St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals sputtering into selling mode as trade deadline approaches

Thus far, the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason objectives to strengthen the defense and improve the baserunning haven’t manifested themselves.

With a 33-40 record, the Cardinals need an extended stretch of solid play to avoid being under .500 at the All-Star break for the first time in 10 years.

Fans are wondering what General Manager John Mozeliak will do with this underwhelming group at the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31. Where does he begin to attempt to transform this team into a contender?

Sure, one can point out that the Cardinals are just five games off the pace in a mediocre NL Central that hasn’t been owned, as anticipated, by the Chicago Cubs.

But qualifying for the postseason is one thing. Knocking heads with the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals is another matter.

This proud franchise does not require a complete overhaul. There are a handful of quality players on the Cardinals roster. There are just not enough of them.

Mozeliak can try to hold on to hope for this season by acquiring an impact player like left fielder Marcell Ozuna and center fielder Christian Yelich, both of the Miami Marlins, or Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson. All would provide a jolt for the offense.

Pitching, however, would seem to be a greater need. The Cardinals rotation has fizzled lately, and St. Louis relievers are 7-15 with a 4.42 ERA.

It’s a delicate balancing act for Mozeliak, who prefers to retain top prospects like pitchers Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, Sandy Alcantara and Jack Flaherty, catcher Carson Kelly and speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra.

The Cardinals have players other teams covet. Former closer Trevor Rosenthal would look terrific in the Washington bullpen. The Nationals have been searching for a ninth-inning answer all season.

Versatile infielder Jedd Gyorko, who has found a home at third base in St. Louis, would be valuable to any contender. Gyorko hit 30 homers last year and has 11 this season.

Outfielder Tommy Pham has enjoyed a resurgent — and healthy — season in St. Louis. Dealing him when his value is at its highest wouldn’t be a bad idea. After all, the Cardinals still have Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty and Jose Martinez in the outfield, and Randal Grichuk is toiling in the minor leagues with designs on another opportunity.

Grichuk, of course, could also be intriguing to a contender. The Cardinals seem to be growing impatient with his swings and misses, although his power is undeniable.

And then there’s right-hander Lance Lynn, a free agent at the end of the season.

Lynn (5-5), who missed all of last season, was strong out of the gate but has slumped lately, dropping his last two starts as his ERA has soared from 2.69 to 3.86. Lynn has allowed a staff-high 18 home runs in 84 innings.

The Houston Astros, who are rolling to the AL West championship, would love to plug Lynn into their rotation, riddled of late by injuries. The New York Yankees also could stabilize their staff with a pitcher like Lynn.

Mozeliak said June 9 that his approach to the trade deadline would be influenced by how the Cardinals were performing. They are 7-8 since then, trending toward being sellers. We will soon learn which direction he’s leaning.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm