When Ozzie Smith and Anheuser Busch teamed up to petition Congress to make MLB Opening Day a national holiday, they should’ve shot for the moon and thrown the MLB non-waiver trade deadline in there as well — after all, few days on the calendar enjoy such Christmas-like countdown frenzy as July 31st.
But instead of a jolly fat man, baseball fans eagerly await the arrival of a hurler with a powerful arm or a batsman with a gargantuan swing. Instead of wrapped packages under the tree, hometown teams hope to land a healthy impact player with an impressive WAR.
This year is no different.
Cardinals Nation has become enamored with the great David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, this year’s top trade target. But alas, the Redbirds may need to get used to the idea of coal in their stockings — or, at least, unwrapping a package with the same shape and stature as this year’s hottest gift only to find out grandma picked up the generic version at her local Walgreen’s.
Here’s five reasons why Cardinals fans won’t get what they want for MLB’s Christmas in July…
1. The Tampa Bay Rays have been playing out of their minds. After being as many as 18 games back in the standings, the Rays have battled back to a mere eight games back of the first place Baltimore Orioles and just five-and-a-half games back in the AL Wild Card race. They’ve won six straight games and look for number seven tonight against St. Louis righthander Lance Lynn. And after they leave St. Louis, they get the disappointing Boston Red Sox for three games. Sure, the Sox have been much better their last ten games (8-2), but those games have included opponents like the Astros, Royals, and slowly sinking Blue Jays. Come July 25th, the red-hot Rays welcome the surging Sox at The Trop…and something has to give. Look for it to be the hopes and dreams of Red Sox fans.
Why is this important to Redbird fans? Because if the Rays can rattle off a few more wins before July 31st, they could sit just close enough in the standings to prevent trading David Price at all. But hey…there is a bit of good news for Cardinals fans. After dispensing with Boston, the zooming Rays welcome the Milwaukee Brewers to town for a 3-game set that’s sure to present an opportunity for St. Louis to gain a bit of ground in the NL Central.
2. The Baltimore Orioles have one heck of a schedule in front of them. Before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, Baltimore faces the slugging Angels and the contending Mariners for four games each — and that’s without their injured, switch-hitting All-Star catcher Matt Weiters. That means the chances of the Tampa Bay Rays gaining a couple games in the standings is more than likely before the end of July…which, again, makes it highly unlikely the Rays look to deal their ace.
3. David Price is easily the most expensive trade chip on the market…and that means elite prospects. The entire point of re-vamping the Cardinals’ player draft and development system was to provide cost-effective talent to feed the needs of the MLB-level club. Those players can do so in a number of ways — make the major league roster and contribute, provide assets to trade for hole-filling players from other clubs, etc. — and John Mozeliak has shown a willingness to move the right players in the right deal. But Mo has also shown a willingness to shut down trade talks and stand pat when the market price is simply too high.
It will likely be too high for Price.
Trading a couple prospects from a prospect-rich farm system — especially when the likelihood of both panning out is historically not good — is certainly acceptable, but trading more than that begins to venture into the realm of farm system depletion. Such a move, or series of moves, threatens to impact the long-term stability of the franchise. And that’s something Mozeliak has never been willing to do. It would defeat the entire purpose of developing such a strong system in the first place by handicapping that system’s ability to feed the future needs of the major-league club. Once that happens, say goodbye to cost-effective solutions to losing. Suddenly, winning gets a whole lot more expensive.
4. If the Cardinals are unwilling to pay the price for Price, there are not many teams left with the ability to get the deal done. The Dodgers could pull something off, and maybe a couple other teams (some suggest the time is right for the Cubs to start looking at building a winning rotation for the next seven or ten years), but once the number of suitors for a player begins to shrink, it’s hard to maintain a high asking price in the market. And if a contending Rays team is not flat-out overwhelmed (don’t expect the Cubs to overwhelm anyone…why would they after spending years losing so they could build a massively impressive farm system?), they’ll simply wait until the offseason when their list of potential trade partners can once again expand.
5. John Mozeliak is just too smart. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch suggested St. Louis would want to negotiate a trade deal for Price contingent upon the starting pitcher signing a long-term deal to stay in St. Louis beyond 2015. The problem is, Price is going to be crazy expensive…and he knows it. I don’t see Mozeliak shelling out more money than he’s currently paying Adam Wainwright…and I don’t see Price accepting less to play in a city he’s never played in before. Also, Goold pointed out that if the Rays are waiting to see if they can improve their division standings in the next week or so, that threatens their ability to give the Cardinals the 72-hours allowed to sign Price to an extension before the trade deadline (and after the trade agreement is settled).
But even more significant than that is the fact that Mozeliak simply refuses to get fixated on one player in the market. If David Price is too expensive, he’ll simply move on to another starting pitcher with a more palatable price tag. Honestly, that’s more his style anyway. And don’t expect Mo to wait for the market for Price to develop. He’s proven in the past that he’ll move quickly if he sees the market threatening to get away from him.
Bottom line: Mozeliak won’t sit around and wait for the Rays to decide they’ll trade Price for a super -expensive trade deal that will also cost the Cardinals a prohibitive amount of money for years to come. He’ll simply move on to the next, more cost-effective pitcher on the market and acquire him instead.
Perhaps a deal could still come together, but the Cardinals certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by losing to the Rays last night. If they really wanted to increase their chances of convincing the Rays to trade their ace, the best way to do so would have been to sweep the two-game series and hope Tampa Bay left town 10 games back in the standings.
But now…the odds that the Rays front office bails on their rejuvenated team and also lowers the price tag for David Price are not good.
Time to move on to the next guy, Mo.