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The Cardinals need Haren - But are they willing to pay for him?

I'm sure glad that I'm not sitting in the Cardinals general manager's chair this morning.

Because we're down to crunch time and he's going to have to make a huge decision that could make or break the Redbirds' season.

It's fairly obvious that the Birds need a starting pitcher if they're going to make a deep run in the post season. And not just some guy that they fished out of a dumpster somewhere. They really need a number two or number three quality starter. Someone who can pitch in a playoff game without getting too shaken up.

If the season were to end today, it's pretty obvious that Shelby Miller would have to pitch meaningful playoff games. And after he wilted in the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates to surrender sole possession of first place Friday night, he certainly doesn't seem like he's ready for prime time.

The target seems to be obvious. Former Cardinals pitcher Dan Haren -- unfortunately lost by the organization almost a decade ago in the Mark Mulder trade -- has cleared waivers and could be traded by the Washington Nationals to any club. The tall righty was rumored to be on the Redbirds' radar a couple of years ago when he was ultimately traded to Arizona, and he said at the time that he's always hoped for a reunion at some point with St. Louis.

Haren has had a mediocre season with an 8-11 record and a 4.66 ERA. But he's been pretty sharp since the All-Star Game with a 4-1 record and a 2.76 ERA in the second half. During Haren's recovery, opposing hitters are batting .199 against him and he's struck out 40 while walking seven hitters. Which is the real Dan Haren? It's impossible to know for sure. But there aren't many options available at this point. And Haren seems like the best bet.

Adding another quality pitcher will enhance the Cardinals' ability to win their division, avoiding the peril of the wild card game. Haren has managed to pitch seven innings in four of his last six starts and has made it through six innings in the other two. So he'd take some pressure off the over-used bullpen. If the Cardinals made it to the big boy round of the postseason, they'd look a lot better with Haren, a guy who has pitched in seven playoff games with a 3.24 ERA in 19 1/3 innings in the mix.

The problem for the Cardinals is that Washington's GM knows he has the best pitcher available and that the clock is ticking. He also knows that the Pirates might like to have a starting pitcher -- and to keep Haren away from St. Louis -- so he can play competing clubs against each other to try to drive up the price.

So, how much talent would Redbirds GM John Mozeliak be willing to give up to enhance his team's chances? If I was him I certainly wouldn't give up Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Miller, Kevin Siegrist, Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn. But that doesn't mean the Birds don't have a lot to offer. They could part with Michael Blazek, Tyler Lyons, Sam Freeman or lower level minor leaguers who don't immediately fit into the parent club's plans.

The Nationals ought to be reasonable. Haren is going to be a free agent after the season and it doesn't seem like they have much of a chance to make the playoffs. But the Cardinals are going to have to beat the value of a compensatory draft pick to compel the Nats to deal Haren. At least in theory. Because I wonder if Washington would tender Haren a contract and risk him accepting the offer, guaranteeing him a $14-million, one-year deal.

It looks like it's going to be a stand off until the deadline. I'm just glad I don't have to make these kinds of decisions.