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Are the Cardinals done dealing?

In acquiring Justin Masterson from the Indians on Wednesday, the Cardinals succeeded in their search to add to their rotation depth. But does the addition actually mean the Cardinals are done dealing before the non-waiver Trade Deadline?

General manager John Mozeliak acknowledged that he is “not overly optimistic” that the Cardinals will make another deal before Thursday’s 3 p.m. CT deadline, but he has also not clipped the phone lines.

“I think we’ve always tried to position ourselves as opportunistic,” Mozeliak said. “If something comes our way, we want to be prepared. Clearly, us being connected to a lot of different things, that’s just by us showing some interest. Whether that means there is traction or not, I would probably lean toward the not. But a lot of things can change.”

The Cardinals have inquired about the availability of starters more accomplished than Masterson, but with a better return would come a heavier cost. If the Cardinals were to deal again, it would likely be to add one of those marquee starting pitchers.

“We’re open for business to see what would happen,” Mozeliak said. “I’m not overly optimistic that we’ll do anything. We’ll take our time, what little we have left, and see if we cannot improve.”

– Jenifer Langosch

 

Cardinals remain zeroed in on pitching market

With the non-waiver Trade Deadline nine days away, the Cardinals continue to zero in on starting pitchers who could potentially help fortify the rotation for a postseason push. However, general manager John Mozeliak cautioned on Tuesday that no deal is imminent.

“As far as how you think about the next nine days, it’s still about opportunities that may come up,” Mozeliak said. “At this point, there is nothing that just jumps out that we can do. But we definitely feel we can continue to look at ways to improve.

“It’s different than other years. Some years we knew exactly what we needed to go do. In this particular case, it’s something where if we can find some pitching help, we’d consider it. But as you can imagine, it’s not the best market to be shopping for.”

Asked whether he is more focused on adding a top-of-the-rotation starter or someone who could add depth to the back end, Mozeliak pointed to the latter.

“I think we’re more looking at depth,” he said. “It’s understanding what we feel our biggest needs are.”

The Cardinals are somewhat unusual in that they are looking to add to an area that has been the team’s strength all season. Entering Tuesday, the rotation ranked third in the National League with a 3.34 ERA while pacing the NL in complete games (five) and shutouts (17).

However, there are also holes. Michael Wacha, out since June with a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder, is on track to return no earlier than September. Shelby Miller, temporarily relocated to the bullpen, has taken a step back after a 15-win rookie season, and Carlos Martinez has reminded that there will be growing pains as he develops into a Major League starter.

While keeping a pulse on the availability of starting pitching, the Cardinals have backed off on looking for offensive help. Asked if there was interest in potentially upgrading the bench, Mozeliak said: “I think at this point it’s probably not a necessity, but we won’t rule anything out.”

– Jenifer Langosch

For the Cards: Is the Price right?

After wrapping up a series in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, the Rays jetted to St. Louis, where they arrived about the time the Cardinals took the field to face the Dodgers in a Sunday night. Among those in the stands for the Sunday night game was David Price, who, along with Evan Longoria, tweeted pictures of watching the game from seats in left field.

It’s ironic, of course, given the steady dose of speculation about Price potentially landing in St. Louis for a pennant race before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Cardinals will not, however, see how Price fares in Busch Stadium this week, as the Rays’ rotation did not line up to feature him in St. Louis.

As the Trade Deadline nears, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has played his cards close to the vest, though it is known that the Cardinals have been evaluating the starting pitching market. Price, who is making $14 million this season and will be arbitration-eligible again next year, is considered the gem of that group.

The cost (in talent, as well as dollars) of landing Price will be exceptionally high given that the Rays lefty will not be free-agent eligible until after the 2015 season. The Cardinals have the young talent to make the swap, but they also have to decide whether such a trade would be in their best interest for both the short- and long-term. If the Cardinals can get a commitment from Price to sign beyond 2015 that would make the cost much more palatable.

There is also the question of whether the Rays are ready to punt on this season to build up for the next. Though the Rays were 18 games under on June 10, they have made up substantial ground over the past five weeks and now sit just six games out of a postseason berth. That certainly doesn’t position them as definite sellers.

– Jenifer Langosch

Are the Cardinals pursuing Jake Peavy again?

The Jake Peavy-to-St. Louis rumors picked up steam on Tuesday, perhaps more than the actual negotiations did.

The connection between Peavy and the Cardinals, who have targeted the Red Sox right-hander before, began late on Monday, when Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reported that St. Louis had a scout at Sunday’s Red Sox-Orioles game, which Peavy started. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com later added that a deal between Boston and St. Louis could happen “quick.”

The reports, however, come just a day after Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak downplayed the club’s interest in the pitching market. Mozeliak said that most clubs willing to deal starters before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline were also looking for starting pitching in return. The tradeoff would be a loss in years of control for the Cardinals, who covet their young pitching.

“I think that would just make it problematic, so for us we feel pretty good where we’re at from a pitching standpoint,” Mozeliak said on Monday. “We expect to get [Joe] Kelly back at some point and feel pretty confident that those five [once Michael Wacha returns] can be successful.”

The Cardinals appear more interested in upgrading on the offensive side, since they believe Wacha will return to the rotation this season. Kelly could be back as early as Friday, and Carlos Martinez has held his own as a starter since being thrust into the role.

Peavy is owed about $7 million this season and will be a free agent at year’s end. The Cardinals would not be in line to collect any compensation for his departure, which makes it highly unlikely that they would part with any of their top talent to complete such an acquisition.

– Jenifer Langosch

If the Cardinals are shopping, what are they buying?

The Cardinals find themselves bunched in the middle of the National League Central and still waiting for an underachieving club to start playing up to potential. The defending NL champs have plenty of room for improvement, yet they don’t necessarily have clarity in how to identify those needs.

The club has thus far been anchored by its rotation, though recent injuries to Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha thinned that depth. Joe Kelly is poised to come off the disabled list later this week, and the Cardinals remain optimistic that Wacha will return next month. (Garcia is done for the year.) An MRI taken on Wacha’s shoulder on Monday revealed healing, but not enough for the righty to resume throwing. The Cardinals will reevaluate in two weeks.

Asked how Wacha’s status could affect the team’s Trade Deadline strategy, general manager John Mozeliak said: “It really doesn’t affect it one way or the other.”

He then elaborated.

“Well, we expect to get Kelly back at some point and feel pretty confident that those five can be successful,” Mozeliak said. “There are probably very few pitchers we could go out and acquire without having to give up one of those to begin with. I think that would just make it problematic, so for us we feel pretty good where we’re at from a pitching standpoint.”

Seeking to upgrade offensively would make a lot of sense for the Cardinals, who are at or near the bottom of the NL in runs scored, home runs and slugging percentage. But then the question becomes where to find the fit? Not only do the Cardinals have to find a seller who is not asking for a gaggle of prospects, but Mozeliak has to figure out where another bat would go.

The club is already struggling to find playing time for all its outfielders now that Oscar Taveras has been recalled. Across the infield, the only obvious opening would be to add someone at second or third and have Matt Carpenter play the other of those two positions. The Cardinals do not, though, want to block Kolten Wong for the long-term, so that, too could be troublesome.

“Certainly when you look at the sort of teams that are willing to trade players, there’s just not too many of them right now,” Mozeliak said. “Look, we’ll stay active on it, but as you guys know, that’s not something I report on, our day-to-day strategy, or who we’re talking to. If we’re able to do something to help the club we’re certainly going to try.

“I think you could say we could worry about a lot of things. The right strategy is if we think there’s an opportunity to improve, we’ll try. We’re not going to make a bad decision just in a panic situation.”

Perhaps a little more time will provide a bit more clarity.

– Jenifer Langosch

The Cardinals — and the case of Carlos Beltran

The Cardinals had four players declare for free agency — Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran and Edward Mujica — on Thursday. A fifth joined the market after Jake Westbrook had his mutual option ($9.5 million) declined for a $1 million buyout. Carpenter is expected to retire. The Cardinals do not plan to pursue re-signing Westbrook or Furcal. If Mujica seeks to be paid like a closer, he, too, will not draw the Cardinals’ interest.

And then there is Beltran.

The right fielder, who just completed a two-year, $26-million contract, has expressed interest in returning to the Cardinals. But he has also spoken of his desire to sign a multi-year deal, an understandable request for an aging outfielder. He’ll likely get a few such offers, too, after another productive season. The Cardinals have not shut the door on his return, but they also have three players — Allen Craig, Matt Adams and top prospect Oscar Taveras — who could help them move forward without Beltran.

The first decision the Cardinals will have to make is whether to give Beltran a qualifying offer. They have until 4 p.m. CT on Monday to do so. This offer — a one-year, $14.1 million contract — likely would not be accepted by Beltran as he looks for something longer. By making Beltran a qualifying offer, the Cardinals would at least be guaranteed a compensation-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft should he leave.

– Jenifer Langosch

Cards not desperate to make a move

Twenty hours out from Wednesday’s 3 p.m. CT non-waiver Trade Deadline, general manager John Mozeliak continued to downplay the likelihood of the Cardinals making an impact move.

Aside from trading demoted reliever Marc Rzepczynski for a low-level Minor Leaguer on Tuesday, the Cardinals have thus far been quiet on the trade front. Mozeliak has been actively engaged in discussions on a narrow group of players, but the organization is also unwilling to buy at any cost.

“I still think there are opportunities to see players traded by tomorrow,” Mozeliak said between games of Tuesday’s doubleheader. “I don’t feel very optimistic that we’ll be one of those active clubs. Obviously, there is still time on the clock and things could change, but some of the things we were exploring, we just haven’t been able to come to where we have a meeting of the minds.”

The Cardinals’ needs have long been defined. They have explored adding a starting pitcher and upgrading at shortstop, but have done so without desperation. Despite losing their last five games, the Cardinals sit only a half-game behind the Pirates, who have the best record in the league.

This season-worst stretch has also not changed how the Cardinals view the current makeup of their roster.

“Look, today was a tough loss,” Mozeliak said. “You think about how hard we hit balls right at people. There are going to be nights like that. Unfortunately, we’re in a little bit of a losing streak. But having said that, I still think it’s a good team. There are definitely ups and downs, peaks and valleys through a season and this is certainly a down time for us.”

– Jenifer Langosch

Indians acquire LHP Rzepczynski from Cardinals

Hours after announcing that they had optioned left-hander Marc Rzepczynski to Triple-A, the Cardinals finalized a deal to send him to the Indians. The trade was announced during Game 1 of the Cardinals-Pirates doubleheader. In return, the Cardinals receive Minor League shortstop Juan Herrera.

Acquired at the Trade Deadline two years ago, Rzepczynski was a critical bullpen piece on the Cardinals’ 2011 World Championship club. However, he struggled early in the 2012 season and went on to finish the year with a 4.24 ERA. This season has been even worse. He allowed seven runs on 13 hits in his first nine appearances and was sent down to Memphis before April ended.

Rzepczynski returned to St. Louis last week and made two appearances before leaving the team on Tuesday. With two other left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, the Cardinals saw Rzepczynski as an expendable piece. He becomes the second reliever the Cardinals have traded this month. Mitchell Boggs was sent to the Rockies on July 9.

Herrera, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, has been playing in the short-season New York Penn League this season. The 20-year-old posted a .275/.366/.369 slash line in 39 games. The Cardinals will keep Herrera in the same league by placing him on the State College Spikes roster.

– Jenifer Langosch

Cardinals’ needs still coming into focus

The Cardinals have positioned themselves to be buyers at the Trade Deadline, but what remains unclear is how much they’re actually going to buy. The club held the Majors’ best record for much of the first half, and that was largely the result of stellar starting pitching. The rotation, however, has collectively dipped over the past four weeks, leading some to speculate that the Cardinals could go after a starter to fortify that rotation.

General manager John Mozeliak, at least publicly, has said that the Cardinals have not yet determined if this is a critical need. Cost of acquisition will play a role in whether the organization decides to pursue a starter. The Cardinals have adopted a model in which they place high value on their own internal talent, and parting with top prospects is not a route the Cardinals plan to go. Chris Carpenter, who remains on the comeback trail, is one of the wild cards in play. The Cardinals may also see their own internal starting options — Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons — as sufficient to fill any hole.

The Cardinals’ bullpen has evolved from a weakness to a strength, though the Cardinals may decide to add another veteran arm to a largely inexperienced ‘pen. The move to bring in Edward Mujica last July was key in getting the club to the postseason.

On the offensive end, the only glaring hole is at shortstop, where the Cardinals would be looking for more than a short-term stopgap. With questions about how Pete Kozma can fit at the position beyond this year, the Cardinals could use this deadline to address a present and future issue.

- Jenifer Langosch

Cards send Schumaker to Dodgers

Unsure of how he fit into the Cardinals’ 2013 plans, Skip Schumaker, along with his agent, met with general manager John Mozeliak shortly after the season ended and expressed a willingness to be traded before entering into the final year of his current two-year contract.

The Cardinals found a trade partner with the Dodgers, and on Wednesday the two clubs announced a swap that will send Schumaker to Los Angeles and Minor League infielder Jake Lemmerman to St. Louis. Though reports of a pending deal surfaced on Tuesday, an official announcement had to wait until after Schumaker underwent and passed the Dodgers’ physical exam.

With Lemmerman, the Cardinals improve their Minor League depth at shortstop, a position that is lacking in impact talent within the organization’s farm system. Lemmerman, a fifth-round pick out of Duke University in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, advanced to Double-A late in the 2011 season and returned there in 2012. He hit .233 with a .347 on-base percentage.

As for Schumaker, he is faced with leaving an organization that signed him out of the Draft in 2001. Schumaker made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 2005 and appeared in at least 100 games for St. Louis each of the last five seasons. He was a part of two World Championship clubs.

– Jenifer Langosch

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