The Cardinals are improbably mired in third place in the National League Central. Many teams would kill to be mired anywhere near the playoffs but the Cardinals are built for wins now. Individual game wins, series wins, division wins, World Series title wins. You don’t re-sign Lance Berkman and pick up Carlos Beltran with the longview in mind.
The Cardinals feature the very best lineup in baseball, one about to get stronger as Lance Berkman returns from injury. Three of the top thirteen qualified hitters in the NL (by wOBA) are Cardinals, with Allan Craig and his .426 wOBA doing a fine job in Berkman’s stead. By some measures, they are the best lineup in the game, sitting equal with the Rangers in fWAR and besting the mighty Rangers in wRC+. The offense is not the problem.
The pitching, however, is officially a concern. Losing Carpenter doesn’t change anything today but it certainly adds a sense of urgency to their trade deadline planning. The Cards need help and won’t be afraid to pursue it.
Ken Rosenthal has a full breakdown of the Cards situation on Fox today, noting that questions in the current rotation — Lance Lynn’s inning limit and the viability of Joe Kelly — mixed with the various injuries puts them at the top of the list for teams shopping high-end pitchers.
The first name on any team’s list is Zack Greinke. Rosenthal notes that Greinke began his career in Kansas City, which means he knows how hot it gets in the summer there? The Cardinals farm system ranks in the top ten (by Baseball America) meaning they have the pieces to move if there is interest. Shelby Miller might have figured into the rotation situation this year were it not for some disappearing velocity and the emergence of Lynn and Kelly.
The bullpen might be of a greater concern. While the Cardinals rotation started out well only to weaken as the mercury rose, the bullpen has been bad the whole time. The Cards relief corps owns the second worst shutdown-to-meltdown differential in all of baseball, sitting in the bottom five in bullpen WPA, fWAR, and FIP.
Addressing bullpen deficiencies is a lot easier (and cheaper) than adding a top of the rotation arm. Perhaps the Cardinals bold GM John Mozeliak will focus on addressing the more glaring hole in his roster rather than surrendering a huge part of his future for a rental player.
Rosenthal notes the Cards have plenty of money coming off the books in the next few years, making a big time extension for a Greinke, Hamels or whomever else a distinct possibility. Maybe a backend starter that allows one of Kelly or Lynn to bolster the bullpen?
The Cards have the blue chippers and, frankly, the balls to make a huge trade if an opportunity presents itself. If they can steady the pitching enough to let the elite offensive talent do its thing, it is going to be very uncomfortable for the Reds and Pirates. The Cardinals are the cream of the crop in this division, they mostly need to stay out of their own way down the stretch.