After this afternoon's difficult walk-off loss to the Cubs at Wrigley, I thought a recap of the Cardinals trade round-up would be a good diversion for Cards fans. The MLB non-waiver trade deadline looms Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at 3:00 PM CDT. While there has been a flurry of activity league-wide, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has been quiet. The only roster move made so far by St. Louis was to call Brian Fuentes up to the big leagues and designate righty Chuckie Fick for assignment; Fick was claimed by Jeff Luhnow and the Astros. Just because the Cards haven't made a move doesn't mean they haven't been the subject of some rumors by the MLB gossip writers.
After the jump, a rundown of recent Cardinals trade gossip.
Before the final flurry of non-stop trade rumors and gossip, I recommend you read this excellent scene-setting article by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is based on an interview with Mozeliak. Bear in mind that the usual caveats about Mo-speak are amplified during the game of poker that is the trading season in MLB.
STRAUSS: KELLY AS TRADE BAIT?
Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, who, over the last week, has been championing the Tampa Bay Rays as the best fit in terms of a trade partner for the Cardinals, has a speculative piece in today's paper under the headline "Kelly might be trade bait." After floating the idea of Kelly being a piece sent to Tampa for right-hander James Shields, Strauss offers the following:
Mozeliak has remained tight-lipped about his intentions as the deadline approaches. However, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Arizona have closely followed the Redbirds and their affiliates in recent weeks. The Rays last week dispatched several scouts to Springfield to watch the organization's Double-A club. Colorado also is interested in Cards minor-league pitching.
Mozeliak has tried to involve the Rays in trade talks for Shields the past two seasons while exploring a market for center fielder Colby Rasmus. The Rays are said to be demanding a more impressive package of players for Shields than the Milwaukee Brewers obtained for former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
Shields makes sense as a target for the Cardinals. He has thrown over 200 innings in each of the last five seasons and is on pace for 220 IP this season. With solid-to-excellent results while pitching against deep lineups in the hitter-friendly parks of the AL East, Shields would project to be a beast in the lowly and DH-less NL Central. Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, the 30-year-old has a $7 million salary in 2012, a $9 million club option for 2013 and a $12 million club option for 2014. He would at once be a significant upgrade over Joe Kelly this year and would be a fair-priced presence in the rotation on what is effectively a two-year contract made up of options controlled by the team he plays for. It is Shields's contract status that will make him an expensive player to acquire. The number of suitors could further drive up the price.
Strauss is not the only writer who reports the Cardinals have at least inquired about Shields. Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote last Thursday connecting St. Louis to Shields.
The better the Evan Longoria news gets in Tampa Bay, the less likely the Rays are to deal James Shields. But if they do, this won't be just a Rangers-Angels bidding war. We're hearing the Indians and Cardinals also have talked to the Rays about Shields.
Jon Heyman of CBS wrote of the Cardinals' rumored interest in Shields on Saturday:
The main suitors for Rays right-hander James Shields include the Rangers, Dodgers and Cardinals, and Marc Topkin of the 'Tampa Bay Times' adds that the Braves and Indians are in the mix, as well, putting Tampa in pretty decent position as it markets Shields.
The quiet Cardinals and interesting Indians are the new teams in the mix.
The Rays say they seek "north of Greinke,'' according to someone with ties to the Rays organization, a new phrase borne out of the Angels' three prospect deal for Zack Greinke. While few would argue Shields is as good as Greinke, the Rays' contention is that he is more valuable due to two teams options tying him to the team that remain, a $9-million option for 2013 and a $12-million option for 2013.
MOROSI: MARINERS INTERESTED IN ALLEN CRAIG
Jon Morosi of FOX wrote a curious post today about the Seattle Mariners. It painted the Mariners as buyers seeking out hitters that are under control for several seasons. Morosi notes that the Mariners have a long-term view and so players who would hit free agency in the near term such as Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo are not at the top of their list. Who is at the top of the Mariners list according to Morosi? Torty's master.
So, sources say, the Mariners are more focused on the likes of Twins left fielder Josh Willingham (signed through 2014) and Cardinals first baseman/right fielder Allen Craig (under control through 2016). The Twins and Cardinals are known to want major-league pitching, which the Mariners possess. Craigs playing time could decrease over the coming weeks, with Lance Berkman back from the disabled list.
It's a strange piece, given the Mariners-centric frame, and it makes no mention--aside from "major-league pitching"--of what the Cardinals are asking for in return. Yes, the Mariners are a major-league ball club, so they have pitchers that qualify as "major-league pitching" but no specific arms are mentioned by Morosi.
A few weeks back, Morosi and his FOX cohort Ken Rosenthal floated lefty starter Jason Vargas as a potential target for St. Louis, but Morosi interestingly doesn't mention Vargas in this post. Vargas is arbitration-eligible for the 2013 season, but the southpaw has a horrific home/road split this season. At the cavernous Safeco, Vargas has a 3.50 FIP and 3.53 xFIP; on the road, his FIP is 5.92 and his xFIP is 5.04. For its part, ZIPS projects a 4.57 ERA and 4.38 FIP for Vargas over the remainder of the season. He doesn't seem like much of an upgrade over Kelly and certainly not enough of one to warrant giving up the Cards' first baseman of the future.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN channels the VEB Hive Mind with this tweet:
@23_MBana Allen Craig is very affordable and has a .933 OPS. Can't see why Cardinals would move him unless they get a boatload in return.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 29, 2012
While Morosi cites Berkman's health as a reason to trade Craig, the health of Berkman and his fellow veteran Carlos Beltran stand out as reasons not to trade Craig. Still cost-controlled, Craig is an extremely productive and cheap insurance policy against an injury to Berkman or Beltran in addition to being an extremely productive and cheap slugger.
It will be interesting to see if Mozeliak is able to match-up on a trade before the deadline or whether he feels comfortable enough with the club's composition to stand pat and see what moves there are to be made on the waiver wire in August. Feel free to discuss any trades in the thread. For trade rumors, SBN's MLB Daily Dish will have up-to-the-minute updates over the next couple of days.