Center fielder, bullpen help will cost Cards in trade market -

Center fielder, bullpen help will cost Cards in trade market

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(AP Images) (AP Images)

ST. LOUIS ( -- It is July and the St. Louis Cardinals are struggling to stay relevant in the wild card race, much less the Central Division. Inevitably, discussion turns to the upcoming trade deadline and what the Cardinals need and what they might be willing to part with to get it.

“We can’t ignore anything,” Cards GM John Mozeliak said Sunday. An understatement.

In an impromptu interview in the hallway outside Mike Matheny’s office, Mozeliak admitted the Cards are not performing as expected and it’s been difficult to figure out exactly why. “This has been a tough team to read.” He said when the team left spring training in Florida, they felt the starting rotation was strong and the offense would be able to produce runs. But, he admitted, they didn’t expect baserunning mistakes and a porous defense.

The Cards in 2016 have made 65 errors in the first 82 games, worst in the National League. With the return of Jhonny Peralta and the steadying play of Aledmys Diaz, those numbers look to come down in the second half and must if the Cards are going to stay in the playoff hunt.

So what do the Cardinals need? First would be some bullpen help, although nearly every team in contention is looking for bullpen strength. The Cards had one of the best in baseball last year, but the capricious nature of the game struck again as two mainstays of a year ago, Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness, have been largely ineffective for most of the year.

Rosenthal, nearly automatic in his career as a closer, is 2-3 with a 5.67 ERA. He has surrendered 35 hits in 27 innings and three home runs. Worse, he has walked 22 for a WHIP of over 2, meaning more than two runners on base against him in every inning. He may have hit rock bottom Sunday when he entered the Brewers game in the seventh inning and the Cards holding a comfortable 8-2 lead. All three hitters he faced ripped base hits and he was out of the game without recording an out.

“(Rosenthal) has been one of the best closers in the game over the past few years,” Mozeliak said. “To say that he’s stepped off a cliff and is not retrievable is not fair.”

Seung-hwan Oh has two saves in his first two attempts, including a very shaky ninth inning Sunday in which he entered the game with the bases loaded and no one out, surrendering a walk and a double before retiring the side to preserve the 9-8 win.

Maness has been just as big an enigma, although some of that might be explained by some early season arm trouble. He has been used sparingly, and seldom in key situations. In 17 innings, he has surrendered 25 hits with a WHIP of 1.85 and an ERA of 5.71, not the kind of numbers that inspire confidence.

That leaves Jonathon Broxton, Kevin Siegrist (15-day DL for mononucleosis), Matt Bowman and Tyler Lyons to handle the bullpen work. Lyons is considered the long reliever/spot starter making the roster even slimmer. With little in Memphis save Alex Reyes, it is likely any bullpen help would have to come form outside the organization.

Also emerging as a critical need is an everyday center fielder. Randal Grichuk’s spring numbers were impressive, yet another reminder that spring training not real baseball. Grichuk struggled once the season started and while the Cards waited patiently for him to get untracked, it hasn’t happened. He was hitting .206 with 54 strikeouts when he was sent to Memphis to rediscover his swing. Since there, he has pounded five home runs and is hitting .283, a good sign, but not, perhaps, good enough. Mozeliak said the issue right now is getting him “fixed” by getting him enough at bats.

“We wanted to let him play,” Mozeliak said of the demotion to Memphis. In the meantime, Kolten Wong, who just returned from Memphis, has been playing some center field, along with Tommy Pham. Neither has made an impressive claim to the spot.

Grichuk’s age (24) and his potential will make the Cards reluctant to give up on him, and Brandon Moss’ injury means he gets a chance to prove himself again in the majors. But a team looking to play in October needs a more consistent performance.

So, what do the Cardinals have to trade for a quality outfielder (Carlos Gonzalez would be a target) and some bullpen help? If you want quality, you can’t scrape together some bench players and under-performers. You have to be willing to part with talent another team might want.

If they think Alex Reyes is nearly ready (I don’t) or Tyler Lyons could start, they could move Jaime Garcia since he looks to be odd man out next year when Lance Lynn returns from Tommy John surgery. Garcia is having a healthy, productive year and may bring something in return, at, of course, a significant loss to the starting rotation.

Matt Holliday is owed $17 million next year if the Cards exercise his option. He has stayed healthy this year and can still occasionally rake, but those periods when he is smoking hot are fewer and fewer, and not worth $17 million. An American League team might want him as a designated hitter for the last few years of his career. But don’t count on getting much in return. Brandon Moss fits in that category as well and he is only signed through this year.

Peralta is signed through next year and with Diaz owning shortstop for the foreseeable future, he is expendable, although not happily so. That creates other issues in the infield unless Wong suddenly plays to his potential again.

Don’t want to trade any of them? The Cubs will be active at the deadline and so will other teams on the cusp of the playoffs. You have to give something to get something. And this team clearly needs a couple of somethings.

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