MLB Trade Rumors: Why Nick Swisher for Chris Carpenter Now Makes More Sense

The New York Yankees have yet to set their starting rotation for the 2011 season, yet the discussions on what they will have to do to fix it have already begun.  As of right now, the rotation includes ace lefty CC Sabathia, young righty Phil Hughes and the inconsistent A.J. Burnett.  The apparent "competition" for both the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation seems to be up for grabs among a group of rookies and washed-up veterans.  This group includes veterans Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Sergio Mitre, along with rookies Ivan Nova, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren and David Phelps.  The favorites among this group to take those two spots are Garcia and Nova, but I have a good feeling about Phelps, and I wonder if this is even a complete list of competitors, as free-agent righty Kevin Millwood has yet to be signed and could come cheaply in the form of a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

But, for the sake of speculation, let's say that as spring training 2011 closes for the Yankees, it does end up being Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova who take those vacant rotation spots, with Sergio Mitre slotting into the "long-relief/spot-starter" role that he had last season.  If we also assume that Garcia can at least put up numbers similar to last season (12-6, 4.64 ERA, 157 IP) and Nova can keep the Bombers in the game (let's say 10-7, 4.70 ERA, 150 IP), that's still going to leave a heavy burden on the "top three" starters as well as the bullpen.  And if Burnett has a year half as bad as 2010, then the 'pen will be working overtime on some of his starts as well.  

What might begin to scare the Yankees and their fans is how much work Sabathia might have to put in to keep the Yankees winning and to preserve the bullpen for the other starters.  We all saw how much the Brewers used CC down the stretch in 2008 and everyone was just waiting for the big guy to finally collapse out there on the mound.  Sabathia faltered in the postseason that year, and many think it was due to exhaustion from the grind of the stretch run in the NL wild-card chase.  It could have been worse however, as Sabathia could have blown out his arm or hurt himself in another way to sideline him for an extended period of time.

There could come a time, whether it be the trade deadline or sooner (like maybe now), that the Yankees brass realizes that their rotation is not strong enough to handle the full season with any success.  When this happens, they may look to trade for a front-end, workhorse starter to help them win games and eat innings.  The first person many people think may come to their minds is Cardinals co-ace, Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter is part of a rotation in St. Louis run by baseball's best pitching coach, Dave Duncan.  Many believe that, apart from the "true ace," Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals could effectively replace any member of their rotation with a pitcher who has "lost his way," and Duncan can "fix" that pitcher and make him into a reliable starter, much like he has done with Carpenter and fellow rotation-mate, Jake Westbrook.  Having Dave Duncan would make trading Carpenter easier to do, and if the Cardinals could get the right package of players, they would probably have to consider it.

Another reason that the Cardinals might look into trading Carpenter is to start to immediately retool a team that seems destined to lose the best player in baseball at season's end in Albert Pujols.  Pujols set a "contract extension deadline" that came and went without resolution last Wednesday, and now he will test the free-agent market upon the conclusion of the 2011 season.  It doesn't seem likely that the Cardinals will be able to retain him given the monstrous payday he is going to demand (and deserves!).  This means that newly acquired "left fielder" Lance Berkman may become the Cardinals' new first baseman in 2012.  This, in turn, would leave a hole in at least one corner of the outfield, and apart from Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez and Giants right fielder Cody Ross, there really isn't much of a market for "high-producing" outfielders.  

This is where the Yankees come into play.  The Bombers have a quality right fielder who has begun to come into his own—Nick Swisher.  However, Swisher has had problems in the past two postseasons for the Yankees, a problem that cannot be ignored when you play baseball in the Bronx.  Because of this, the Yankees may try to unload Swisher while he has a high value based on his regular season numbers in return for a front-end pitcher, like Carpenter.

Do you see where I'm headed?  The Yankees and Cardinals could swing a deal that would put Carpenter in pinstripes and send Swisher and a pitching prospect, or two, to St. Louis.  The Yankees would get the quality starter they have been looking for, and the Cardinals would get their future right fielder and a young pitcher or two for Duncan to work his magic on.  The Yankees could either acquire another outfielder via trade, or fill the hole from within with either current fourth outfielder Andruw Jones or a prospect like Colin Curtis.  For them, the thought process here would be that, come playoff time, anyone they put in the outfield couldn't do much worse than Swisher has done the past two postseasons, and they would be gaining an "ace-type" starter to slot behind Sabathia and in front of Hughes in the rotation.  

Carpenter would definitely give the Yankees the best chance to win against what is expected to be a postseason against the Red Sox, Rangers and either the Twins, White Sox or Tigers.  Even if the Yankees can fight their way through that group, most people would have to agree that the most difficult opponent will come in the World Series, where the Philadelphia Phillies are heavily favored to run away with the NL Pennant.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Personally, I think the Yankees should hold off on making any moves until they see how their rotation takes shape and how it actually fares against a sure-to-be-competitive AL East.  Who knows?  The emergence of a young star like Phelps or Nova coupled with the revival of a formerly-great veteran like Garcia or Colon could end up being all the Yankees need to become a force, especially if Burnett can become the pitcher that we all know he can be.  If not, then swapping Swisher for Carpenter may be the best idea, especially if St. Louis is falling out of contention by the All-Star break.  

As for the Cardinals, they may have to accept that the squad that takes the field on Opening Day 2011 may not be able to be the same in 2012.  With the salaries of Pujols, Berkman and possibly Carpenter coming off the books after this season, the Cardinals may try to rebuild quickly while they still have a decent core in Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Colby Rasmus.  This could mean restocking their team with free agents, and the 2011-12 offseason is loaded with high-level talent.  Players like Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and Aramis Ramirez could join the Cardinals to set them up for a championship run right away.  

Adding a player like Swisher would give the Cardinals a legitimate option for either right field or first base that can make up for some of the production lost with the departure of Pujols.  Will this trade happen?  Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: it makes a whole lot more sense now, doesn't it?

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