The secret is out: St. Louis is looking for rotation help, and that appears to be the team's focus as we hit the final week of non-waiver trading this season.
Rays left-hander David Price, the big fish on the market and perhaps the Cardinals' ticket to the NL Central crown, has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors pertaining to the Cards, though it remains to be seen whether the Rays will make their prized ace available. The team is in the midst of a hot stretch (including its current seven-game winning streak) that has vaulted the Rays out of the AL East cellar and into a manageable seven-game deficit behind the division-leading Orioles.
General manager Andrew Friedman will have to make a difficult decision on whether to sell Price or not, but if the Cardinals are willing to give up top prospects—perhaps Oscar Taveras, suggests CBS Sports' Jon Heyman—then the Rays might have a tough time turning that down, given Price's hefty salary and the team's relatively long playoff odds.
Should the Cardinals consider parting ways with Taveras, they could do so comfortably thanks to the team's big supply of outfielders, both young and old. Heyman opines that Taveras shouldn't be off-limits for that very reason, and with the Cardinals' injury-plagued rotation, they'll likely have trouble keeping pace in the division without making a substantial move in the pitching market. GM John Mozeliak is cognizant of that, according to Ken Rosenthal's report, and a big move would show that the Cardinals mean business this year.
But if Mozeliak shies away from a Price deal, he'll still have other options on the market. Royals ace James Shields is another logical trade choice, though to be clear, he has not been linked with the Cardinals, nor does Royals GM Dayton Moore seem interested in selling this season.
But given the state of the Royals—they're 3-7 in their last 10 and seven games back of the the Tigers—Moore could have a change of heart over the next few days. The Royals are admittedly just 2.5 games back in the wild-card race, though passing up the Mariners, Yankees, Blue Jays and Indians would be a tough task, especially for a struggling team.
FansGraphs' David Cameron wrote a column earlier this week arguing that the Royals should look to deal Shields because of their unfavorable percentages in the site's Playoff Odds Model (2.6% chance of winning the division, 7.9% of appearing in the Wild Card Game) and the likely high return they would get for "selling a fall-back plan to the teams who lose out in the David Price sweepstakes."
A Shields-to-St. Louis deal would also make sense for the Royals because the right-hander becomes an expensive free agent after the season, and the Cardinals in turn wouldn't have to give up as much as they would to acquire Price. It's pure speculation so far, but both sides would be remiss not to consider the deal.
He hasn't been linked to St. Louis, but Shields could be an excellent cheaper alternative to Price. Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Perhaps a more realistic option (and certainly a cheaper one) is Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, who has generated quite a bit of trade talk during the past few weeks. The buzz surrounding Peavy has non-coincidentally coincided with his much-improved numbers, including a recent string of three straight quality starts for the first time since his first three starts of the season.
The limiting factor with Peavy is that he might get snatched up by someone else before the Cardinals can make a move. The Giants are "intensifying" their search for a starting pitcher, and Peavy has a link to Giants manager Bruce Bochy from their days in San Diego. The team also has a need for a reliable starter, with Matt Cain's move to the DL and a lack of pitching depth as it is, so GM Brian Sabean will likely be aggressive on the market.
In other words, the Cardinals would have to move quickly to grab Peavy, because he just might be the hottest pitching commodity on the market this year.
Moving away from the mound, the Cardinals have also been linked to a few position players with season. The team's stated focus on pitching doesn't necessarily preclude them from acquiring a hitter, and with the team's offensive woes—372 runs scored, 29th in the majors—Mozeliak might be wise to consider a bat or two.
Perhaps the team's most pressing need is behind the dish, with catcher Yadier Molina set to miss most of the remainder of the regular season, if not all of it. Backup catcher Tony Cruz, who has two homers and a .276 on-base percentage in 419 career plate appearances, is not built to handle catching duties during a playoff race, and the Cardinals can only hide him so much by placing him at the bottom of the order.
A less-mentioned option for the Cards, but one that could be their best bet for a Molina replacement, is Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki. An All-Star selection this season, Suzuki (.312/.370/.397) is relatively cheap both contract-wise and in terms of the talent likely required to get him, and he plays for a team looking to sell on his expiring contract. (The Twins are last in the AL Central.)
According to ESPN's Jim Bowden (subscription required), the Cardinals planned to scout Suzuki about a week ago, which at least indicates some interest on their part. In terms of possible catcher acquisitions, this is about as good as it gets for the Cardinals, and if they don't look to get Suzuki, it's hard to imagine them making any other catching acquisition this season.