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St. Louis Cardinals face decision time as the market floods with hurlers

As we near the non-waiver trade deadline, things might be swinging the St. Louis Cardinals way if their hoping to make an improvement to the starting rotation.

While the Tampa Bay Rays wrestle with their decision about whether they'll trade ace David Price or hang on to him to make a run for the playoffs, the market is flooding with top pitchers. And lefties seem to be on special.

According to multiple reports, the Boston Red Sox have become discouraged about the possibility of resigning ace Jon Lester and are letting teams know he's available. Lester, 30, is best remembered by Redbirds fans for his performance in the 2013 World Series when he won two games and had an 0.59 ERA in the fall classic. He's 10-7 this season with a 2.52 ERA. Lester has the best post season pedigree of any of the known to be available pitchers. But he might be somewhat more affordable than Price because he will be a free agent at year's end while Price is under contract for next season.

ESPN reports the Philadelphia Phillies are shopping ace Cole Hamels, although they want a king's ransom for him -- at least three top prospects. Hamels is 5-5 this season with a 2.72 ERA. He's struck out 149 and walked 32. He's under contract for $90 million over the next four seasons but the Phillies, according to ESPN, would kick in $10 for the right package of players. He has a $20 million option for a fifth season with a $6 million buyout.

Already said to be on the block is Phillies lefty starter Cliff Lee who is trying to make a comeback after two months on the disabled list with an elbow issue. In two games back after his reinstatement, Lee has pitched 10 2/3 innings over two starts, allowing 21 hits and nine runs. 

Another Phillies starter available for trade is AJ Burnett (6-9, 3.86) who is a guy that the Redbirds have flirted with in the past. Burnett, of Arkansas, grew up a Cardinals fan and was rumored to be interested in St. Louis before signing lucrative deals elsewhere. 

If the Cardinals are truly interested in Price, they have some leverage by telling Tampa Bay that they sure like the big lefty... But maybe they could get Lester or Hamels for less... If the potential trade partners want a piece of St. Louis' bounty of prospects, they could be pressured to make a move before someone else swoops end and swipes the goods.

I'd rather see the Birds make a move for a guy like Hamels than Price because of their contract situations. If St. Louis was forced to give up the same players for either pitcher, they could lose Price at the end of the 2015 season to a higher bidder. But it would at least have the certainty of having Hamels under contract for several seasons to make sure the team got fair value for the parts it gave up.

I'm really torn about the possibility of a major trade for a pitcher. I'd love to see the Cardinals be back where they were when they were sending Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to the mound on back-to-back days. Especially in a short playoff series. But at what cost?

With Allen Craig under contract and Matt Adams under team control, Oscar Taveras could be expendable. But if Craig is unable to recover his all-star form and Taveras becomes the next Vladimir Guerrero, it could be tough to watch the fallout over the next several seasons.