The Cardinals continued their recent trend of puzzling and surprising moves Tuesday, just hours before the MLB non-waiver deadline.
St. Louis dealt former star outfielder Tommy Pham and $500K in international bonus money to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for three prospects:
Source: Rays sending Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez to the Cardinals for Tommy Pham and international bonus pool money.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 31, 2018
The Cardinals began the day 7.5 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central and sitting in fourth place, having been leapfrogged by the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates over the last week.
This is the latest move in a series of interesting decisions for the Cardinals this month that began when they fired their manager, Mike Matheny, right before the All-Star Break.
It continued when ace Carlos Martinez had to go on the disabled list for the second time this year on July 21, then returned for one outing Monday before exiting with a shoulder strain and is now likely headed back to the shelf.
The Cardinals also traded away reliever Sam Tuivailala — a 25-year-old right-hander who has made 68 appearances out of the St. Louis bullpen the last two seasons with a 3.04 ERA and 1.24 WHIP — Saturday in a deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Over the winter, the Cardinals traded away three guys who were formerly considered part of the core (for at least a brief period of time) — Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.
They also dealt for star outfielder Marcell Ozuna during the Winter Meetings, though he's had a disappointing season (.708 OPS, 13 HR, 58 RBI).
At first glance, it would seem the Pham trade may be the Cardinals waving the white flag and giving up on the 2018 season while trying to acquire pieces for the future.
But Pham could've been a piece to the future, as the 30-year-old outfielder won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season and is first arbitration-elgible this winter.
He enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, finishing 11th in NL MVP voting while hitting .306 with a .411 on-base percentage and .931 slugging percentage. He also smacked 23 homers, stole 25 bases and scored 95 runs in a 6.2-WAR campaign.
Pham hasn't carried that success over to this year, as he's hitting just .248 with a .730 OPS, 14 homers and 41 RBI in 98 games. Despite the subpar results, he's still hitting the ball with authority on a consistent basis:
Why would the Rays pursue Tommy Pham, whose OPS is down 200 points from last season? He still hits the ball about as hard as anyone on the regular. pic.twitter.com/ws5iqzawQh— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2018
Cubs fans might best remember Pham as the guy Jon Lester picked off first base last summer in hilarious fashion.
Pham has also been very outspoken over his Cardinals career, making waves earlier this year with a statement on his long journey through the minor leagues:
It gets even more intense from there, as Pham called out his fellow players' struggles. From the SI article:
“We’re two weeks in, and I’m raking,” he says. “I’m hitting like .400. The big league team was 3–9, and all three outfielders were hitting .200. They tried [Matt] Adams out there, and he’s a great hitter, but he just couldn’t play the outfield. So I’m like, They’re getting the reports every day, they know I’m raking. What the f---? When are they gonna call me up? And then we’re three weeks in. The guys are still struggling, Grichuk, Dex [Dexter Fowler], Piscotty. And I’m still balling! So finally I said, They’re not gonna f-----’ call me up, f--- it, and I zoned out in Triple A. Every day I was just like, F--- this. I’ve made it to the big leagues, f--- it.”
He stopped showing up for early work, daring his manager to bench him, daring St. Louis to cut him loose. Pham’s agents had learned that other MLB teams as well as Japanese clubs were interested. “I’m thinking, [the Cardinals] are not gonna trade me,” Pham says. “They won’t sell me to Japan. What the f---? They clearly don’t believe in me. Let a mother------ leave! And they wouldn’t even do that.”
The Cardinals may or may not be throwing in the towel on the 2018 season, but when they're selling while the three teams ahead of them are all adding pieces — the Pirates acquired Rangers closer Keone Kela Monday — it sure isn't a vote of confidence for the current roster.
The haul they got in return for Pham isn't much to write home about, either, as Williams (No. 14) and Cabrera (No. 25) weren't even included in the Top 10 Rays prospects by MLB.com's midseason prospect rankings. Ramirez was not listed among Tampa Bay's Top 30 prospects.
Williams turns 23 in less than a month and has just a .689 OPS in Triple-A this year. Cabrera, 21, is 7-6 with a 4.12 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 in Double-A. Ramirez, 23, was having a solid season (2.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.1 K/9) in the Rays system.
Pham's departure clears room in the St. Louis outfield for power-hitting prospect Tyler O'Neill and young sparkplug Harrison Bader.