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
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
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
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
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
The Cardinals’ search for left-handed relief help has brought them to Randy Choate, who, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, reached terms on an agreement with St. Louis on Wednesday. The club has not yet announced the signing, but when they do, it will mark the first dip for the organization into the free-agent pool this offseason.
It has been no secret that St. Louis has been looking to add a second southpaw to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen. The market was thin in that area, forcing the Cardinals to carefully consider how much of a financial commitment the club wanted to make to a lefty reliever. Sean Burnett, considered the top remaining free-agent lefty reliever, was going to command a strong multi-year commitment.
The length and terms of Choate’s agreement with the Cardinals was not immediately known.
Choate, 37, made 80 appearances in 2012, which he split between the Marlins and Dodgers. Choate posted a 3.03 ERA in 38 2/3 innings and was used primarily as a lefty specialist. He held left-handed batters to a .158 batting average. Right-handed hitters batted .325 against him. The Cardinals will use Choate in that same specialist role.
– Jenifer Langosch
Arthur Rhodes, the 43-year-old left-hander who won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011, has told folks close to him that he has not given up hope of pitching in the Majors again. He is seeking to latch on — it would be via a Minor League deal — with a club this offseason in order to have a chance to win a roster spot out of Spring Training.
Rhodes’ last appearance came during the ’11 World Series. He was not signed last winter despite drawing some interest and therefore didn’t pitch in 2012. Now, he is making one more go at a chance to return to the mound.
Rhodes likely won’t know until late in the offseason whether or not a club has interest in giving him a chance. That’s because Rhodes, a 20-year veteran, won’t be pursued until the rest of the left-handed relief market has been picked through.
– Jenifer Langosch
It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak prioritized starting pitching as he looked for potential impact acquisitions to be made before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Now, that need is no longer so clearly at the top of his list.
While Mozeliak continues to scour the market for ways to improve his club, he does not do so feeling as if there is a necessity to add an outside piece into the rotation. Recent results, as well as the impending return of starter Jaime Garcia, dictate such a stance.
“Our starters have been great,” Mozeliak said on Saturday. “I think clearly it takes a little pressure off in terms of feeling like we have to do something. If you were to go after a starter, who are you really bouncing out? And how are you improving? That’s why I don’t think the urgency is quite there for rotational help as maybe it was, say, three or four weeks ago.”
Since the start of July, the Cardinals’ rotation has been strong. Starters have gone at least six innings in all 15 games, and the group has allowed more than two earned runs in a game only three times. Their cumulative July ERA is 2.49. Hitters have batted .241 against the rotation of five.
While Mozeliak would not specifically address rumors of the club’s interest in acquiring Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, Mozeliak did note that he would be hesitant to give up an elite-type prospect to a team within the division. At the moment, Chicago is asking for such in return for Dempster or fellow starter Matt Garza.
So could the Cardinals make additions elsewhere?
It’s unlikely much will be done to boost the offense, which currently leads the NL in batting average and runs scored. Offensive production at second base hasn’t been terrific, but the Cardinals also don’t want to acquire a player who would block middle infield prospect Kolten Wong from joining the big-league team, perhaps as early as 2013.
But given the greater saturation of relievers available on the market, and the Cardinals’ need to stabilize the bullpen, adding a reliever could end up being the easiest and most impactful route to go.
– Jenifer Langosch
The Cardinals signed free agent Brian Fuentes to a Minor League deal on Saturday, thereby giving the organization another left-handed reliever to consider for the club’s unstable bullpen.
Fuentes will not join the big league immediately, but instead will report to the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate on Sunday to begin a predetermined seven-day Minor League program. That will give Fuentes, 36, time to shake off some rust (he hasn’t pitched since June 30), as well as time to work on a few mechanical adjustments.
“He wants to get himself right,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “I think he’s approaching it with the right attitude. Even if he can get himself partially back to where he can help add depth – not only from the left side but also to be able to get right-handers out – that would be important.”
The Cardinals could extend Fuentes’ Minor League stay through the end of the month, if they think that’s best. Fuentes has a July 31 out clause built into his contract that would allow him to ask for his release if he has not been called up to the Majors by the end of the month.
Fuentes was released by the A’s earlier this month. He had other offers to consider but ultimately weighed the chance to pitch for a contender most heavily. The four-time All-Star last pitched in the postseason with Minnesota in 2010.
– Jenifer Langosch
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed that the organization has reached out to the Beverly Hills Sports Council to express interest in signing their client, recently-released lefty reliever Brian Fuentes. Fuentes was designated for assignment and then released by the A’s earlier this month after a disappointing season start. In 12 appearances with Oakland, Fuentes allowed 30 hits and 19 earned runs in 25 innings.
The Cardinals, however, have been searching for left-handed relief help since releasing J.C. Romero in May. Right now, rookie Barret Browning is serving as the club’s second lefty, behind Marc Rzepczynski.
Fuentes is believed to be mulling various offers, leaving the Cardinals to wait for that decision. Fuentes, 36, is just three seasons removed from his fourth All-Star appearance and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.70 ERA in 67 games.
Signing Fuentes would not come at a substantial risk for St. Louis. Because Fuentes was released, and not traded, it’s the A’s who are on the hook for paying the rest of the $6.5 million Fuentes is due from his 2012 contract. A team could sign him now for as little as the pro-rated minimum Major League salary.
The Cardinals’ search for bullpen upgrades won’t end with Fuentes, even if he signs.
“I would say that our interest in right-handed relief is high,” Mozeliak added. “Basically, when you look at our bullpen, we’re happy in the eighth and ninth. We just have to get from the starter to there. If you look at the landscape of the trading market right now, getting a reliever might be easier than getting a starter.”
– Jenifer Langosch