While there's no shortage of disappointing teams thus far in the 2023 Major League Baseball season, one squadron "towers" overall when it comes to failing to satisfy pre-season expectations. That would be the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Coming off a 93-win season in 2022 and a National League Central title and returning a mix of veteran starts like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado combined with promising young talents like Lars Nootbaar, Jordan Walker, and Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals were widely expected to barge to another division title. The question was how far they'd advance in the playoffs, not whether they'd be there at all. 

As we wind our way toward July, St. Louis is winning at a clip of just .411. If that holds up, then it will be the franchise's worst full-season winning percentage since 1918 (!). These are uncommon straits for a club that hasn't endured a losing season since 2007 and hasn't picked in the top 10 of the MLB Draft since 1998. The presently reality, though, is that even in the lackluster NL Central and with that extra wild-card berth in play, the 2023 Cardinals have poor odds of making the postseason. Right now, the SportsLine Projection System gives them just a 17% chance of making the playoff field. 

All of this raises the possibility that president of baseball ops John Mozeliak will undertake a sell-off leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline. While it's not likely to be any kind of deep teardown, the team's somewhat slim chances of being relevant down the stretch mean that some kind of pivot toward 2024, or perhaps beyond, is both likely and in order. So what might such an un-Cardinals approach to the deadline look like? Let's explore that. 


The obvious trade candidates

If the Cardinals want to cut bait on the current season without harming their chances next year, then they'll look to trade players in their walk years and those deemed not especially essential to the team's 2024 fortunes. Walk-year trade candidates include lefty starter Jordan Montgomery, right-handed starter Jack Flaherty, and right-handed relievers Jordan Hicks and Chris Stratton. Yes, franchise legend Adam Wainwright is also technically in his walk year, but the Cardinals aren't going to put him in another team's uniform for the first time in his MLB career mere months before his retirement. Of these, Montgomery would probably net the heftiest return package. Hicks, thanks to his huge fastball and vastly better results since changing where he stands on the rubber and altering his warm-up routine, could also be attractive as a high-leverage relief option for a contender. Speaking of which, Hicks picked up a pair of saves during the weekend series against the Mets.