With a deadline approaching and that innings gap looming, the Cardinals’ goal to fortify the rotation, acquire a lefty if possible, and add to their bullpen flowed together at a familiar place, just one they rarely visit for trades.
The Cardinals finalized a deal late Monday night with Pittsburgh to trade for lefty Jose Quintana and reliever Chris Stratton. The Cardinals sent right-hander reliever Johan Oviedo and minor-league infielder Malcom Nunez to the Pirates, the club confirmed when announcing the deal.
It’s the Cardinals first in-division deal since 2015, their first swap of players with the Pirates since 2000.
And they aren’t done trying to add.
The pace of this year’s market accelerated rapidly Monday, the eve of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. (St. Louis time) trade deadline. With news that the New York Yankees had acquired Oakland starter Frankie Montas, teams chasing starters, like the Cardinals have been, gained clarity and urgency. The Los Angeles Dodgers late Monday were making a bid for Marlins’ starter Pablo Lopez, a source described, and Atlanta reportedly acquired right-hander and St. Louis-area native Jake Odorizzi.
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The Cardinals acquired a starter in Quintana without dealing any of their top prospects, some of whom have been involved in the team’s ongoing dialogue with Washington about outfielder Juan Soto — the most talented hitter available for trade. At least one Cardinals executive met in person with the Nationals’ front office this past weekend about acquiring Soto, who at 23 has 2½ years remaining before he’s a free agent.
The Cardinals have advertised their priority to add at least one starter because, as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said, they need “innings.”
Quintana, 33, essentially is a direct replacement for Cardinals lefty Steven Matz. The Cardinals are prepared for the likelihood that Matz, who torn a knee ligament, will not pitch again this season. Quintana sports a similar profile to Matz and will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Quintana, six years removed from his All-Star turn with the White Sox, signed a one-year, $2-million deal with the Pirates this past offseason, and in 20 starts he’s 3-5 with a 3.50 ERA. He’s thrown five quality starts in those games and averaged slightly more than five innings per appearance.
While the Cardinals have sought to increase the strikeout rate of their rotation, Quintana has a familiar profile to take advantage of the defense now behind him.
Quintana has walked fewer than 8% of the batters he’s faced, and he feeds the infielders behind him with a groundball rate better than average.
He last started Friday, so the Cardinals could insert him into this week’s series against the Cubs, one of his former teams. Quintana’s superb seasons on the South Side of Chicago made him a trade target for the Cubs, and in four years with the Cardinals’ archrivals he went 33-23 with a 4.24 ERA in 82 games. Since leaving the Cubs after the 2020 season, Quintana has pitched for the Angels, Giants, and then spent the first four months of this season with the Pirates.
Stratton, 31, is a former first-round draft pick who has spent the previous three full seasons with the Pirates. This year, in 40 appearances, 39 in relief, Stratton has a 5.09 ERA over 40⅔ innings. He’s struck out 37. The right-hander does fit the metrics the Cardinals have pursued with elite spin on his fastball and breaking ball. That spin allows his fastball to play up from its average velocity of 92.6 mph this season.
During the team’s recent trip, Oviedo flew from Cincinnati to Miami in a last-minute attempt to get paperwork that would allow him to travel to Canada and join the Cardinals for the two-game series in Toronto. Oviedo was successful in getting the necessary certificate in place of a renewed passport, and he drove across the border from Detroit to Toronto to complete his voyage and be available if needed out of the bullpen.
This season, Oviedo, 24, has found his footing in relief with a 3.20 ERA in 14 appearances. He was thrust into a starter’s role during the Cardinals’ shortened 2020 season and their innings crisis of June 2021.
Nunez, 21, won the Triple Crown when he debuted as a pro in the Dominican Summer League in 2018. At Class AA Springfield this season, Nunez hit a career-high 17 homers with a .255 average, a .463 slugging percentage, and a .823 OPS. Considered a strong hitting prospect and steady at the plate beyond his age, he had 71 strikeouts in 298 at-bats.
In addition to the trade, the Cardinals also designated catcher Austin Romine for assignment. That clears the way for Yadier Molina’s return to the active roster and start Tuesday night with Adam Wainwright against the Cubs at Busch Stadium.
It will be their 317th start as a battery, putting them alone into second place in MLB history.
The Cardinals spent five hours on a runway outside of Washington on Sunday night because of a mechanical issue with their charter flight. They eventually used the Mets’ plane to return home to St. Louis almost six hours after they intended to land.
Time turned to be a theme of the day. Mozeliak told reporters all weekend that the one thing they had on their side when it came to the trade deadline was time. Time to sort through options. Time to continue negotiating with multiple teams. Time to explore potentially one of the biggest deals of his tenure.
That time runs out Tuesday evening.
London coming into view
With the Cardinals’ lone international trip of the regular season behind them, Major League Baseball’s official announcement is expected soon about their trip to London in 2023. The Cardinals are set to host the Cubs in June, sources confirmed this past spring and logistical plans have been underway all season.
The upcoming series effectively will be a rescheduling of the two-game series between the rivals that was canceled in June 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Cardinals gave up two home games for the planned 2020 series.
The 2023 schedule will be the first to feature games between all 30 clubs, ending the division-by-division interleague rotation. The Cardinals are set to play at Seattle and return to Boston, for example, according to the latest draft of the schedule. The Cardinals host the New York Yankees this week at Busch Stadium for the first time since Derek Jeter’s farewell tour in 2014. Their visits will become more frequent. The Yankees will be back at Busch in 2023.
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