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If Cardinals deal with Tampa, it should be a blockbuster

There have been rumors floating around lately about the St. Louis Cardinals being involved in trade talks with the Tampa Bay Rays.

My first instinct is to ignore any rumors surrounding the Rays. The Cardinals are about the fourth or fifth team to be connected to them this winter. So far, none of the potential deals have materialized. It’s all smoke and no fire.

Beyond that, there were absolutely no names linked to the nationally distributed rumors. So there isn’t much to believe in if the Cardinals talk is heard in a vacuum.

There was only speculation from one news agency that the St. Louis target could be Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.

But it was based largely on the observation that Odorizzi is a metro-east native so, naturally, the Cardinals would like to bring home a local guy, right?

It’s true, St. Louis could certainly use a starting pitcher -- or two. But why would the Rays want to part with a young, promising hurler whose rights are controlled for several years? He’s cheap and effective. That’s just the kind of player Tampa Bay needs.

If the Cardinals want to land Odorizzi -- and address their other needs on offense, they’re going to have to try to cobble together a bigger deal than a swap for one player.

Tampa’s price has reportedly been steep for Odorizzi. So St. Louis would have to part with players it would hurt to lose. The Cardinals would be foolish to trade guys like Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty or Alex Reyes for one promising but relatively unproven pitcher.

But would a deal that including Wong, Matt Adams and a young pitcher like Carlos Gonzales make sense if it was for Odorizzi AND the Rays’ other oft-rumored trading chip, slugging third baseman Evan Longoria?

The latter is a career .271 hitter with power, averaging 30 home runs every 162 games. Last season he hit .270 with a .328 on-base percentage, 21 homers and 35 doubles.

Longoria, 30, is under contract for the next seven seasons at a total of $111.5 million. Yeah, it’s a lot. But it’s half as much as the team was willing to pay Jason Heyward not to hit home runs.

It would also be nice to offset Longoria’s contract with Odorizzi’s low-dollar deal.

Both the offense and the pitching, the Cardinals’ two major needs, would be addressed in one move. And at a cost much cheaper than signing David Price and/or Heyward, which was apparently Plan A.

I’d hate to give up Wong because, as raw as he is, he still has great tools and could very well become a great player as he learns to become a more complete hitter. Hopefully, the Cardinals could make a deal without including him.

But if he’s moved, Longoria could take over at third and Matt Carpenter could move back to second base. If Wong isn’t part of the deal, Carpenter could move back across the diamond to play first base where he played in place of Lance Berkman for much of the 2012 season.

Longoria’s contract would fit the Cardinals well, paying $11.5 million in 2016, $13 million in 2017, $13.5 million in 2018, $14.5 million in 2019, $15 million in 2020, $18.5 million in 2021 and $19.5 million in 2020. There is $13 million club option for 2021 with a $5 million buyout.

That works well for the Cardinals because it’s a relatively low dollar contract for an impact player the first two years. But the time the cost starts to escalate, Matt Holliday’s contract will be up and Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright’s deals will be on the way out.

Longoria, could be the pillar of the future Bill DeWitt Jr. spoke about last season. You know, the sort of guy that would make they Heywards of the world feel like the Cardinals weren’t on a course to close the doors and call it a day at the end of the 2017 season.

While Longoria’s contract is large and long, it was inked three years ago. So St. Louis would really be getting a top player at 2012 prices, not wildly inflated 2015-16 costs.

That’s financial stability for the future as costs continue to rise.

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