The news Friday that Paul DeJong had a fracture in his left hand requiring surgical repair was the absolute last thing the Cardinals needed to hear.
Going into this season, the three players the Cardinals could most ill afford to lose to injury would arguably have been: Yadier Molina, Carlos Martinez and Paul DeJong.
Martinez is the ace of the pitching staff. Molina is the franchise catcher, commander of the St. Louis pitching staff for more than a decade. But Paul DeJong? He’s the shortstop in whom the Cardinals invested- both with their wallets and the surrounding personnel decisions.
Aledmys Diaz had a great rookie campaign, but his sophomore season in 2017 was a letdown. It coincided with DeJong’s emergence, and ultimately, the timing led to the Cardinals shipping Diaz to the Blue Jays during the offseason. When the Cardinals locked up DeJong with a contract extension in March (6 years, $26 million), it was clear they anticipated the job being his far into the future.
But now, he’s hurt.
While DeJong’s surgery was deemed successful by the team, it’s unknown how long he’ll be on the shelf. The Cardinals are looking at some combination of Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Yairo Munoz filling the void at shortstop for the duration.
It's safe to say they have a need at the position.
Manny Machado happens to play short. And the Baltimore Orioles happen to be one of the worst teams in the major leagues, in need of some light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, isn’t that interesting?
Machado would obviously be a splendid fit for any team, but the Paul DeJong-sized hole that now exists in the Cardinals lineup makes the potential addition of Machado all the more attractive.
But boy, would it come at a cost.
Could whatever the Orioles demand for Machado be worth the limited guarantee the team who gets him would receive?
The Chicago Cubs reportedly made a push for Machado over the winter, with Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Mike Montgomery as the players involved in the discussed offering. It didn't amount to much, as Baltimore held onto Machado to begin 2018. But now that the Orioles have struggled to a 13-30 start to the season, it would make sense for them to consider parting with the star free-agent-to-be.
With the O's listing, teams have again begun circling. The Cubs are once again prominent suitors, and Phillies are reportedly hot on their heels.
What separates the Cubs and Phillies from other potential suitors is their ability and apparent willingness to offer a quantity of quality young MLB-caliber talent. Chicago's preseason package still stands, and they could easily throw any of their young bats in to sweeten the pot.
The Phillies have intriguing young players like infielders JP Crawford and Scott Kingery with which to tempt Baltimore. They also have burgeoning pitching talent like Sixto Sanchez, who could represent an interesting carrot to dangle.
What all of this means is that Machado, should the Cardinals decide to make a play for him, won’t come cheap. The Orioles know they have a player capable of transforming postseason hopefuls into World Series contenders. Machado leads the majors in home runs and RBIs to go along with his sterling .339/.418/.661 batting line this season. He plays a premium position and plays it well. Would St. Louis be prepared to give up the kind of talent it takes to land an MVP-caliber player in his prime, even if he’ll only be around for a few months?
Would they be willing to let Baltimore plunder their treasure trove of pitching talent to do it?
Cardinal fans should take a deep breath to steady themselves, because we're going to start saying names like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Jordan Hicks. Baltimore has little reason to request less than the best of the Cardinals’ future, especially considering St. Louis’ stash of talented young arms. That list of names is a group that the Orioles should find particularly attractive considering their 5.09 team ERA, ranking 28th in MLB this season.
Hypothetical trade #1: Would you trade Luke Weaver, Jordan Hicks and Tyler O'Neill for Manny Machado?
The Cardinals have some attractive position players, too, but the group consisting of unproven outfielders like Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill-or a cost-controlled piece like Jose Martinez-pales in comparison to that group of pitching prospects.
Hypothetical trade #2: Would you trade Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader and José Martinez for Manny Machado?
Still, the Cardinals could have other ways to sweeten a deal.
Even though he’s injured, why wouldn’t Baltimore request a shortstop for a shortstop? Paul DeJong is locked into a reasonable contract for years to come. Would his departure be worth whatever Machado brings to the table, even if he, too, departs in November?
Hypothetical trade #3: Would you trade Paul DeJong, Jordan Hicks and Dakota Hudson for Manny Machado?
A trade for Manny Machado would be a high-stakes game of poker. The Cardinals would need to decipher the legitimacy of potential offers from rival suitors for the 25-year-old’s services. They would need to determine whether Machado could be the difference between another disappointing season in St. Louis and the kind of October run to which the Gateway City had grown accustomed just a few years back.
And they'd also have to take stock of the staggering financial outlay required to make him more than a rental.
Can they pull the trigger, waving goodbye to significant long-term talent while accepting whatever consequences might arise-including a scenario where Machado signs with a rival club in free agency just a few short months after the Cardinals mortgage the future to land him?
"Next man up" only works until the last man down was irreplaceable. The Cardinals have reached that point, and now have to decide whether the next phase is here, or still few years around the bend.