ST. LOUIS -- As tortured as he felt ripping apart a core piece of the Cardinals and trading pitching, a much-needed area for the franchise, team president John Mozeliak did just that on Sunday to protect the club from potential free-agent defections and to restock the farm system with talented arms.
And, as Mozeliak pointed out Sunday following the Cardinals' 3-0 win over the Cubs, dealing away closer Jordan Hicks, left-handed starter Jordan Montgomery and righty reliever Chris Stratton for four prospects and an MLB-ready pitcher, it could be just be the start of the makeover of a Cardinals squad that fell well short of expectations this season but might not be too far away from competing for the playoffs again in 2024. Pending free agent Jack Flaherty could be the next to go along with players in the Cardinals' crowded outfield ahead of Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
“This is a day that we were hoping would never happen in the sense of having to break up our club and having to focus on the future, but over the course of the last two weeks, we were really taking a hard look at what the Trade Deadline could do for us,” Mozeliak said. “Obviously, this year has not gone as planned, so we really wanted to focus on what 2024 and beyond would look like.
“We felt like the timing might be a bit unique for the St. Louis Cardinals, but we had to do this, and it’s not a happy moment. But we certainly are excited about the future [players] we were able to acquire today.”
In dealing Montgomery and Stratton to the Rangers, the Cardinals acquired right-handed pitcher Tekoah Roby, infielder Thomas Saggese and left-handed pitcher John King, who has pitched 127 1/3 Major League innings. Roby, who was the No. 11 prospect in the Rangers' system, slots in as the Cardinals' No. 4-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. A third-round draft pick in 2020, the 21-year-old Roby was 2-3 with a 5.05 ERA in 10 games at Double-A Frisco this season before suffering a shoulder injury.
“He’ll enter into our rehab program in Jupiter, [Fla.], but we do expect him to pitch this season competitively,” said Mozeliak, who noted that Roby was slated to lift weights on Sunday and was asking for permission to play catch in Texas. “Obviously, we’ll know a lot more once we get our hands on him. But based on our medical reports, we believed in him and felt that he was in a good position to start throwing. So, we do hope to see him this year.”
Saggese, an infielder with positional versatility, moves into the No. 8 slot in the Cardinals' system.
When the Cards shipped the fire-balling Hicks to the Blue Jays, they got back right-handed pitchers Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein. Robberse, a 21-year-old native of the Netherlands, was ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Blue Jays' system, and he will now slot in at No. 6 in the Cards' system. In 18 games this season with Double-A New Hampshire, Robberse was 3-5 with a 4.06 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings.
Kloffenstein, who is now the No. 23-ranked prospect in the Cards' system, has pitched in 17 games with Double-A New Hampshire, going 5-5 with a 3.24 ERA. He had 105 strikeouts in 89 innings pitched.
Said Mozeliak of Robberse: “The fact that he’s so young and he’ll be able to go to Triple-A and will be knocking on the door to the big leagues is exciting.”
Hicks, who turns 27 on Sept. 6, admitted recently that he and his representation were trying to work out a contract extension with the Cardinals, but they were well aware that a trade could come if no agreement was reached.
This season, Hicks rebounded from a terrible start to the season -- one he partially attributed to getting more familiar with working on a pitch clock -- and again became the team’s closer when Ryan Helsley went down with a forearm injury. When Hicks notched his first save of the season against the Mets in June, it was his first save since 2019. Hicks was 1-6 with a 3.67 ERA and eight saves over 40 games.
“With Hicks, we’ve seen him grow up and do a nice job and mature on and off the field,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “He put together a pretty impressive season and got some big outs for us. We’re in a position where we needed to [make trades], but our hope is this isn’t the last time they’re wearing this [Cardinals] uniform.”
Montgomery, 30 and a free-agent-to-be in the offseason, came to the Cardinals last August via the Yankees. The 6-foot-6 left-hander went 6-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 2022 with the Cardinals and was 6-9 this season after pitching in some tough luck with a lack of run support. Montgomery, who spoke fondly of the friendships made in St. Louis, said he would certainly consider returning to the Cardinals this offseason when he hits free agency.
“We would have just had to get the talks rolling, but we can always do it again in free agency,” Montgomery said. “It’s a great organization [in St. Louis] and I’m not going to burn any bridges with great people. There’s always an opportunity [of returning to the Cardinals].”