John Mozeliak: Luke Weaver Has Been “Much Asked About in the Trading World”

Aug 31, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Luke Weaver throws a pitch in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Luke Weaver throws a pitch in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

John Mozeliak seemed to indicate during an interview on Monday that he still sees Luke Weaver as an extremely valuable commodity.

After his spectacular debut in 2016, Alex Reyes has understandably been the most talked-about St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect this offseason. While he looks like a pitcher who could be an ace for years to come and a perennial Cy Young candidate, there’s been some discussion during the hot stove season about whether the Cardinals would be willing to deal Reyes for a proven star such as Chris Sale. The Cardinals seem to have signaled that Reyes is off limits right now, and that’s provoked some trade discussion about their second-best pitching prospect, Luke Weaver.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Now on Monday, and in addition to raving about Reyes, Mozeliak praised Weaver while also insinuating that the young starter’s trade value might be higher than we think.

In response to a question from Jon Heyman about the Cardinals’ plans for Weaver, Mozeliak said, “Obviously, we have a lot of depth coming into the year…clearly, this past year, he took that big step to the big leagues, and I think the one thing you’ve got to like about him is that he’s a strike-thrower, he works quick, and really when you dissect his actual stuff, he does have an above-average fastball, an above-average breaking ball, and his ability to command the pitches (is) there. For him, I think it’s just going to be what kind of opportunity we can create for him internally, but another guy we’re very excited about, and I assure you, much asked about in the trading world.”

Mozeliak’s statement on the Cardinals’ valuation of Weaver is notable during an offseason where the Cardinals have been connected to impactful position players such as Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon and the Twins’ Brian Dozier in the trade market, with nothing ultimately developing beyond those rumors.

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It’s often been assumed that teams are asking for Reyes in exchange for difference-making position players, seeing as the Chicago White Sox managed to acquire top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito (plus Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, two other premium starting pitching prospects) for outfielder Adam Eaton at the Winter Meetings. If the Cardinals are also hesitant to include Weaver in a trade package, however, that could be an additional obstacle to getting an impactful deal done.

For what it’s worth, Mozeliak didn’t at all sound like a GM who’s interested in trading for Dozier, who could still be available in a trade. The general manager expressed confidence in Kolten Wong, saying, “I do think this year’s a big year for him…I’m certainly one of those big advocates for him in the sense of, I think he’s capable of doing great things, and I hope he gets every opportunity to prove us right.”

While injuries nearly always force teams to use more than five starters in a season, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals plan to work Weaver into the mix long-term. That depth that Mozeliak mentioned Monday was no exaggeration; Reyes’s presence will likely keep Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal out of the rotation to begin 2017, and former first-rounder Marco Gonzalez will also be coming off Tommy John surgery and looking to assert himself as a potential depth option. New acquisitions John Gant and Kendry Flores also have some big-league starting experience and still qualify as legitimate prospects, so it’s easy to see how they could push Weaver for his position on the depth chart.

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21-year-old Jack Flaherty is in the same position that Weaver was a year ago, set to enter his first season in the upper minors this April. Seeing as Flaherty has a more prototypical build and better stuff than Weaver (and is likely to start the season on time, as opposed to Weaver, who missed the first couple months of 2016 with a wrist injury), it’s also easy to see how he could become an option sooner than later.

Lance Lynn is a free agent after 2017 and Adam Wainwright‘s contract is set to expire after 2018, but the Cardinals have Reyes, Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Mike Leake under club control through or beyond 2019. With that kind of depth, it doesn’t exactly seem like there will be a clear opportunity for Weaver to break through.

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Despite the attention paid to Weaver during the interview, Mozeliak also found time to shower praise upon Reyes, calling him the organization’s most exciting pitching prospect to reach the big leagues since Rick Ankiel. The general manager said that the “sky’s the limit” for Reyes, and that the Cardinals’ plans for the fireballing righthander in 2017 are centered around “giving him an opportunity to continue to grow.”