Note: As the title suggests, this is an old piece I never posted. Why would I post it now, long after even the trading deadline has passed, and shortly after Chris Carpenter signed a contract extension? Good question, and I’m not sure. Probably because I haven’t posted anything recently.
A Sports Illustrated writer recently suggested that the Cardinals could conceivably trade Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter if things don’t go their way in 2011. This seems as (highly) unlikely; not necessarily that the Cardinals won’t contend in the NL Central, but that they would trade Pujols and/or Carpenter. Talk of what would be a “fair trade” was an incredibly popular topic in the days after the GM Ken Towers of the Diamondbacks wondered aloud whether he might trade Justin Upton. It’s not a very good direct comparison for a few reasons. Yet imagine the speculation were it to get out that the Cardinals were considering trading [insert hyperbolic description of Albert Pujols here], and then a former Cy Young winner to boot, considering all the speculation about Upton.
The haul for a Pujols-Carpenter package would not be as spectacular as one might suspect. The team that deals with St. Louis would, barring talk of extensions, likely only get two months of the players for a few reasons. First, both are free agents after the 2011 season. Also, this hypothetical trade would depend on St. Louis being out of contention, and considering they expect to be in contention for the most of the season, they would probably wait until the last moment to make the trade. Because of the limited time remaining on their contracts, plus the fact that Pujols and Carpenter both have 10-5 no-trade rights, the team working with the Cardinals would certainly be a contending club. Would any contending team that needs a boost have what it takes to pry them away from St. Louis?
First, though, what exactly would Pujols and Carpenter produce in two months? Fan projections have Pujols forecast for 7.7 WAR in 2011, and Carpenter set for 4.2 WAR. Over two months of a six month season, that comes out to approx. 4 combined WAR. From a strictly on-field standpoint, trading for four wins (or, more likely based on the players being replaced, three or so wins) is expensive but doable.
Which team could most use this production? Unfortunately you can’t predict which teams will be on the brink of contention seven months in advance, so any studying has to be done independent of where various teams may be in the standings come July 2011. So instead, for now possible destinations come down to the usual suspects. While the Yankees would gladly take a starting pitcher, they have Teixeira at first making $22.5 million in 2011. The Red Sox are set with Gonzalez. The Phillies are paying Ryan Howard a ton and definitely don’t need the rotation help. (One might say the Howard contract is a sunk cost, but there seems to be a consensus that the Phillies were already pushing the limits of their pocketbooks with the Lee contract.) Of course, if it was not before, it should be perfectly obvious by now that too much depends on the season to analyze hypothetical mid-season trades seven months ahead of time.
Additionally, there is something at play that cannot go unsaid. Pujols is worth far more to the Cardinals (or more accurately, their reputation) than wOBA or WAR or whatever stat can state. The fan base would be outraged unless they got far more out of the trade than his already high on-field value out of the trade. (Adam Dunn is no Albert Pujols, but Nationals fans’ reactions as his saga played out are a lower-scale version of what one might expect from Cardinals fans regarding Pujols.) Of course, unlike the Nationals and Dunn, the Cardinals can’t simply let Pujols walk without a fight after the contract expires, and they are certainly not going to give up on trying by July. We can already see why it’s absurd to project that the Cardinals would trade Pujols, let alone for whom. However, it seems that Carpenter on his own might be tradeable, 10-5 rights notwithstanding.