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Can the Cardinals afford Haren or Lee?

Rumors are flying around that the Cardinals are searching for starting pitching help as the trade deadline nears.

Several credible reports claim that the Birds have been in contact with the Mariners about a potential deal for veteran lefty Cliff Lee. Meanwhile, reports on KTRS and ESPN Tuesday morning said the Cardinals may be interested in Dan Haren, their former prospect lost in the trade for Mark Mulder in 2005.

I really can't see why the Cardinals are so desperate for starters when they have the second-best team ERA in baseball and injured starters Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse appear to be mending well. Maybe after the way Haren has hit against St. Louis pitching this season -- he had four hits in one start against St. Louis and hit a homer in another -- the Cardinals plan to pick him up to bat cleanup.

I'm a firm believer that your starting pitching can never be too deep or too good. But it's the sputtering offense -- not the starting pitching -- that has stymied the Redbirds so far this season.

The Cardinals don't have a legitimate leadoff man, they're miserable at driving in runners from scoring position -- they're especially inept at driving home a runner from third with less than two outs with a sacrifice fly or a hit to the right side of the infield -- and as a team they swing at way too many bad pitches. To make matters worse, David Freese, one of their best first half performers at the plate, has just been sent to the disabled list because of problems with his surgically repaired ankle.

With a severely depleted farm system, the Cardinals may only have enough prospects to make one trade. Should they use their bullets on a starting pitcher? Or should they look for a second baseman or shortstop who can get on base?

If the trigger is pulled on a pitcher, I'd greatly prefer it be Haren over Lee. Haren has been healthier, he's in his prime and he's under contract. Lee can be a free agent at the end of the season and his lofty contract demands got him shipped out of Philidelphia. There's little to no chance the Cardinals would be able to bring him back even if they wanted to, because their hands will likely be tied up this winter with trying to-resign Albert Pujols before he hits the open market and all bets are off. Meanwhile, Haren has publicly stated that he'd like to play for the Cardinals again.

While Lee will likely wear Yankees Pinstripes in 2011, Dan Haren could make a nice one-two combo at the top of the Cardinals rotation long after Chris Carpenter has retired. That might make Haren worth giving up top pitching prospect Shelby Miller in the long run. But it's unlikely a deal for Haren is going to make the Redbirds better this season. Unless the offense can pick it up, he's just going to be another guy collecting 3-2 or 2-1 losses.

haren is set to make $12.75 million in each of the next two seasons and gets a $3.5 million buyout if his option for 2013 isn't picked up. With the rampant claims that the Cardinals can't afford to pay Pujols following their signing of Matt Holliday, can they really afford to add another high dollar pitcher to the mix?

I'm a huge Dan Haren fan and I have rued the day that he was sent to Oakland for Mark Mulder ever since it happened. But Cardinals fans need to be careful what they wish for.