New Deal: Time for Cards to Shuffle the Deck

By Don Wade

A few weeks ago as Memphis Redbirds pitcher Dakota Hudson rolled along, his win total climbing and his ERA falling, he shrugged at the idea that he could already be – should already be – pitching in St. Louis.

“Not something I can control,” he said. “If the Cardinals do need me, I’m here.”

That the Cardinals need Hudson is now beyond question. They need a lot of things, as far as that goes.

Hudson was in the second inning of his start at Salt Lake City Wednesday night when manager Stubby Clapp came and got him. This touched off a hug fest.

The clear message: Hudson was being promoted to the Cardinals. And/or being protected because he might figure in a deal before the non-waiver July 31 trade deadline.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, is on the record saying he is not looking to trade good young pitching. Hudson is the epitome of that description. The 6-foot-5 right-hander turns 24 in September. He was a first round pick two years ago out of Mississippi State and he’s 13-3 with a 2.74 earned run average this season in Triple-A.

It would be nice to see how that translates at Busch Stadium and elsewhere. Former Redbirds player and rookie Jack Flaherty has fashioned a 3.28 ERA over 16 starts for a thoroughly mediocre Cardinals team this season. Daniel Poncedeleon, also having a dominant season at Memphis, came up to the Cardinals long enough to throw seven no-hit innings and then returned to the Redbirds as rookie lefty Austin Gomber was recalled; all he did was carry a no-hitter into the seventh in his first big league start.

The Cardinals were to begin a three-game series Friday night at Busch vs. the division-leading Chicago Cubs. With a 51-51 record, the Cardinals were five games out of the second wild card but that’s even deceiving because there are four other teams ahead of them also chasing that last playoff spot.

Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak made one decision that had to be made – better late than never – when they fired longtime manager Mike Matheny on July 14 and elevated bench coach Mike Shildt to interim manager for the remainder of the season.

Now it’s time to accept an even harsher reality: This roster needs to be churned.

After the Cardinals on Wednesday dropped yet another game to the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong told reporters that the team’s just-completed 3-5 road trip couldn’t be viewed the same way as if it had happened in, say, April.

“At the beginning of the year, this might be OK,” he said. “Hey, 3-5, we’re right there. But at this point we can’t give up any more games.”

Even more to the point it is time for the Cardinals to give up on past moves that simply aren’t working. That means reliever Greg Holland, he of the $14 million one-year contract. Brett Cecil hasn’t remotely lived up to his four-year $30.5 million contract. Closer Bud Norris (that was supposed to be Holland’s title) is also on a one-year deal but he still has some value and a .500 team really doesn’t need to hang on its closer.

The Cardinals seem willing to trade live-bat, no-position Jose Martinez, but it would take an incredible haul for them to move starting pitcher Carlos Martinez, who is as talented as he remains frustrating.

Second baseman Kolten Wong is in the middle of a five-year $20.5 million deal and has been an offensive wasteland this season. Outfielder Dexter Fowler, 32, is in the second season of a five-year $82.5 million contract and hitting .181, so they’re stuck with him. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, 27, is on a $9 million one-year deal and batting a soft .261; he has not looked anything like the star he was supposed to be. A tough decision, that one.

Mozeliak said before the All-Star break the Cardinals would not engage in a “pure sell-off,” saying instead they would opt for more of an “arbitrage.”

That was overly optimistic then, not grounded in reality now.

At fangraphs.com, the Cardinals are given a 13.4 percent chance to make the playoffs, a 0.5 percent chance to win the World Series.

You know what? That seems overly optimistic, too.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.