Trade grades – Cardinals add Jordan Montgomery to playoff-caliber rotation, but what are Yankees doing?

Trade grades – Cardinals add Jordan Montgomery to playoff-caliber rotation, but what are Yankees doing? post thumbnail image

The trade: The St. Louis Cardinals acquire LHP Jordan Montgomery from the New York Yankees for CF Harrison Bader.

This one slipped in right before the deadline, and it is an unusual deadline transaction — one major leaguer for another major leaguer, as opposed to prospects. The Cardinals had acquired Jose Quintana from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and now the Cards add a second lefty to fill out a rotation that was in desperate need of depth due to the injuries to Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz.

The grades are in …

There’s nothing flashy about Montgomery, who pitches off a 93 mph sinker. But he has a five-pitch arsenal, and in his three full, healthy seasons with the Yankees in 2017, 2021 and 2022, he has posted ERAs of 3.88, 3.83 and 3.69 — solid, consistent numbers pitching in the American League East. What’s interesting about him is that while his strikeout rate is in just the 38th percentile, his swing-and-miss rate is in the 76th percentile, with his changeup and curveball both recording whiff rates higher than 40%. He is basically your classic old-school lefty who gets grounders and keeps you in the game.

As the Cardinals try to chase down the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League Central title, their rotation now provides hope that can happen:

Miles Mikolas
Adam Wainwright
Jordan Montgomery
Jose Quintana
Dakota Hudson

That’s a playoff-caliber rotation, with a strong defense and solid lineup to back it up. Now here’s the weird part: If the Cardinals can’t catch the Brewers, it would actually arguably be to their benefit to finish with the third wild card instead of the first or second. The third-best division champ — almost certainly the NL Central winner — is the third seed and would host the third wild-card team. So that could end up being a Brewers-Cardinals best-of-three matchup, while the San Diego Padres would play the NL East runner-up.

Montgomery also is under team control for another season, so if Wainwright does retire, it at least gives the Cardinals another known quantity heading into next season. It did cost them Bader, who is currently on the injured list with plantar fasciitis, but Dylan Carlson has capably handled center field in his absence. That means some combination of Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan or Juan Yepez in right field the rest of the way. Yepez is the big defensive liability out of that group and has been sidelined of late with a strained forearm that has prevented him from throwing. Knowing how much the Cardinals emphasize defense, look for Nootbaar to capture a lot of that playing time — or at least get first opportunity.

Grade: B+

As for the Yankees, they did acquire Frankie Montas earlier, so the rotation depth remains strong with Gerrit Cole, Montas, Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon and the currently sidelined Luis Severino. Still, even if Montgomery wasn’t one of their projected postseason starters, that’s one less depth player on the roster. And as they say, you can never have too much starting pitching.

What they get is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game in Bader — when he’s healthy, of course. His Statcast defensive metrics put him in the 92nd percentile in outs above average, and he is one of those players for whom the eye test matches the metrics. He is fast, exciting and the kind of player Yankees fans will warm up to immediately — especially since he’s a local kid from Bronxville.

If healthy, the Yankees can roll out an outfield of Andrew Benintendi in left, Bader in center and Aaron Judge in right — three Gold Glove-quality defenders. Aaron Hicks hit better in July (.275/.412/.478), and his defensive metrics remain solid, as well, although a tick or two below Bader’s. Don’t forget that Giancarlo Stanton is currently out with Achilles tendinitis; it’s not viewed as a long-term issue, but he’ll also need more than the minimum 10-day stay on the IL before he’s back.

Since the old waiver deadline trade period no longer exists, this is the last chance for teams to add players from outside the organization. Teams like the Yankees want to hedge against any and all injury possibilities for the playoffs, so this deal suggests the Yanks are more comfortable with the status of their rotation than their outfield.

Part of the complications in grading this: There is no definite timeline for Bader’s return. Will he be ready for the playoffs? Would the Yankees even start him over Hicks? The deal feels like a no-brainer on the Cardinals’ part but less so for the Yankees.

One more thought: In case Judge leaves in free agency, New York could slide Bader into center field in 2023 and move Hicks to right. Not that Yankees fans want to think about that right now …

Grade: C

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