Okay, let's live outside the box and in the realm of great possibility.
Josh Johnson is an emerging ace. In his first true full season, Johnson dominated the competition with a 3.23 earned run average and a 15-5 record. He has two full years before he hits free agency, and then he could demand A.J. Burnett type money.
Yes, he truly is that good.
Take what you just read and add these five words: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Think about the true dominance of a pitching staff led by those three pitchers.
Is it possible? Very, as no player is truly off-limits. Every player in baseball has their price. Could the Cardinals match it?
Okay, back to reality.
Let's look at why the Cardinals could be involved:
- Johnson is 25 (26 on Opening Day). Wainwright is 28. That has the making of a long-term tandem, especially with Carpenter aging.
- The Cardinals have a steady stream of young players coming through the ranks, making the payroll lighter. An extension in the range of $80 million over five or six years is not out of the question.
- Albert Pujols would see a strong commitment to winning.
Besides the fact that every team will be involved in discussions with the Marlins (who are excellent talent evaluators), the Cardinals gave up a strong amount of young talent over this past summer.
The upside is that the Cardinals will likely be gaining a first round pick, and three sandwich picks this off-season (possibly a fourth if Troy Glaus is offered arbitration). This would offset some of the loss.
Another downside is that the Cardinals have plenty of needs to fill this offseason. Third base and left field are top priorities, and the rotation is down on the list. A chance like this, though, is hard to pass up.
So, here is what I propose for the Cardinals.
First, any deal for Johnson would have to involve Kyle Lohse. Losing Lohse's contract would ease all burdens for the Cardinals, while also opening a rotation spot for Johnson and to allow for a young pitcher to take a rotation job.
Secondly, the Cardinals would have to obtain some sort of complimentary piece. This would ease the loss of Lohse plus prospects.
Thirdly, the payroll would have to stay light to retain Matt Holliday, and to be able to lock up Pujols long term.
Yes, it really is that difficult. This is why a third team is desperately needed.
Let me add my disclaimer before I propose the deal. To my knowledge, the teams are not discussing any deal to send Lohse to the team I have added, nor are the Cardinals in discussions with the Marlins about adding Josh Johnson. This is something I have created.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire 2B/3B Dan Uggla, RHP Josh Johnson
- New York Mets acquire IF Emilo Bonfacio, RHP Kyle Lohse, and cash*
- Florida Marlins acquire 1B/3B/OF Daniel Murphy, RHP Kyle McClellan, 3B David Freese, OF Daryl Jones, RHP Richard Castillo, SS Pete Kozma
- *cash involved is $5.625 million to offset some of Lohse's contract, with $4 million coming from St. Louis and the rest from Florida
I'll break this down from first (Marlins) to last (Cardinals).
Florida's incentive here is easy. For two of their best players, they pull down two Major League hitters with experience, and a setup type pitcher who could fit easily into the back of their bullpen.
Murphy has experience at first base and left field in the Majors, and played third base in the Minors. Freese is a third baseman by trade with a very solid glove and a good bat to go with it. These two would add some punch to another rebuilding lineup.
Jones is a top prospect with the Cardinals who plays the corner outfield. He doesn't have the power to profile as a corner, but his speed and defense makes up for it. With Camreon Maybin in center field, the Marlins can sacrifice offense in left field for defense and a lead off hitter.
Kozma is a struggling defensive wiz at shortstop. He'll never be a great hitter, but his defense is outstanding. If the Marlins would ever move Hanley Ramirez, they would a capable defensive backup.
Castillo is in the lower minors, but at 19, he has great stuff and good control. He could easily be at the Major Leagues in 2012, and would be another solid arm to add to the Marlins talented pitching pool.
For the Mets, the gain is easy. They lose a player without a position and gain a solid backup infielder. They also add a quality middle rotation pitcher at slightly lower than the going rate ($27 million over three years). A quality score for the team.
The Cardinals can view this as "breaking even."
First off, they add Uggla. He is an offensive weapon and is improving his batting eye. With a switch to third base and working with the defensive work wizards Jose Oquendo and Joe Pettini, Uggla could become a well rounded star with the Cardinals.
If the Cardinals could also work out a deal with Holliday, it would give them a very powerful 3-4-5.
For Johnson, the trade would be viewed as everyone minus three (that is Lohse-Murphy-Uggla). It would hit the system very hard, but it would leave some more important pieces.
The Cardinals would add an ace type pitcher to the already loaded rotation. Replacing Lohse with Johnson would be a huge victory for the team, not to mention the savings that would be created.
The Cardinals would have Allen Craig, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez remaining (among players who have already appeared at the Majors). Those three could fill the holes created by the trade or free agency (left field, starting pitching, setup respectively).
While this trade would drain the system even further in the upper levels, it would leave enough talent to derive from in places of further need. Third base would no longer be a question with Uggla, which has been the most talked about open position for the 2010 team.
So yes, the Cardinals would take another huge hit in their talent pool, but the holes would be more filled with enough money freed to pay Johnson and Uggla out of the Lohse savings (with about $5 million taken from the $30 million or so open from free agency).
This trade could be to the Cardinals what the Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell deal was to the Boston Red Sox. This trade alone could put the Cardinals over the top. Add Holliday into the mix, and the Cardinals could easily be the best team in the National League.
Will it happen? I highly doubt it, but it could. As long as that window remains open, anything can happen.