33-year-old is also a bona fide strike-thrower, with a walks-per-nine mark that would be just behind Adam Wainwright on the Cards’ rotation and a cool 7.2% walk ratio to boot. Minor’s .300 BABIP is especially high, but one would think it’d start to decrease in front of the Cardinals’ staunch defense. St. Louis wants strike-throwers; they may be able to acquire one for cheap in Minor.

Others worth considering: Chad Kuhl (Pirates), Alex Cobb (Angels), LHP John Means (Orioles), RHP Michael Pineda (Twins), RHP Charlie Morton (Braves)