Rapid Reaction to the trade that’s sending Nationals outfielder Juan Soto to the Padres for an extra-large bundle of young talent.

1. I never believed the Cardinals would go full-out for Soto and get a deal done. I was a skeptic from the beginning and my instincts were correct.

I say this because I’m familiar with their thinking and know how they prefer to operate. Cardinals management doesn’t do “whatever the hell it takes” trades in which they load up a truck filled with elite young players. It’s not their style. It will never be their style under chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball ops John Mozeliak. They are cautious and careful and abundantly pragmatic.

A growing percentage of fans are bothered by this, but the philosophy has made this franchise a top-three team in the majors since the start of the 2000 season. As I wrote yesterday, I respect their consistent success but want to see more aggressiveness; the Cardinals have a good team but should strive to make it a great team. And they don’t have to subtract all of their primo prospects to reach higher ground. They don’t have to go nuts and trade away too much to move  uptown.

The Cardinals may still get there, anyway — if their collection of Faberge Egg prospects become stars. Most are position players; there are concerns about the state of the starting pitching going forward in 2023, 2024, etc. But as I also wrote yesterday, the time to get major deals done – and pursue higher-class starting pitchers via free agency – is during the offseason. There’s more time, more options and less pressure from trading partners who tend to make unreasonable demands in the heat of summer-deadline wheeling and dealing.

Again: DeWitt must increase the payroll. The Cardinals are slipping in the annual payroll rankings and need to move closer to the 40-man luxury payroll. If they want to keep most of their elite prospects AND upgrade the starting rotation and overall pitching … free agency is the way, and the investment requires a larger payroll.

2. I would have been gung-ho about a Soto to STL trade if I could count on the Cardinals to sign the phenom to a massive contract extension – $500 million or more – when he became eligible for free agency after the 2024 season. But agent Scott Boras is known for taking his clients to free agency, because he’s confident in talking an owner and GM into a record-setting contract. I wasn’t in favor of shipping a treasure of talent to D.C. to have Soto here for three potential postseasons (and two full seasons.)

3. Fans that are spewing vitriol on Twitter made the mistake of convincing themselves that the Soto trade would happen. And it makes no sense to get your hopes up – and expect your dream to come true – instead of remaining moored to reality. Realistic observers mostly tuned out the ridiculous sequence of preposterous rumors and knew that Soto was a longshot. The cooler heads set their expectations accordingly.

4. The Soto trade to San Diego loomed as the most likely outcome for a reason: No matter what the Cardinals offered, berserk Padres president of baseball ops A.J. Preller would top it and give Washington GM Mike Rizzo everything he wanted. And Preller was burning with fever a year after assuming that he had a deal with Washington to send pitcher Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner to San Diego – only to have the Dodgers swoop in and trade for the two star Nationals at the last minute. Preller wasn’t about to let that happen for the second summer in a row. He also acquired Washington first baseman Josh Bell to go with Soto. And before that, closer Josh Hader from Milwaukee.

That’s an impressive — and remarkable — get for the Padres, and Preller was thrilled to clear out his farm system to bring the three players to San Diego. By late last night it had become clear that the Padres or Dodgers would win the Soto sweepstakes. Preller would not be denied. It’s that simple.

5. The Padres and the Cardinals are different animals. The Cardinals haven’t won a World Series since 2011 or captured an NL pennant since 2013. Oh, the horror! What unspeakable suffering for fans and media! I’ll call Amnesty International.

The Padres haven’t made it to the playoffs in a full season since 2006. The franchise came on line as an expansion team in 1969 and has competed in only five postseasons, winning two NL pennants but no World Series. It’s six postseasons if you want to include the pandemic-shortened 2020.

This is San Diego’s 55th season of existence in major league baseball. Assuming that the Padres finish above .500 this year, it would be only the 16th winning record in their 55 years. That’s why Preller is so desperate. He’s had one winning season since taking over baseball operations late in the 2014 season. And last year Preller spent a franchise-record $180 million on the 40-man player payroll, only to finish with a losing record.

This season the Padres 40-man payroll was jacked to $235 million, and the team is trailing the first-place Dodgers by 12 games in the NL West. Preller was not going to lose out in this trade to the Cardinals, Dodgers, or anyone else. But somehow this is being turned into a quick-n-lazy “Mozeliak blew it” narrative, which is humorous. It’s one thing to rip Mozeliak for not doing more during the offseason, or blast him for making one trade (as he has so far) on trade-deadline day. But the Cardinals didn’t want to go bird-boop crazy to get Soto, and I’ll pass on leading a protest at Busch Stadium.

6. Mozeliak and the Cardinals can’t be finished. They must crank it up, and make another move to improve this team.  I thought the trade for Pirates starting pitcher Jose Quintana was a terrific move, but it can’t stop there. According to the midseason prospect rankings at Baseball America, the Cardinals still have their top 12 prospects in hand … and 28 of their top 30 prospects are still with the organization. The two exceptions are corner infielder Malcolm Nunez, No. 13, who was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Quintana deal – and pitcher Angel Rondon, No. 24, who was designated for assignment. With such an abundance of young talent, the Cardinals are in a favorable and enviable position to make an impact deal by the 5 p.m. deadline (STL time.) And they can do it without damaging their future in a substantial way.

7. If it’s true that the Cardinals refused to include outfielder Dylan Carlson in a potential Soto deal – as part of a larger package that included several top prospects – he’ll need to buckle up and start mashing. I’m afraid some fans apparently fail to understand that this was NOT a straight-up Carlson-for-Soto proposal … and they’re belittling Carlson as well as Mozeliak … and taking sideswipes at the injured Harrison Bader. The theory: because of Bader’s foot injury that keeps him sidelined, Carlson has to play center field and that prevented the Cardinals from trading Carlson.

It’s true that “DC” is playing very well in center during Bader’s absence and the Cardinals appreciate him even more because of it. But management wanted to hold onto Carlson because of the belief that he’ll be great. And he’s under contract control through 2026. Would they trade Carlson for Soto, one for one? Of course. But that wasn’t on the table. And a prospect-heavy package PLUS Carlson was too much for a two-plus season retainer on Soto’s services. All of that transcends the Bader injury and what that means — in the moment — for Carlson.

8. Fair or not, Carlson must show that he’s worthy of management’s confidence. He was on a roll for a while, but just completed a lousy July in which he batted .231 with a .307 onbase percentage and .385 slug for a .692 OPS. He also struck out in 25% of his plate appearances, hit only two homers, and knocked in only nine runs. Do better.

I have one more thing to add: manager Oli Marmol has used Carlson as a leadoff hitter in recent games, just as he did at the start of the season. But in 76 plate appearances batting No. 1 this season, Carlson is hitting .162 with a .224 onbase percentage and .430 OPS. Awful. For his career, in 235 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, Carlson is hitting .215 with a .285 onbase percentage and .654 OPS.

9. And in a related note: can the Cardinals count on left fielder Tyler O’Neill to stay in the lineup for more than a few days at a time? A series of injuries have caused him to miss 44 days this season. The latest came over the weekend in Washington, when O’Neill left a game with “leg cramping.” In 10 July games, he batted .194 with a .306 slug (ugh), .631 OPS (yuck) and one homer. Last season O’Neill slugged .560. This season he’s slugging .351. Last season O’Neill set a personal best by homering in 6.3 percent of his plate appearances, finishing with 34 bombs. This year he’s homered on a career-worst 2.2 percent of his plate appearances, and has only five HR so far. If you aren’t going to trade for Soto, then you better have outfielders that can put up consistently good numbers without frequent cold spells (Carlson) or limping off with so many injuries.

10. Another thing that bugs me are the references to Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt … as in …  “The Cardinals have traded for big-name players in the last few years so why draw the line at Soto?” The Cardinals acquired Goldy for players that have combined for 6.8 WAR since joining the Diamondbacks before the 2019 season. And the Cardinals were given a firm reason to believe that Goldy was interested in signing a long-term contract extension, so there was little if any risk of losing him. The Cardinals gave Colorado a modest collection of talent for Arenado. That group, led by pitcher Austin Gomber, has accumulated only 2.0 WAR since the start of last season. And as a bonus (good grief) the Rockies gave St. Louis  $51 million  to defray the cost of Arenado’s contract. As Cardinals, Goldschmidt and Arenado have combined for 24.7 WAR in their time here. The players that were dealt for them have combined for 8.8 WAR. Getting Goldschmidt and Arenado in two blatant steals is absolutely irrelevant to the STL/Soto situation.

11. Speaking of Arenado: if the Cardinals don’t add more juice to the roster for this 2022 stretch run, I wonder if Arenado would be more inclined to opt out of his contract after the season? The Dodgers made a push but didn’t acquire Soto, which means they’ll have more room to accommodate a hefty contract to bring in a great third baseman who happened to grow up in the Los Angeles area. Unless he decides to stay in STL and compete for wild-card spots.

12. Quintana fits nicely with Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright. He’s a fine de facto replacement for the injured Steven Matz. No, wait; this season Quintana is better than Matz and for many reasons. But as long as Dakota Hudson is part of the 2022 rotation, the Cardinals won’t match up with the superior NL teams. And if rookie Andre Pallante runs out of gas, then what? Don’t try to sell me a Jack Flaherty comeback later this season. Go get another good starting pitcher. As of 1:55 pm STL time the market still had some attractive rotation candidates. Don’t procrastinate.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.