Trade imbalance?

Larry Levin is the newspaper’s Publisher/CEO.

By Larry Levin

Today’s topic (discuss amongst yourselves) is: Were the Cardinals super-duper-hyper-overconservative at the trade deadline? Is that a weighted question or what? Can you guess my conclusion?
Let’s start with one overriding presumption in the analysis: You never trade for the sake of making a trade. Few general managers are guilty of this, but some, I’d argue, make more trades than they should because they are savvy at, and get into, that aspect of the game.
The Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski to me falls into that category. While his player development organizations have not always been among the best, his acumen in finding combos of players and prospects to deal is strong. 
Then there have been GMs who never saw a deal they liked. When Bill Stoneman held that title for the Angels, for instance, he refused, refused and — you guessed it — refused to trade away his prized prospects, who often were among the game’s finest (the same isn’t typically true of the Halos in this day and age).  While Stoneman was way too reluctant to pull the trigger, he, like Dombrowski, saw success by sticking to his strengths.
Which brings us to John Mozeliak and the Cardinals. 
Mo doesn’t fall toward the margins on the trade issue — he’s pretty firmly a centrist, who has pulled off some surprisingly good deals while falling short in others. To wit:
• The trade bringing John Lackey to the Cards from Boston in exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly was roundly criticized by many in its wake. But Mo looked downright prescient when Craig never regained his RBI-generating stroke and Kelly proved to be a big arm with little idea of where the ball was going.
• The David Freese and Fernando Salas trade for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk trade remains a work in progress. Freese climbed out of his hole to do a little for the Angels and a bit more recently for the Pirates. Bourjos was a fairly massive disappointment and Grichuk, chosen ahead of Mike Trout, shows flashes of both hitting and fielding brilliance, but with large gaps between the positive nodes. We’ll just have to see.
• Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. Tough call — both Miller and Heyward shone for a year, so much so that the Diamondbacks stupidly dealt super-top prospects to get Miller. Hayward, as we know, performed at what may be his hitting peak for the Redbirds but has downright sucked offensively in Chicago, saving the Cards a couple hundred million (phew!). Walden, while a fine, fine reliever, has hardly pitched due to injury, and we’ll have to see on Jenkins. 
There are other good and bad ones out there, but usually it seems that Mo has good, sound analytics and player development/scouting underpinning for his deals.
This year, however, it’s the lack of deals at the deadline that, especially in retrospect, appears puzzling, and for three reasons:
1. The bullpen needed help, which Mo admitted, but it seemed that he fairly grossly understated the need or was unwilling to pay to satisfy that need. Trevor Rosenthal is likely gone this year, whether by injury or psychological affliction. Jonathan Broxton has been a mess of inconsistent. Their anointed closer Seung Hwan Oh has never closed in MLB til this year. Seth Maness looks improved but hardly a sure thing. Kevin Siegrist may or may not be tough enough this year….way better than last season but hardly the lights-out guy that had an under-2.00 ERA a couple years back.
So the best Mo could do was….Zach Duke? Sure, the lefty is a fine complementary part of a major league bullpen, no doubt. Sure, there was great competition for relievers on the market. But the dread Cubs, knowing they had to shore up their iffy pen, acquired not one, not two, but three relievers: Mike Montgomery, Joe Smith and the near-legendary Aroldis Chapman. The Nationals grabbed Mark Melancon from the Pirates. While I would never advocate for the deal the Cubs bit on to get Chapman — three prospects including a near-the-top one in shortstop Gleyber Torres — there was much room between a Chapman deal and many of the others that equipped several contenders with much more depth and talent than Mo went for.
2. The lineup needed help, but not for the reasons you think. This one’s a whole mess of analysis. While the Cards have scored a ton of runs, the manager, Mike Matheny, has refused to acknowledge reality on several fronts. We’ve talked here before about how the great Matt Holliday is a shadow of his former self and is not a 3-hole hitter on a major league contender. Jhonny Peralta, forced back into regular service after his DL time, is essentially a replacement-level player since the beginning of 2015. Matheny stresses playing “the hot hand,” but that is baseball-speak for having a limited supply of players who will lay claim to everyday playing time. With these issues, the DL challenges and others (including a woefully inadequate catcher backup situation, once again forcing Yadi into too many innings), it is rather surprising that Mo couldn’t up the quality of the starting lineup, and most particularly in center field. And couldn’t we find at least one guy who can consistently catch the ball?
3.  The starters are slipping. This has truly been an adventure-filled season for the club’s rotation. The good news is that but for doubleheaders and compressed schedules, none of them would have missed a start. Bad news: They’ve gone from weak to strong and back to weak again. A shortage of innings and some dreadful games have marked the return from the All-Star Game.  The starters’ ERA has climbed after a fairly strong month and a half before the break (interestingly, just the opposite of the Cubs, who started the year lights-out and regressed during the Cards’ strong spell), and Jaime Garcia, followed by Mike Leake, look particularly challenged.
All in all, the Cards, sitting near a Wild Card, are there much more from the luck of other teams’ weaknesses than their own strengths. It has been a disappointment that Mo, who should be thanked for all his great years of service, could not find a winning combination for anything but the Duke trade. It has been a disappointment that Matheny, who seems to value personal loyalty over team success at times, has not been able to figure out how to manage the amalgam of players dealt to him by Mo with any consistent success. Even if we backdoored ourselves into the playoffs, the team seems woefully unlikely to run a hot spell to ride to a pennant or World Series title. Seesawing mediocrity has been the norm, not the exception, for the 2016 Redbirds.
Conclusions? I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. But I sure am keeping it within arm’s length.