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Rumor Mill: Carpenter, Berkman

Cardinals free agents to be Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman have been making the news the last couple of days for completely different reasons.'s Matthew Leach reports that he thinks Carpenter will be in Cardinals red in 2012 one way or another. Either the Birds will pick up Carp's $15 million option or else the longtime St. Louis ace will work out an extension with the club, hopefully at a lower price to allow a better club to be built around him.

"Some other team could overwhelm Carpenter with an offer," Leach said. "But odds are, the 2012 rotation will look just like the rotation the Cardinals used at the end of '10."

The other St. Louis free agent making news lately is slugging outfielder-first baseman Lance Berkman. 

The Cardinals ran Berkman through waivers without a claim last week, so the team is free to trade him if the front office wishes. And the Dallas media speculates that, since Rangers fly chaser Nelson Cruise has gone down to an injury that could sideline him for a month -- and since Berkman is from Texas -- the rejuvenated Berkman might be headed back to the Lone Star State.

It would have to be a pretty good offer. I think there is sentiment on the part of both Berkman and the Cardinals for him to return to St. Louis in 2012 -- if there is room in the budget. If there isn't room in the budget, Berkman figures to be a Type A free agent. That means if the Birds let him walk away as a free agenty they would still get draft pick compensation. And that might mean more to a club that is trying to build its farm system than a middling prospect the Cardinals might fetch to rent Berkman out for a month.

It's a head scratcher to try to figure out how new deals for Albert Pujols, Carpenter and Berkman into the 2012 payroll while addressing the needs of the bullpen and the supporting cast of the line-up. I'd like to see the Cardinals try to trade away Kyle Lohse ($11.875 million in 2012) or Jake Westbrook ($8.5 million) to create some payroll room. But Lohse has a no-trade clause and Westbrook's value is down because of a crummy and inconsistent 2011.

The bright side is that both players are free agents after the season. So the Cardinals could potentially backload Pujols or Carpenter's deals to make some room. Berkman is likely to sign a one-year deal at this stage of his career. So such a deal may not be possible for him.