Former first-rounder Colby Rasmus has likely exhausted his time in St. Louis.
Like so many teams, the St. Louis Cardinals have some tweaking to do to improve its roster heading into the final eight weeks of the regular season.
The Cards can win the NL Central without making a major splash, but the team would not really be a playoff power without addressing either its starting pitching or relief corps—or both.
If St. Louis were to acquire either, a guy like Kyle McClellan could return to the bullpen, which is clearly the weakest point of the squad.
Also, one of the biggest closers (both talent-wise and physically)—Heath Bell—will likely be moved before Sunday's non-waiver trade deadline.
General Manager John Mozeliak must sift through a number of possibilities while trying to keep the team's two top pitching prospects, Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, both of whom are playing deep in the minors.
One of the key players who could become an attractive inclusion in any deal is center fielder Colby Rasmus, who has struggled to find a place in the Cardinals lineup.
The Seale, Alabama native is hitting .245 with 11 homers and 40 RBI. After batting .290 in April, he's hit .220 since the beginning of May with 30 RBI.
Rasmus, who turns 25 on August 11, has under-performed and has created a strained relationship with manager Tony La Russa.
Still young, he is considered on the up-slope of his career and could develop into one of the top center fielders in the game.
La Russa rubs some players the wrong way, and Rasmus might benefit from a change of scenery.
The Cardinal skipper said recently that John Jay can be considered his regular center fielder, with a four-man rotation aimed at giving veterans Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday needed days off in the stifling heat of a St. Louis summer.
Mozeliak has denied any specific contact.
Rasmus has twice requested a trade from the team, with the GM denying him both times.
Now, it seems the Cardinals would be better off ridding themselves of a disgruntled player if it helped achieve a stronger overall team.
Jay would be the unquestioned starter in center, and converted second baseman Skip Schumaker could return to an outfield spot as a reserve.
Daniel Descalso seems ready for increased playing time, perhaps at second.
The market for Rasmus is not short, and speculation has him potentially going to a number of destinations all around the country.
Matt Thornton is 0-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 37 relief outings for Chicago.
Chicago GM Kenny Williams can't be a seller.
True, the White Sox are 50-51, but they stand only three-and-a-half games out of first place in the mediocre AL Central.
What is clear is that Williams needs to punt on a few of his high-priced, low-production players like center fielder Alex Rios and/or Juan Pierre.
Rios, who earns $12 million this year on a deal that runs through 2014, is batting .208 with six homers and 23 RBI and a slugging percentage of .301.
At $8.5 mil, Pierre is hitting .277 with one homer and 26 RBI. His main weapon—speed—hasn't produced the desired results on the base paths, converting only 16 of 28 steals chances.
Jackson would represent an upgrade to the starting five, with Kyle McClellan likely being the odd man out.
Jackson is 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA in 19 starts, has given up only eight homers and leads the Sox in strikeouts (97). Jackson earns $8.35 million this season in the finale of a two-year deal.
Thornton is the lefty set-up man in Ozzie Guillen's bullpen.
He has a 3.41 ERA in 37 appearances. Particularly in his previous three seasons, the hard-throwing Thornton has been a reliable weapon with an ERA in the mid-2.00s, at least 20 holds and a few impromptu saves.
He would represent a solid eighth-inning bridge to Fernando Salas. Thornton is a bit pricier than Jackson, having in March inked a two-year extension that guarantees him at least $12 million.
With Jackson hitting the free-agent market this winter, he is seen as a two-month rental.
So a prospect or two could also be headed to St. Louis, and a third team might get involved.
All-Star James Shields could be the next Rays starting pitcher to fly away, after Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza were traded away.
The Tampa Bay Rays keep the infusion of pitching talent coming and appear ready to deal All-Star James Shields.
Shields makes $4.25 million this year but is arbitration eligible and has a $7-million team option for 2012, still good considering his production.
If he continues to produce like he has this year, he'll be a highly-coveted free agent next winter, and the Rays could be in the market to deal him sooner rather than later.
Shields, 29, is 9-8 with a 2.53 ERA in 21 starts, striking out 151 batters in 156.1 innings. He has certainly pitched much better than his record may indicate.
He has surrendered one run or less 10 times, one of which was a 1-0 loss to CC Sabathia on July 10.
Tampa also seems ready to bid adieu to center fielder B.J. Upton, who is hitting .229 with 15 homers and 53 RBI. An Upton move could open up a spot for Rasmus in a promising young outfield that would include Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce.
The Post-Dispatch reports that Mozeliak also treasures young Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, and the two sides have previously considered a Rasmus deal.
Hellickson, 24, is 9-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 18 starts.
He has surrendered just 89 hits in 115.2 innings, ranking as the fourth-toughest pitcher to hit in the American League, behind only Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.
Right-hander Alex Cobb, 23, has come up from Durham to make seven starts, going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA. He was 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA with the Triple-A Bulls.
Left-hander Matt Moore, 22, is 8-3 with a 2.20 ERA at Double-A Montgomery with 131 strikeouts in 102.1 innings. He is one of the best pitchers in the minors this year.
Heath Bell has been one of the majors' top closers the past three years.
The acquisition that would scratch the Cardinals' itch the most would be San Diego closer Heath Bell.
The 33-year-old righty was the set-up man for two years under Trevor Hoffman, then moved into the closer role in 2009, posting 42 saves and a 2.71 ERA that year.
He backed that up with a 47-save, 1.93 ERA effort in 2010 and has been the best player on a Padres' team clearly in asset-accumulation mode.
This year, he has converted 29 of 31 save chances with a 2.40 ERA for the 45-58 Pads, who sit in last place in the NL West. Moving Bell is clearly a priority this week for GM Jed Hoyer.
Bell, a pending free agent, is the highest-paid player on the team at $7.5 million, nearly a quarter of the Pads' paltry $31 million payroll.
San Diego is also looking at dumping outfielder Ryan Ludwick, whose $6.78 million deal ranks second on the team.
Bell and Ludwick are the only San Diego players earning more than $4 million in 2011.
But with Bell will certainly come a high price tag.
With such a shortage of reliable closers, Hoyer will certainly command a package of prospects. He has been in discussions with Philadelphia and has reportedly insisted on the Phils' top prospect, Domonic Brown, and perhaps another player.
Hoyer successfully dealt first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in the offseason, garnering three top prospects in first baseman Anthony Rizzo, pitcher Casey Kelly and outfielder Reymond Fuentes.
Rasmus could help sweeten the pot, though the Cards will likely have to include promising A-ball pitcher Carlos Martinez or, at least, somebody like Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs.
Any team that would pay such a high price for Bell would need to further research his offseason aspirations and salary hopes.
He has stated he'd accept a set-up role this year only if he could play for a playoff contender but insisted he'll only sign a free-agent deal to be a closer.
Many teams have inquired about Ian Desmond, and GM Mike Rizzo has been reluctant to part with his prized young shortstop.
The Nationals have not been shy about being active in building its team with talent outside of its minor-league ladder.
And center field is one of the spots Washington needs a severe upgrade, as veteran Rick Ankiel has struggled with a .231 batting average, three homers and 15 RBI.
Rasmus could get a real chance in Washington to be a premier player, playing alongside Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth in the middle of the Nats' lineup.
The young player whom many teams have coveted is 25-year-old shortstop Ian Desmond.
GM Mike Rizzo, like St. Louis' John Mozeliak with Rasmus, has been stubbornly holding Desmond, but some think he is an attainable piece.
Despite a .226 batting average, Desmond is still a hot commodity, likely based on his power potential. He batted .269 last year with 10 homers and 65 RBI and has hit as many as 13 homers in a minor-league season.
Bill Ladson of MLB.com quoted Rizzo as saying, "If Desmond puts it all together in one season for another team, (we) would look foolish for trading Desmond."
With that being said, Rizzo also likes minor-league shortstop Steve Lombardozzi, who is hitting .309 at Double-A Harrisburg with two errors in 65 games.
Any deal with the Nats would likely involve Desmond and some bullpen help, not including either closer Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard.
Left-hander Erik Bedard has allowed 74 hits in 90 innings for the M's.
If you're going to ship your former No. 1 prospect anywhere, you'd certainly like to send him somewhere where he won't come back and bite you in the future, especially if the relationship is as acrimonious as it appears.
What better place to send Rasmus than to Seattle, a team that has some chips to offer in return.
This being pure speculation, the Mariners could be in a position to offer St. Louis a starter like veteran Erik Bedard AND a reliever like David Pauley or outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
Bedard, 32, is 4-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 15 starts.
All his numbers are excellent with the exception of his won-loss record, which is more indicative of the offensively-challenged team for which he toils.
He's earning just $1 million on a one-year deal. He could become the second lefty in the rotation, next to Jaime Garcia.
Pauley sports a nifty 2.15 ERA in 39 relief outings, surrendering 38 hits in 54.1 innings.
Gutierrez is struggling mightily and could benefit from some new surroundings. He is hitting .194 in 55 games with one homer and eight RBI.
But he is two years removed from when he batted .283 with 18 homers and 70 RBI in his first season in Seattle.
Grant Balfour is clearly on the trading block as the A's looks to stock more young talent.
As with Seattle, Oakland offers some talented arms and a safe destination for Rasmus, who could immediately become the team's best offensive weapon far away from the pressures of a pennant race.
The Athletics currently do not have a regular player batting above .270 (Coco Crisp currently leads the team at .270), so Rasmus could enter into a completely different environment with little pressure while he establishes his game.
GM Billy Beane has been working the phones in attempts in improve his lackluster offense and has some veteran arms to offer.
The A's own a .241 team batting average, which ranks 13th, better than only Seattle's .226 mark.
Grant Balfour is likely on the move this week. He's got a 2.03 ERA in 40 games as the set-up man to closer Brian Fuentes.
Any Rasmus deal would likely also have to include another player, perhaps another young hard-throwing reliever like Joey Devine, who has a 3.52 ERA in 26 games.
Left fielder Josh Willingham is another piece Beane has been shopping hard for, but it's unclear what his role would be in St. Louis.
Rasmus would finally represent some promise for the Oakland offense, as it transitions with young players like Jemile Weeks, Kurt Suzuki and the recently acquired Scott Sizemore.