The St. Louis Cardinals currently sit four games out of the Central Division. A team riding the proverbial roller coaster all season has kept themselves relevant despite having to make adjustments to the lineup all season. The early struggles of lineup mainstays like Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter had fans voicing their displeasure with management. They shouted from the rooftops about trading away the young arms for a rental slugger like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson. As the Cardinals prepare to enter July they may end up receiving a power upgrade that will cost them no prospects.
Paul DeJong has targeted a return to the lineup around the All-Star break. DeJong will instantly bring more power into a lineup that has begun to produce at more levels. DeJong’s development as a hitter cannot be ignored. While strikeouts are still a problem that is impossible to ignore, DeJong has increased his walk rate. Through 108 games last season DeJong walked just 21 times. Before his injury in just 41 games he has walked 16 times raising his walk percentage by almost 5%. DeJong’s injury also allowed more at bats for Yairo Munoz, allowing him to establish himself as a major league player.
When comparing DeJong to both Machado and Donaldsons advanced analytics the differences are not what you may think. Donaldson’s numbers are nearly identical to DeJong, while Manny Machado’s are not earth shattering in comparison, in fact they are very comparable if played out over a full season of the season.
Machado’s advanced numbers with nearly double the at bats compare favorably to DeJong’s with no clear advantage. Machado brings with him the intrigue of a marquee name, but does not bring the clear offensive advantages. The Cardinals also do not have to deal with the distraction of what to do with Machado at the end of the season. They can focus on their current needs.
That brings me to what the Cardinals need to have their focus on, the bullpen. Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks have cemented themselves in the backend of the pen but the need for help is still relevant. Padres closer Brad Hand sits at the top of the list for most contending teams, the price for him will be very high for the Cardinals. They will most likely look at the second left handed reliever option Zach Britton. Britton’s 2018 has not been great but he brings late inning experience as well as experience against high level opponents while playing in the American League East.
If the Orioles are being stubborn about the value of Britton, the Cardinals should take a look at a guy they let walk away in the offseason, Zack Duke. The Minnesota Twins have not been able to put it together in 2018, they have a few assets on their roster that may be available when the trade deadline hits. Duke has been extremely effective versus lefties in during the 2018 season allowing just a .184 average. While it may seem crazy to “backtrack” on a reliever that they could have resigned in the offseason, Duke will be low cost both in trade value and contact cost.
If the Twins believe they are still in contention for some reason the next potential suitor would be Alex Claudio of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have a long rebuild ahead of them, a left-handed reliever will not help them long term. Claudio has tons of value with his abilities to get out left handed hitters, similarly to Britton, Claudio has the experience in the late innings.
Cardinals fans want management to make a big move, but they have to understand that they have an impact player ready to make his return without costing the team any of their prospects. Fill the needs that make sense, go out and get yourself the bullpen help that can cement you as a playoff team. Fans have to see that it makes more sense to fill the bullpen need rather then bank on a big name for half a season.