I wonder if the St. Louis Cardinals are planning something big just as their club has started to come around.
My suspicions center around an afterthought of an addition near the end of spring training, the signing of former Seattle closer David Aardsma.
Aardsma's contract contained an opt-out clause that would have allowed him to become a free agent last week if he so desired, provided that the Cardinals hadn't called him up to the big league club. He passed and chose to remain in the minors. Why?
The 32-year-old hurler has been excellent in Class AAA with a 1.35 earned run average and only 12 hits allowed in 20 innings of work. He's struck out 19 with his only blemish a somewhat inflated walks total, 10.
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Still, I would have to believe that some major league club could use an experienced reliever who is making a strong case that he deserves to be back in The Show. Unless Aardsma just really loves Memphis style barbecue so much that he'd pass on a chance to be back on top, I would have to imagine the Cardinals did some pretty compelling convincing that he would soon be summoned to St. Louis.
But how would that be possible?
The Cardinals have Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate and Pat Neshek firmly entrenched in the St. Louis bullpen. That's five of the seven available slots. former closer Jason Motte just returned from his Tommy John surgery recovery to claim the sixth spot and the seventh is currently manned by Seth Maness who got off to a rough start this season. But lately he's been pitching very well. Maness hasn't allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings of work so far in May to lower his season ERA to 2.55.
Even if that performance doesn't impress the St. Louis brass enough to keep Maness in St. Louis over Aardsma, what do the Cardinals do when Joe Kelly comes back shortly from his stint on the DL thanks to a hamstring pull?
There is no reason to believe, with the current roster configuration, that there is a permanent place for Aardsma in St. Louis.
The Birds are going to have to perform a roster shuffle soon to make room for Oscar Taveras who is likely to be called up in early June when the possibility that his promotion would cost the Cardinals a year of arbitration-free play would expire. The club already has a traffic jam in the outfield with Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay fighting for playing time in centerfield. Would Taveras be added to that mix? Or would he be injected into the mix in right field, forcing that spot's primary resident, Allen Craig, into a time share between right and first base?
Could it be that a pitcher and outfielder first/first baseman and maybe some other parts will soon be on the move? If so, to where and for what?
The Cardinals don't have any obvious needs at the big league level. Jhonny Peralta has settled in at shortstop and leads the team in home runs. The offense hasn't shown much power, but the bats are becoming more productive and timely. I can't think of any spot where the Birds would be likely to improve themselves by dealing the guys who either currently play significant roles or who are on their way to fill them.
The only move I could see that might add power and spark to the St. Louis offense would be the oft-rumored potential deal that would bring Troy Tulowitzki to the Cardinals. But, while the Birds have the pieces to make the Colorad Rockies an offer they couldn't refuse, it seems to me that such a deal is more unlikely than ever.
First, Toluwitzki is by far the best player on a competitive Rockies team. Fans would mutiny if Colorado pulled out the rug by sending away a .380 hitter with 13 homers and 35 RBIs. Second, Tulowitzki is pushing 30 years old and still has about $125 million coming to him on a contract that would pay him through at least 2020. That's a lot of scratch for a guy who has a long injury history who is nearing the end of his prime.
But... If the Cardinals were willing to give Jhonny Peralta a front-loaded contract for $52 million over four years, would $125 million for an elite player sound so bad? The Redbirds, flush with savings due to shedding the Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran contracts would seem to be able to easily afford to add a $20 million per year player. And while the Rockies claim they wouldn't trade Tulowitzki at any cost, I doubt there isn't a scenario that could convince them otherwise.
What if the Cardinals went nuts and offered Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong for Tulowitzki? Could Colorado, a cash-strapped franchise whose payroll is going to be tested by Tulowitzki's growing contract, turn that down?
From the Cardinals perspective, it seems like an awful lot to give up for one player. It's a scenario that could sink a general manager' career if it goes bust. But the Birds could afford from a talent standpoint to give up those players because the club has guys ready to fill in all the holes that would be created.
Here's how the remade roster would look:
Anyway... I am not proposing such a trade. This is only a hypothetical possibility. I don't think the Cardinals would be crazy enough to deal all that talent for one guy.
The biggest problem with such a deal (if the Cardinals would be willing to give up Miller AND Martinez) is that it would leave the team more shallow than it has been in the rotation, a risky proposition with Garcia in the mix. But, if Garcia went bust, the Cardinals could hypothetically return Motte to the closer position in a month or two when his arm strength has had a chance to build and give Rosenthal his chance to be a starter.
While I don't think that particular deal will happen, I do believe the Redbirds are rapidly reaching a point where they are going to have to make some sort of trade to break the looming roster logjam. And I hope they are able to convert the value of the players they can't keep with good value in the form of players who better fit the puzzle.