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Law: Cardinals capitalize on trades with Rangers, Blue Jays in rare turn as sellers

The Cardinals were clearly going to sell at the deadline, and they finally began that process on Sunday with a pair of trades, sending left-hander Jordan Montgomery to Texas for two prospects and a relief pitcher, and right-handed Jordan Hicks to Toronto for two prospects. It’s a big deal for a team that rarely finds itself in the position of seller on deadline day, and they did well in both trades, especially the Montgomery swap.

Montgomery ranks 17th among all MLB starters and third among lefties in fWAR this year at 2.4, working primarily with three pitches highlighted by a 55 sinker and a changeup that helps the sinker be more effective. He does a lot of things well even though there’s nothing plus here, with low walk rates and enough strikeouts to limit the effect of the hard contact he does surrender. He can be a little homer-prone, which in a small sample — like the two months he’ll give the Rangers — can contribute to short-term volatility, but I’d rather have him than Martín Pérez or Andrew Heaney at the back of my rotation.

Montgomery was one of the best starting pitchers on the trade market, and as a result he netted the Cardinals two very good prospects plus a big-league reliever. Infielder Thomas Saggese has taken a significant step forward at the plate this year with a .314/.380/.514 line for Double-A Frisco as a 21-year-old, already matching his career high in homers. He’s split his time almost evenly between second base and third base and should be able to play either position at an average level. He’s aggressive at the plate but doesn’t miss too often, having some trouble with breaking stuff since he got to Double A. I wrote this winter that I thought he’d peak around 45/50 power, but it looks like I was wrong as he’s already there and should get to at least 55 power. I think he’s a solid regular with a chance to be something like a 4-WAR guy in his best years.

Saggese alone would be a nice return for two months of Montgomery, but the Cards also got right-hander Tekoah Roby, who was pushing to become the Rangers’ top pitching prospect until he hit the injury list in early June with a shoulder issue. Prior to that, he was 92-96 mph with a plus changeup, 50/55 slider, and a yakker of a curveball that he started throwing way more often than the slider, presumably because it was so effective. It’s better control than command right now, although his control keeps improving and he didn’t walk more than one batter in any of his last seven outings. He projects as a No. 2 starter, although there’s a ton of variance here with his shoulder issue this year and an elbow injury in 2021 that didn’t require surgery. He should return before the end of August. The Cardinals also got left-handed reliever John King, who has pitched in the major leagues.

Jordan Hicks has a 3.67 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and 3.02 FIP in 2023. (Lucas Peltier / USA Today)

There was talk about the Cardinals working out a long-term extension with Hicks, which would have been incredibly misguided for a reliever who’s already had Tommy John surgery and has consistently had walk rates far worse than the league average, including this year where he’s walked 12.7 percent of batters faced (NL average for relievers: 9.6 percent). Yes, Hicks sits 100-plus mph on his sinker and his sweeper/slider/dojigger gets a ton of whiffs, and that gives him some value because he gets groundballs and misses bats. He also walks too many guys and when he gives up contact it’s generally very hard contact, which is why he’s only been worth a win above replacement in 215 career innings. The Jays did just place closer Jordan Romano on the IL with a back injury, and their right-handed relief corps has been solid but unspectacular. Hicks gives them a different look and someone beyond Trevor Richards who comes into a game with a high probability that he’ll strike out the next batter.

Right-hander Sem Robberse is the better of the two prospects coming to the Cardinals in this trade, although he’s had a disappointing 2023 where his stuff hasn’t progressed at all from last year and is sliding even as the season has gone along. He was signed at 16 out of the Netherlands as a highly projectable pitcher with a great delivery and command for his age, but who was working in the mid-80s. He’s still mostly just 90-92 mph, topping out at 94 mph, with a 55 slider and curveball as well as a solid-average changeup, which should make him a back-end starter … but hitters get on his fastball, hitting nine of the 14 homers he’s allowed this year off the heater, and that propensity for hard contact keeps him from projecting as a starter right now. He won’t turn 22 until October so he’s young enough to find another 2-3 mph somewhere. That might make him a mid-rotation starter, whereas now he might just be an emergency call-up.

Right-hander Adam Kloffenstein repeated Double A this year and had improved results, although his stuff is still average at best and he’s going to have a harder time against even slightly more disciplined hitters. His best pitch, and his most-used one, is his slider, which was below-average last year but is solid-average now with a little better break and more velocity. He’s 90-94 mph now, up a little from 90-92 last year, although the pitch still doesn’t miss any bats and he has below-average command. His changeup is a distant third among his pitches and as a result, he’s had enough of a platoon split to question whether he could start even if his fastball and slider were better. I think he’s got a reliever ceiling, although that could work if moving to shorter outings boosts the velocity and effectiveness of the slider, but the most likely outcome is that he’s an up-and-down guy. For Hicks, who’s been wild when he hasn’t been hurt, this seems like a fair return as well.

(Top photo of Jordan Montgomery: Joe Puetz / Getty Images)

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