Kevin Wheeler

It’s no secret that the Cardinals have been looking for pitching help in the lead-up to the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st. John Mozeliak didn’t sound overly optimistic when I spoke to him a couple of days ago, saying “What most teams are looking for is pitching and therefore it’s just a harder commodity to come up with. This market is so fluid things could change as you get closer to the 31st but it’s hard to be excited about it at the moment but we’re certainly going to try.”

So it’s a tight market for pitching and right now there’s nothing all that close to happening but, as Mo pointed out, things can change quickly. But who is out there that would make a real difference for the Cardinals without costing them a significant piece of the future? Let’s take a quick look at some of the guys who are reportedly available…

Mike Adams, SD (32) – Price will be high on him. Padres control his rights for next season and his salary will be reasonable – might take over as closer with Heath Bell likely on his way out-of-town. He’d be a great fit for the Cardinals and they could keep him for 2012 as well but Mozeliak may not want to meet the price in terms of prospects.

Grant Balfour, OAK (33) – Very interesting option. Has pitched in big spots, including the post-season, while with Tampa Bay and is having a fine season in 2011 (4-1, 2.15 ERA w/ 40 K, 15 BB in 37 2/3 IP). Has a $4 million tag for 2012 and a team option for 2013 but would be a nice option if the cost in terms of prospects wasn’t outlandish.

Heath Bell, SD (33) – Perfect fit. Dominating finisher who would set up the rest of the bullpen nicely just because of the way he owns the 9th. The problem is that several other teams are in on Bell and that means the price will go up. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and will command a pretty nice salary on the open market so he would be strictly a rental, assuming Albert comes back.

Rafael Betancourt, COL (36) – Free agent at the end of the year with plenty of experience as a setup man. Throws strikes and can get some swings-and-misses but is not overpowering. Rockies may be motivated to sell with him but he wouldn’t represent a big-time upgrade for the Cards. Would be helpful but not a game-changer.

Matt Capps, MIN (27) – Has done a good job closing games at times but something’s just not right with him. Strikeouts are down, home runs are up and that’s concerning. Also a free agent at the end of the season, though that might drive down the price. If Minnesota falls further back in the AL Central they might unload Capps. Would be worth a shot in a buy-low but wouldn’t be a lock to “fix” anything right out of the gate.

Octavio Dotel, TOR (37) – He’s been a closer in the past but isn’t exactly money in the bank. Could be a free agent at the end of the season but there is a team option for 2012 for $3.5 million ($750,000 buyout). Still striking people out but doesn’t have the velocity he used to have. If Toronto is giving him away maybe he’d be worth a look but Dotel wouldn’t be big-time difference maker.

Frank Francisco, TOR (31) – He’s had stretches where he’s been almost unhittable but those haven’t come this year. Way too inconsistent to count on but does have end-of-game stuff. Free agent at the of the season.

Jason Frasor, TOR (33) – Frasor has decent stuff and has had a number of solid seasons as a setup man but has never been a dominator. Could be a free agent as well but also has a team option ($3.75 million) that could be exercised if you wanted to keep him. Good for added depth in the pen but doesn’t solve all problems.

Brian Fuentes, OAK (35) – Has had some success closing during his career but has struggled this year despite pitching primarily in a pitcher-friendly park in Oakland. He’s lost some zip off his fastball and his ERA has gone up about a run per season over the last three years. Might be better in NL but comes with $5 million tag in 2012 and a team option in 2013 worth $6.5 million (or $500,000 buyout). A’s would need to eat money and almost give him away to be worth the risk.

Mike Gonzalez, BAL (33) – Lefty with swing-and-miss stuff, unfortunately he’s had lots of physical problems and hasn’t been consistent at all this year. Might be interesting to see if a couple of Dave Duncan tweaks could turn him into an impact lefty – has closed in the past as well. Free agent at the end of the season so could come pretty cheap.

Jeremy Guthrie, BAL (32) – Orioles reportedly want a lot for him but with his salary going up in arbitration next year (he’s at $5.75 million now) they may not get what they’re looking for. Several teams considering Guthrie, an underrated pitcher whose numbers are skewed by the stadium and division he pitches in. Would be a GREAT get for the Cardinals if the deal is sensible, I’d bet on his ERA dropping by 0.75-1.00 with a move from the AL East to the NL Central.

Aaron Harang, SD (33) – Depending on what the Padres want for him, might be a good fit. Seems to be physically recovered from where he was in Cincy at the end but some of his success has to be the ballpark in San Diego. Still, he’s an innings guy and would be familiar with the NL Central. Several teams reportedly in on Harang talks so price to-be-determined. If the cost in terms of prospects isn’t crazy, would be worth a shot.

Edwin Jackson, CHW (27) – Would love to see Jackson in Cardinals uniform down the stretch. This guy has a big-time arm, carrying a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball deep into games, and he can be dominant when he’s on. White Sox might move him because they have 6 starters for 5 spots and he’s a free agent at the end of the season. My favorite amongst available players at the moment but whether or not I’d pull the trigger would depend on what the White Sox ask for in return. He’s a lot different from the other starters the Cards have and I’d love to see what would happen with him after working a little with Duncan.

Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (36) – Would be a perfect addition for the Cardinals. Consistent strike thrower who is a free agent at the end of the season so no long-term commitment. Price remains to be seen – some reports indicate Kuroda doesn’t want to leave the West Coast and he has a full no-trade clause. Makes a lot of money but Dodgers may eat some of that if they get better players. Hard to read how his situation will play out.

Brandon League, SEA (28) – An ideal option for the Cardinals. Big arm, throws strikes, has experience as a closer. The problem is that the Mariners would only have incentive to move him if they’re offered something they can’t refuse. He’s in his prime, he’s under team control for 2012 and only makes $2.25 million this year. Might cost too much in terms of prospects to get him.

Joe Nathan, MIN (36) – Definitely has the chops for closing but there is risk involved here since he’s just starting to round into form after missing the 2010 season. Stuff isn’t what it used to be but it’s still good. Not sure the Twins would part with him unless they’re trying to save some money. There’s a $12.5 million club option on him for 2012 (or a $2 million buyout). Not sure that works for the Cards with so many contracts coming up after the season.

Leo Nunez, FLA (27) – Marlins might consider moving him since he’ll be due a nice raise in the offseason but he’s under team control for 2012 and has done a nice job closing the last couple of seasons. They’re moving into a new stadium next year, though, and that means they’ll want a premium for moving any of their key players. Price may be tough to match.

Chad Qualls, SD (32) – Has some experience closing but I’m not sold on Qualls. Turned things around in SD but was awful in 2010 and comes with a $6 million team option for 2012 or a $1.05 million buyout. Worth a gamble on a giveaway but wouldn’t part with anything of significance to get him.

Jon Rauch, TOR (32) – Big right hander mostly rides a sinker, which would seem to fit the philosophy here in St. Louis, but just not an automatic difference maker. If acquired at a reasonable cost as depth for the 7th or 8th, no problem. Wouldn’t consider this a big-time get. $3.75 million club option for 2012 with a $250,000 buyout.

Huston Street, COL (27) – Salary is high ($7.5 million for 2012, option for 2013 w/ buyout) but has a proven track record closing games. How easily he can be acquired depends on how badly the Rockies want to move his 2012 salary. If they’re not worried about money, and there are no indications they are, then it would be tough to pry him away.

Koji Uehara, BAL (36) – Very intriguing guy. Not overpowering but throws a ton of strikes and his splitter is a good out pitch. 58-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season and a 1.84 ERA as I type this. Could be a free agent after the season but 15 more appearances will vest a $4 million option for 2012. Worth taking a chance on if the price is right.

There are other players available, some we’re not even hearing of, but this is a pretty good list. As you can see, there isn’t a hell of a lot out there that would make the Cardinals significantly better but there are parts that would help.

In a perfect world I’d add one of the listed starters and shift Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen, which is where he’s likely to end up in 2012 anyway if the team brings back Chris Carpenter. Adding a starter AND a reliever would be even better but I won’t be greedy.

Jackson, Kuroda and Guthrie would be my top 3 choices since I’m assuming the bidding will get too high on the closers. If I can’t get a proven 9th inning guy I’d prefer a starter with McClellan moving back, as unfair as that may be…


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