There's a lot of talk lately about whether the Cardinals will trade some of their surplus of young talent to try to bolster the team for a playoff run.
Here's a look at what the Cardinals have to offer a potential partner... And some reasons for and against trading them.
Shelby Miller: For the last three years the name on the lips of every national reporter who speculated about a Cardinals trade was Miller. He's got the size, control and arsenal to be a front of the rotation starter and a durable pitcher for years to come. The Redbirds were much more likely to deal Miller before he arrived in the major leagues because he had some maturity issues both on and off the field when he was in the minors. But he seems to have figured it all out in the last 12 months, straightening out a terrible start in Class AAA Memphis in 2012. Since then he's 9-4 with a 1.98 ERA in the major leagues. Verdict: Miller has a couple of minor issues to work out, like becoming more economical with his pitches. But he's well above average as an MLB starter now and has a lot of upside to go. He's pretty much untouchable at this point in my book.
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Michael Wacha: His ascent through the Cardnals farm system from rookie league to the majors in less than a year shows Wacha's potential. He was sent back to Class AAA Memphis after a big league cameo in which he was 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts. But those numbers were skewed by a handful of bad pitches at the wrong time. He struck out 14 while walking four in 17 1/3 innings which proves he's got the stuff to handle MLB hitters. If I was in charge, Wacha would have remained in the St. Louis rotation when Jake Westbrook returned from injury. Verdict: If opposing GMs don't want to be told no if they ask about Wacha then they just shouldn't ask.
Carlos Martinez: He was a surprise call-up from Class AA Springfield when the Cardinals needed some help because of injuries. He worked out of the bullpen and struck out nine in eight innings of work while issuing three free passes. Martinez is a little flaky in a young guy sort of way. He spends an awful lot of time taking and posting pouty, self-shot fashion pictures of himself on the internet. Ala Nuke LaLoosh, he has coined his own nickname, "Tsunami," which he has had prominently tattooed on his forearm. But he's only 21 and he's not the first young major leaguer to be a little bit eccentric, so I don't think that's too much to worry about. Verdict: If Martinez is available it's because of his size. Unlike Miller and Wacha who are tall, lanky fellows, Martinez is generously listed as six feet tall and 185 pounds. Because of his size and his over-throwing effort that puts him high on the radar gun, I wonder if Martinez will be durable enough to be a starting pitcher over the long haul. If not, his upside is limited. I like Martinez a lot and if it was up to me I would not trade him accept as a last resort. In my book he represents the high water mark of Cardinals players who are not on the untouchable list. Translated, that means, at least technically, he is available. But he's very unlikely to be dealt.
Tyler Lyons: He's struggled in his last three starts and seems to be tabbed for the bullpen. Yet he's a lefty hurler with the potential to be a starter. Vercict: His trade value might never be higher. If the Cardinals could acquire a front end veteran starter or a veteran closer for a package that included Lyons, I would consider dealing him if it were my decision. For less than that, he's a valuable guy as a potential bullpen lefty/swingman.
Joe Kelly: I like Kelly a lot. But I can't figure out why the Cardinals apparently don't value him as much as I do. Kelly was pretty darn good in 2012 as a starter and as a reliever. So why is he the last man out of the bullpen this season? The Cardinals called up three guys from the minors to cover injuries to the rotation before they'd let Kelly start a game, including starting Wacha's MLB service clock, something they presumably didn't want to do for a three-start stint as an emergency fill in. When Kelly did start in an emergency role this year he was very good. Yet he was chucked back in the bullpen. Verdict: I didn't think Miller pitched remarkably better than Kelly in spring training, at least not until the end. At worst, Kelly was the sixth starting pitcher on the St. Louis depth chart at the beginning of the season. But he doesn't seem to be in the Cardinals plans, so he's probably available in the right deal.
John Gast: Is injured and presumably unavailable because of it. The latest reports indicate that he's going to be unavailable for a while.
Seth Maness: He's been very opportunistic in his appearances. Maness has been a whiz at getting batters to hit into double plays or to make outs on one or two pitches to bail the Cardinals out of trouble. But his numbers aren't great. He's allowed 29 hits in 21 innings of work while walking four to allow 1.6 base runners an inning. Verdict: Maness is useful. But if the Cardinals could deal him to acquire a closer it would allow the team to move Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal back an inning and make the relief corps that much stronger. He's available but the Redbirds aren't necessarily motivated sellers.
Matt Adams: He's got a lot of appeal because he's a cheap slugger who has proved he can hit at the major league level. But his value to the Cardinals might not be as great as his value is to other teams. Why? Because the Cardinals are already strong at first base, the only position Adams can play, with 2011 World Series hero and RBI machine Allen Craig at that spot. Sure, the Cardinals could move Craig to right field next year if Carlos Beltran leaves as a free agent. But then what do they do with Oscar Taveras who has the same skill set at the plate as Adams, that being a lefty power hitter? I can't see the Cardinals with Taveras, Adams, Matt Carpenter and potentially Kolten Wong and Jon Jay all in the lineup at the same time because they're all lefties. Verdict: If Adams could be the centerpiece of a trade to bring a top starter or a legitimate closer to the Cardinals -- instead of forcing the Cardinals to give up one of their top pitching prospects, I'd be for it. If the Cardinals don't feel comfortable handing right field over to Taveras in 2014, they could try to sign Carlos Beltran to an extension. Beltran, who leads the team with 17 homers, has suggested that he loves playing in St. Louis and that he wants to stay, potentially at a discount.
Matt Carpenter: One of the most popular subjects when opposing general managers call John Mozeliak, Carpenter has gone from an emergency fill in last season for Lance Berkman to arguably the top second baseman in the National League. He's hitting .311 as the St. Louis leadoff man and he's playing very good defense at second base: Verdict: In my book, Carpenter is untouchable.
David Freese: Some think, because he has played so well at second base and because he used to be a third baseman that Carpenter could slide over to third base if Freese were traded. It would save the Cardinals some money as Freese stands to earn $5 million or so next season if he goes to arbitration. But why is everyone so convinced Freese's contributions are expendable? He's not a great third baseman. But he's not terrible, either. He's played much better with the leather since he got off his early season slump at the plate. And, while people seem to be down on his bat because of that start, Freese has been one of the Cardinals' top two or three hitters since the beginning of May. Over the last month he's hitting .356 with three homers and 20 RBIs. Verdict: The Cardinals might be skeptical about Freese's durability because of his injury history. But they don't have to commit to him for two more seasons because of arbitration. So they ought to be content to at least keep him until he hits the open market and then see what happens. If Freese were traded, he would have to be part of a mega deal that brought back a major league starting position player in return -- maybe a righty slugging centerfielder... But I don't see that happening. Would it be sane to blow up the best team in baseball through mid-June? Freese, being a hometown hero, probably has more value to the Cardinals than any other team in baseball.
Kolten Wong: He's done great in the minors and appears to have a bright future in the majors. But he's blocked by Carpenter at second base in St. Louis. And I am going to pick the guy who has made it in the majors every time over a guy who has potential. I just don't see where Wong fits into the Redbirds' picture as long as Carpenter is around. Verdict: He's one of the Cardinals' better trade chips and the one I'd be most willing to part with if I were GM. Not because I don't believe in him. But because he is the player I think the Cardinals can most afford to replace.
Will the Cardinals make a trade? It's tough to say because, on one hand, they have considerably more starting pitcher candidates than they can use at the MLB level. They say you can never have too much pitching. But is it fair to let guys rot in the minors when a team has other needs?
The Cardinals could use a veteran top of the rotation starter for the stretch and the potential playoffs. They could also use some bullpen help. But these aren't desperate needs and they certainly don't justify a desperate move.
Mozeliak might be motivated to stay the course and hang on to the Cardinals youth if he can't find the perfect deal. There's no pressure for him to win as he's less than two years removed from his brilliant moves to help the Redbirds win the 2011 World Series. And St. Louis fans are content with a team that is both performing now and content in a bright future.