DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are hosting the St. Louis Cardinals for a brief interleague series this week, so we might as well talk about how these two appear to be perfect trade partners ahead of the deadline.
The Cardinals will be in Detroit for a short two-game series this week, and their situations couldn’t be more different.
St. Louis struggles
St. Louis came into 2021 as one of the favorites in the National League Central Division. They’re on a streak of 13 straight winning seasons, including eight playoff appearances. Last season, the Cardinals were a wildcard team and lost to the San Diego Padres in the first round.
Detroit, as you all know, was not a playoff team. It certainly does not have a streak of winning seasons, instead finishing last, 26th, last and 28th out of 30 teams the last four years. No reasonable fans had playoff aspirations at any point in this season.
But lately, the Cardinals have been the worse team, losing 14 of 20 and falling four games back in the division standings. Meanwhile, Detroit has gone 21-18 since its 9-24 start to the season.
The Cardinals are backed into a bit of a corner. They’ve traded for Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the last three years and aren’t exactly loaded with young talent. The window to win with this current core isn’t getting any wider.
But at the same time, St. Louis will eventually get reinforcements back from the injured list. Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas will rejoin the starting rotation. Harrison Bader is working his way back from a rib injury.
Then there’s the fact that this is the St. Louis Cardinals we’re talking about. It’s not a franchise that typically pushes all its chips to the center of the table at the trade deadline. Small, savvy moves that can incrementally improve the roster are more their style -- and it turns out that might be just what they need this season.
Right now, only two players on the entire Cardinals roster are hitting like above-average major leaguers: Arenado and outfielder Tyler O’Neill. Nobody else even has an OPS north of .760.
Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina and Dylan Carlson have been fine, but Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong and whoever plays right field on a given day are crippling the lineup.
Meanwhile, even when Flaherty returns, the Cardinals could use some help in the starting rotation. A team can get away with having a Carlos Martinez, John Gant or Johan Oviedo at the back of the rotation. It certainly can’t use all three.
Then there’s the bullpen. Yikes. Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera make up a very solid trio. But sandwiched between a shaky starting staff and those three at the back end, the middle innings can be an adventure.
Tigers trade pieces
What do the Tigers have to offer? The Cardinals might find this partnership attractive because the pieces involved won’t cost as much as a Max Scherzer, Joey Gallo or Trevor Story.
Jonathan Schoop seems like a perfect option for the Cardinals. He’s on a one-year deal, so he’d be cheap, and his overall numbers are average enough to keep the market from getting too hot.
Over his last 37 games -- 166 plate appearances -- Schoop is slashing .345/.410/.642. He’s hit 11 home runs and nine doubles over that span while drawing 14 walks and striking out 27 times. All the underlying numbers support this surge: Schoop is tearing the cover off the ball.
Edman isn’t going to be banished from the St. Louis lineup, but he and Schoop both have some defensive versatility to make this work. If Schoop plays first, Edman could play on the left side of the infield or a corner outfield spot. Schoop could also spell Goldschmidt for the occasional start at first base.
Robbie Grossman would be a massive upgrade at leadoff for the Cardinals. Carlson is the only everyday Cardinal with an OBP over .321, and Grossman is at .343 despite a current 0-for-16 slump. He’s been on base 106 times in 69 games.
Matt Boyd is another name that could interest St. Louis. He’s working his way back from the injured list, but Boyd is considered one of the better starting pitchers available at the deadline.
Boyd has sacrificed some swing-and-miss this season but is doing a better job keeping the ball in the yard. His walk rate is still low, and he regularly works deep into games. That’s exactly what the Cardinals need behind Flaherty, Wainwright and Mikolas.
Since he’s under team control for cheap next season, Boyd has a little extra value, but his inconsistencies over the last few years would make him more obtainable than the likes of Scherzer, Kyle Gibson or even German Marquez.
There are a few names to watch out of the Tigers’ bullpen, headlined by Michael Fulmer and Jose Cisnero. Both have elite raw stuff and worked their way into high-leverage roles in the back-end of the pen.
Cisnero has basically been a top-tier reliever for the second season in a row. He’s striking out 11.3 batters per nine with a reasonable walk rate and a 1.194 WHIP. Fulmer hasn’t been quite as consistent, but he’s touching 99 mph with his fastball and has allowed just four earned runs in 16.1 innings (2.20 ERA) since moving to the bullpen full-time.
Fulmer has another year of team control, and Cisnero has two. They’ll both be valuable bullpen pieces for someone, but would it make sense for the Tigers to try to flip them for younger players?
The Cardinals don’t have a deep farm system, and Nolan Gorman, Jordan Walker and Matt Liberatore likely wouldn’t be available in these types of deals.
Masyn Winn, a 19-year-old shortstop drafted by St. Louis in the second-round last year, is off to a nice start with Single-A Palm Beach. In 190 plate appearances, he has 15 extra-base hits and 26 walks. The Tigers desperately need middle infield prospects.
Edwin Nunez is another teenager in the Cardinals system, and he can touch triple digits with his fastball. Baseball America calls his fastball “plus-plus” to go with “a less consistent slider that flashes plus potential but sometimes gets slurvy.”
I wrote about the Tigers potentially targeting Jhon Torres at last year’s deadline, and the 21-year-old outfielder is having another solid season, this time with High-A Peoria. He has hit 13 doubles and two homers in 34 games with a .340 OBP. Torres dominated rookie ball as a teenager in 2018 and 2019.
It’s always difficult to pull off a trade with teams like the Cardinals because they seem to stumble into the postseason even without making moves. That gives them bargaining power.
But this year feels different. The Cardinals are clearly not one of the five best teams in the National League, and they’re in danger of being left out of the playoff race entirely if they can’t stop the bleeding.
Maybe the Tigers will decide to hold onto most of their trade candidates, especially since they haven’t had great success with deadline acquisitions under Al Avila. But if they’re looking for someone to strike up a conversation, look no further than the opposing dugout Tuesday at Comerica Park.