Image credit: © Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners trade 2B José Caballero to the Tampa Bay Rays for LF Luke Raley.

The Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP Andrew Kittredge to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF Richie Palacios.

On the surface it all looks like a mess. Underneath is one of those pictures of the ocean currents that used to be mandatory in every middle-school history book, highlighting the direction of the winds that carried ships back and forth. The Seattle Mariners had, on the balance sheet, six starting pitchers and one starting outfielder. The Tampa Bay Rays had N+1 relievers, where N is the number they need to scrape together at any given moment, and a relative paucity of shortstops. The Cardinals found themselves with N-3 relievers, same constant. So instead of having to worry about contract figures and theoretical budget restraints, we get to work with some good old-fashioned surplus economics.

We’ll start with the Cardinals. They purchased the rights to Palacios in the middle of 2023 as outfield help, given the injuries and inconsistency of their starting trio. He wasn’t quite organizational depth by that point, but his limitations as a hitter were fairly clear—not enough power for a corner, not enough range for center—and a .217/.351/.318 line in his third tour at Columbus reinforced the notion. St. Louis wound up making use of that depth, as Palacios ended up supplanting Tyler O’Neill by September. And then a funny thing happened: He hit six home runs in 102 plate appearances for the Cardinals, the most he’d ever notched for any one team in a season at any level.

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