Cardinals have needs but no clear targets as trade deadline nears

The price for Tampa Bay ace David Price would be quite high.

Jim Mone

ST. LOUIS — Following a disappointing three-game finish to their latest homestand, the Cardinals are off Thursday and will have another off day Monday. That will make three off days in an eight-day stretch following the four-day All-Star break.

All that down time will allow Mike Matheny to continue with a four-man rotation until next weekend. Who takes that fifth spot then seems to be anyone’s guess. When Matheny said Carlos Martinez isn’t guaranteed to be the guy, the implication was clear: The Cardinals could have a new starter by Aug. 1 — a day after the non-waiver trade deadline.

Wait now. Matheny was not at all implying the Cardinals will trade for a starter. He pointed out they have numerous options in the minors. But reaching outside the organization certainly is a possibility. Since John Mozeliak was promoted to general manager in October 2007, he has let only one trade deadline pass without making a deal. That was last year, when he waited until Aug. 30 to acquire John Axford. Five years ago today, Mozeliak made his biggest trade when he brought in Matt Holliday from the A’s.

The Cardinals at that time had an obvious need — and an opening — for a middle-of-the-lineup thumper. This time around, their trade outlook is not nearly as clear.

Do they pursue a big-time starter like David Price? No shortage of speculation is out there on that one. The cost, however, continues to rise as the Rays continue to win. It already was steep, too — think Oscar Taveras and two other young, really good players.

Do the Cardinals set their sights a level or two lower and go for a veteran starter who can give you some innings — hopefully more good ones than bad — but wouldn’t cost as much. A Jake Peavy type, perhaps.

Or how about someone in between? Arizona right-hander Ian Kennedy makes an intriguing possibility and likely would be more in the price range of a James Ramsey or two rather than a Taveras.

After watching the Cardinals strike out 28 times and score two runs in back-to-back losses to the Rays, Mozeliak might opt for offense. The Cardinals, after all, still rank next-to-last in NL scoring.

One challenge with upgrading the lineup, though, is where to play any new addition. With Yadier Molina out, they could bring in a catcher, but are there any short-term upgrades available who are better than Tony Cruz? The infield appears set not only for this season, but next year as well. If they traded for a third baseman — Adrian Beltre’s name has come up in speculation — and moved Matt Carpenter to second, what happens to Kolten Wong? He’s had his ups and downs, but the rookie has shown enough to believe he has a bright future in this league.

Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki might or might not have been a realistic option, but it doesn’t matter. He went on the disabled list (again) on Wednesday, and trading for an injured player is not a sound strategy.

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Given the lack of production the Cardinals have gotten from right field, bringing in an impact outfielder would seem to be a solution. But first, they’d have to find one. Giancarlo Stanton is not going anywhere this year. Is there anyone available who would be worth giving up Taveras or even Allen Craig? If so, I haven’t heard.

There is little doubt the Cardinals have the resources to trade for a player or pitcher who could make a major impact. But doing so would require giving up two, three or even four of their most talented youngsters, and there’s been little indication the club is ready to cash in on its prospects.

Because they would not have to give up a lot for a proven innings-eater, finding a veteran starter for the back of the rotation makes the most sense. They could use the depth because their starters after Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn have struggled to work more than five innings. While the bullpen appears to be the most stable part of the club, that could change if the starters don’t carry their share of the innings load.

If not a veteran starter, how about a veteran who would provide more offense off the bench than infielder Daniel Descalso or give the team more than center fielder Peter Bourjos?

The possibilities go on, none of them simple. The only certainty is that Mozeliak is facing a very busy week. Based on his history, he won’t be empty-handed when it’s over.  

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.