MLB Trade Deadline: Starting Pitchers St. Louis Cardinals Should Target
Amidst all the ballyhoo in every general manager's office is a soft cadence:
Each strike of the clock heightens this thrill ride known as major league baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, set for 4 p.m. ET Thursday.
In the middle of this drama sits St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, contemplating his next move(s), which could impact his club for years to come.
Mozeliak's biggest priority is a starting pitcher to fill the fifth slot in the Cardinals' shaky rotation. And it's no secret what he's looking for. The Cardinals have not disclosed who will start Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers in what will be the biggest series to date.
While the Cardinals continue on their current six-game road trip, Mozeliak must pull the trigger on a starter, preferably a marquee arm.
Mozeliak added depth to his staff Wednesday afternoon by acquiring Justin Masterson in a trade with Cleveland. This minor deal surely comes as an appetizer to the main course. That's my thought process, anyway.
Let's take a look at some top-name targets on the market.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff Lee (4-5, 3.78 ERA) will be a big name as the deadline nears. Or will he?
After spending the better part of two months on the disabled list due to a strained flexor tendon in his left elbow, the former American League Cy Young winner returned to the Phillies rotation on July 21. Since rejoining the rotation, however, Lee has struggled.
In his July 21 start against San Francisco, Lee threw 90 pitches in just 5.2 innings, allowing six runs off 12 hits, and his next outing wasn't much better. Five days later, Lee lasted five innings against Arizona. He hit a man and walked two.
Other than his health, another big concern regarding Lee is his massive contract. At 35, Lee has two more years plus a club option for 2016 on his original five-year, $120 million contract he agreed to in 2011. According to Baseball Prospectus, Lee will earn $25 million this season and next season, and could garner $27.5 million in 2016 with a $12.5 million buyout. He also has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, but the Cardinals, according to Baseball Prospectus, are not among the teams Lee would decline a trade to.
However, there are some positives here.
Health aside (yes, I realize that's the biggest concern), Lee is a proven winner. He would not be a rental player for the final two-plus months of the season and would remain a Cardinal for at least another year, possibly two.
Lee would also bring playoff experience. For his postseason career, Lee is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA. He's started four World Series and two league championship games.
But I'm not sure how much Lee has left in the tank. He's past his prime, and Mozeliak would be better off going in a different direction.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Is Cole Hamels available? That is the question. Or so it appears, anyway.
I'm going to say yes, Hamels is available. And he has been for quite some time. Philadelphia just hasn't received an offer it can't deny.
Hamels, 30, is in the prime of his career. Sure, he's 6-5 with a 2.55 ERA this season, but the lefty is just two years removed from winning 17 games. He was also the 2008 World Series MVP after throwing a combined 13 innings and allowing four earned runs in two starts when the Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays.
Like Lee, Hamels has a hefty contract. Last season, Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million deal, which includes a 2019 club option for $20 million with a $6 million buyout, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Age is catching up to the Phillies. If GM Ruben Amaro Jr. decides to part ways with Hamels, expect a lot to be demanded in return. The Cardinals would be—in my opinion—one of the few teams capable of meeting his demands when it's all said and done.
Is Hamels a realistic option for the Cardinals? I don't believe so, but it would be nice to have a reliable lefty of Hamels' stature on the hill every fifth day.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
He's been talked about for months, the topic at every water cooler. David Price is the most sought-after starter on the market.
And for good reason.
After a dismal first half, Tampa Bay has attempted to come back to life, but the window for opportunity is closing quickly.
The likelihood of Price remaining a Ray is very low in my opinion. If there was ever a time to make a bold move, it's now for the Cardinals.
Price leads the majors with 189 strikeouts.
He's only 28 years old, and Price has two more years before he could even reach free agency, according to Baseball Reference.
Unlike Lee and Hamels, Price wouldn't bring baggage to St. Louis. He's making $14 million this season, part of a one-year deal he signed to avoid arbitration in January.
However, the price tag for Price would be a pretty penny. That bodes well for Mozeliak, who has a gold mine of young trading chips at his disposal.
I would assume the Cardinals would have to give up at least a couple of top prospects (Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty, etc.) and a draft pick. Heck, it could be more for all I know. It depends on how aggressive both sides are.
It would no doubt be a risk for the Cardinals, who don't know yet what sort of careers Taveras and Miller will have in the major leagues.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester's time in Boston is over.
His new destination, however, has yet to be determined.
Boston scratched its 10-game winner from his next scheduled start, making it known that he will be traded in an upcoming deal.
Are the Cardinals involved? Not likely.
Lester would be a nice addition. He's a three-time All-Star, a proven postseason winner and a left-hander. But he would more than likely be a rental since he is due to become a free agent after this season.
I will say this: If Lester ends up in Pittsburgh, then Mozeliak would almost be forced to make a big splash with whomever he acquires at the deadline.