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Guide to Sorting Through Ludwick’s Exit & Westbrook’s Arrival

July 31, 2010

The Cardinals made a surprising move today by trading Ryan Ludwick at least one-half season in advance of what was expected (if at all).  It made sense for the team to gauge others’ interest in the slugger given Pujols’ (likely?) extension and Ludwick having only one year left of team control.  In 2011, Ludwick would have either had an arbitration case, signed another one-year deal to avoid arbitration, or signed a contract extension to keep him in Saint Louis beyond 2011.  No matter what, Ludwick’s salary was going to increase from 5.45 million one-year deal he signed in 2010 and the Cardinals decided their money could be wiser spent elsewhere.  This decision clearly places a feather in Jon Jay’s hat and, if he doesn’t work out to be an everyday player, Allen Craig is always waiting to take some platoon ABs against left-handed pitchers.

The decision to trade Ludwick is rational but the timing of the move is questionable given the Cardinals’ middling wOBA (.325; 15/30 MLB teams) and impressive xFIP (4.10; 4/30 MLB teams).  To avoid flippantly airing my own knee-jerk reaction, I’ll just post some bullet points addressing pros/cons of the deal.

The arguments in favor of the trade:

  1. The Cardinals free up cash for another trade that will upgrade their MIF.  The trade deadline is drawing near and time will tell whether this rational played a factor in the swap.  Regardless, it frees up money for 2011 and beyond which, again, is important for potential Pujols extension.
  2. Difference between Westbrook and Suppan/Hawk is more than difference between Jay/Ludwick. Therefore, the 2010 team is better (in terms of WAR).  See full details of this rationale by Azruavatar at Viva El Birdos.

Arguments against the trade:

  1. According to MLB TradeRumors’ most recent Elias Rankings Update, Westbrook will not even qualify for Type B (worth sandwich pick) free agent status after 2010 season meaning that the Cardinals will not reap benefits of other young players in this deal when he presumably signs with another team.  Meanwhile, Ludwick is listed as a Type A (worth 1st rounder and sandwich pick) free agent.  Given his reliable production over the past 2.5 seasons, I think it’s reasonable to assume his Type A status will stick.
  2. The Cardinals could have kept Ludwick and still traded for Westbrook.  The player Cleveland obtained for Westbrook was Corey Kluber; a guy whose ceiling Kevin Goldstein describes (subscription needed) as, “a back-end starter.”  Surely, the Cardinals could have matched this without compromising their thin minor league system too much.  Such an approach would have allowed the Cardinals to trade Ludwick in Winter 2010; what kind of return would he have netted?  We may never know but it seems reasonable to assume that the return would have been more valuable to the Cardinals than two months of Westbrook and another guy that hasn’t yet made it to AA.
  3. Instead, the only “prospect” the Cardinals are  getting for Ludwick is Nick Greenwood (22 years old; still playing A ball); Erik provided this take on the player at Future Redbirds:

Nick Greenwood is 22 years old, left-handed and has a 6 K/9 in the Midwest League. He was a 14th round pick in last year’s draft. He did not make Baseball America’s Top 30 Padres list last season, for what it’s worth, and it’s unlikely he rates very highly in our system either by seasons end. He has fringe stuff, save for a decent change-up, but he has good command. He’s a C grade pitcher, arms of his ilk are a dime a dozen.

Hopefully, this is a pretty thorough review of the discussion being had right now about Ludwick’s abrupt shipment out of Saint Louis.  In my opinion, the move seems like a wash (at best) for what it provides the Cardinals this season unless, of course, it precedes another deal for a middle infield upgrade over Skip or Boog.  But that seems unlikely; today’s deadline has come and gone.  We’ve heard the term, “Year of the Pitcher,” thrown around the MLB this year.  Whether it is league wide or not, it may have to be in Saint Louis if the Cardinals are going to last deep into October.


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