The St. Louis Cardinals have somehow managed to reach the MLB trade deadline both further back in the NL Central than they anticipated—seven games out, all the way in third place—and less desperate to make any particular trade than we anticipated. The urge to grab a reliever whose name people know abated with Brian Fuentes, who's like the unpleasant-but-relatively-cheap methadone of that particular class; all it took to wipe out the need to trade for a starter was a 2.56 team ERA and 11 wins out of the rotation. Thanks to their great month, and their rivals' even-greater month, the Cardinals are now in control of their own trade rumor destiny, but inevitably right in the middle of a bunch of trade rumors.
So—starting at the beginning, then, and moving from plausible to less plausible, here are some things the Cardinals could be after this afternoon.
Joe Blanton (or somebody): I think this is the most recent reasonably-provenanced-rumor out there, and the least exciting, which makes it the most plausible: The Philadelphia Phillies trade Joe Blanton to the Cardinals for some crap, like, Scott Gorgen, Keith Butler, and a Dominican Summer Leaguer caliber crap. Here's the source of the rumor; the Cardinals seem to be behind the Baltimore Orioles on this front, but in the picture.
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Question: Are you aware of the incredibly weird season Joe Blanton is having right now? I was not. Presently Joe Blanton is leading the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio, and not just barely—he has a Roy-Halladay-style 6.39 strikeouts for every walk.
Which is even more difficult for Joe Blanton than it is for the average pitcher, since Joe Blanton's career strikeout rate is 6.1.
Unfortunately he's also allowed more home runs (22) than anyone else in the NL. He's got an ERA of 4.59, a FIP of 3.97, and an xFIP of 3.37. The thing about innings-eating right-handers is they're supposed to at least be predictably boring; Joe Blanton is having one of the most confusing above-average seasons in baseball, which will drive his stock down in the Duncan household.
Jaime Garcia was just fine in his first rehab start, so a starter like Blanton might have an only fleeting utility on the Cardinals' staff; he would push Joe Kelly permanently to the bullpen, but Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals' target date for Garcia is two weeks out.
The timing is awkward for an average starter, a Joe Blanton or someone in that class—if the Cardinals were going to trade for one, they probably would have done it already; if they're going to need one, it'll probably be too late to make a trade.
James Shields or Josh Beckett (or somebody): Shelby Miller's availability came up, in the first place, in a move for a pitcher like James Shields, who offers something beyond being a great rental for the last two months of the season; a trade like that certainly makes more sense, to me, than most of the rumors we've seen so far, but neither side seems to have been as keen on discussing it as we were.
Josh Beckett is my own personal dark-hobbyhorse, inasmuch as I'm not so much hoping they make the trade out of nowhere as thinking they might; he's signed for too much money ($31 million) over the next two seasons, which means that he could be had on the Hanley Ramirez plan if the Cardinals' hangup is dealing from the top of their prospect pile.
With Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke off the market there aren't many pitchers left in this class, and it's just as well; the Cardinals haven't looked eager to trade any of their major assets to supplement this particular team. Which is why I'm not extremely sure what the Seattle Mariners plan to do about their reported interest in Allen Craig; Jon Paul Morosi notes that the Mariners have "major league pitching," but the gap between their top asset in that class, Felix Hernandez, and the next one, Jason Vargas, is both extraordinarily wide and probably where that kind of trade would happen.
A mediocre relief pitcher (or an actual good relief pitcher): I'm hoping the Cardinals have dodged this bullet now that Fernando Salas looks good again. Brandon League just went to the Dodgers for two relatively interesting prospects, and if that's the price for a reliever with average numbers and a low strikeout rate in Safeco Field I'm not sure the Cardinals should be in on anybody here.
A middle infielder: I expected the Cardinals' low ERA this month to get them out of their supposed need for pitchers, but I'm surprised it hasn't gotten them into any infield rumors, especially with Rafael Furcal finally missing some games with chronic Furcalitis.
Yunel Escobar—who's also suffered from some back tightness recently—and Stephen Drew are both likely to go somewhere at the trade deadline; I'm not sure Escobar, with his ability to wear out his welcome with organizations apparently intact, seems like a tough guy to integrate into a roster halfway through the season, though the Cardinals did the same thing with another malcontent infielder when they pulled Felipe Lopez from the scrap heap in 2008.