The St. Louis Cardinals have been atop the major leagues for most of 2013 and currently have a 48-30 record. But their recent 1-4 stint has shown that they're not invincible.
General manager John Mozeliak won't be a heavy buyer this year as the trade deadline nears, but there are indeed needs that should be addressed.
I've taken a look at these needs and attempted to figure out which players might find themselves wearing the birds on the bat before the end of the deadline.
Read on to find the Cardinals' 2013 shopping list!
*All statistics are current on baseball-reference.com as of June 27, 2013*
The Cardinals have been linked to names at two positions in 2013: shortstops and pitchers.
Now, at this point in the season, I would be surprised if the organization dealt some top prospects to get an All-Star shortstop when Pete Kozma is exceeding expectations. But pitching is another story...
With Jason Motte sidelined by injury and Mitchell Boggs' unexpected implosion, the Cardinals have found solace in Edward Mujica as their closer. But the bullpen could still use some work. The Cardinals' relief corps currently ranks ninth in the NL in ERA, and its struggles have cost the team some crucial wins.
It's hard to imagine this being an area of concern for the team whose starters' ERA leads the entire majors, but this is in fact an issue that might need to be addressed.
The Cardinals have used a slew of rookie arms this year, including Shelby Miller, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Michael Wacha. Miller—a Rookie of the Year candidate—is fast approaching 100 innings when the most he's ever thrown in a season is 150. Finding a veteran starter to shoulder some of the load might be a smart path.
As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted, the Cardinals have been linked to the Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon. However, I don't think he's a fit considering the Cards' current closer has the second-most saves in the NL, and they have another dominant closer waiting in the wings post-2013. (Not to mention Papelbon's recent struggles.)
Mozeliak and company are much more likely to go for a solid setup type rather than a marquee name.
Other relief pitchers who seem to be on the trading block and might be able to make an impact in the bullpen include:
Ryan Webb, RHP (Miami Marlins)
Webb could be a solid weapon in the late-inning arsenal. His old teammate Mujica has certainly fit in, but in the event that a new closer becomes necessary, Webb might be a good candidate to set up the assumed heir to the ninth-inning throne, Trevor Rosenthal. Webb's current ERA is 3.41, and he has a hard sinker and a good slider.
Jose Veras, RHP (Houston Astros)
Veras has been thrust into the closer's role for the Astros, and he would be more of a standard middle reliever for the Cardinals. But it never hurts to have depth in the bullpen. He throws in the mid-90s and has managed to save 15 games this year, but he's probably not worth the Cardinals' time if the Astros are setting their sights too high.
Jesse Crain, RHP (Chicago White Sox)
Crain has been absolutely lights out this year. Earlier in 2013, he broke the White Sox's team record for most consecutive scoreless outings, and his ERA is a microscopic 0.52. If the Cardinals found a way to acquire Crain, Jake Peavy (see next slide) and shortstop Alexei Ramirez, they could clean up. That being said, the price may be prohibitive.
There have been no rumors (to my knowledge) when it comes to starters in which the Cardinals may be interested. And honestly, there's no one out there worthy of giving up the wealth of the Cardinals' farm system.
But here are some names who seem to be on the trading block who could improve the rotation:
Ricky Nolasco, RHP (Miami Marlins)
Right now, Nolasco is the most sought-after starter on this year's hot stove. He currently holds a 3.68 ERA, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is historically very good.
The Cards might have to give up a decent prospect or two, but it would be nice to have a seasoned middle-of-the-rotation kind of guy for September. Yet they'd have to move quickly because the Dodgers and other clubs might also be interested in acquiring Nolasco.
Bud Norris, RHP (Houston Astros)
Norris has been a bright spot on a last-place team. In 2013, he has a 3.60 ERA despite a 5-7 record. Imagine what he could do under the tutelage of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist. The Astros have been shopping him since 2012, so the competition for his arm will be fierce. But if anyone has the minor league depth to pull it off, it's the Cardinals.
Jake Peavy, RHP (Chicago White Sox)
When healthy, Peavy can be the ace on many staffs. Maybe not the Cardinals', but he can fill the void should Miller's innings load be curtailed.
He will be making a comeback post-All-Star Game from a rib injury. If the Cardinals can swing something, he might be the best option of the group. The only risk would be his injury-prone past. The Cardinals wouldn't want to pay for another damaged starter after losing Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia.