MLB Rumors: Cardinals Refocus Trade Strategy As Pitching Stabilizes

The St. Louis Cardinals are unlikely to end their midseason activity with Brian Fuentes.

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Brandon League Joins Los Angeles Dodgers At MLB Trade Deadline

The Los Angeles Dodgers grabbed one of the available closers at the MLB Trade Deadline, taking Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for prospects Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom. Leon Landry, a third-rounder back in the 2010 MLB Draft, has put up big numbers in the hitter-friendly California League, hitting .328/.358/.559 with 26 doubles and 15 triples after a disappointing 2011 season. He'll need to work on his plate discipline to reach the major leagues, but his speed-based game will be a good fit at hitter-throttling Safeco Field; Bawcom, a 17th-rounder in the same draft, is a AA reliever with impresssive strikeout rates.

It's a good haul for the Mariners, and a lot to give up for a relief pitcher with low strikeout rates in his three seasons in Seattle. The St. Louis Cardinals were reportedly interested in League, but if Landry and Bawcom were the price they can be forgiven for passing on him. League, who has 54 career saves across an MLB career that began in 2004, will be a free agent after the season.

The Mariners, who've already traded Ichiro Suzuki, are likely to shop Jason Vargas and some additional relievers as the trade deadline nears. For more coverage all day, stay tuned to SB Nation St. Louis's MLB Trade Deadline storystream.

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St. Louis Cardinals Rumors: Stephen Drew, Yunel Escobar Would Improve Cardinals Infield

The St. Louis Cardinals appear less likely than before to seek out pitching help, thanks to strong performances recently from all five starters and a suddenly hot bullpen, but that's not pulled them out of the trade rumors picture entirely—they still have enough prospects around to throw a haymaker ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, if a way of improving this team emerges. One vector for improvement: Second base in particular and the middle infield in general, which is currently ill-prepared for an injury to the notably injury-prone Rafael Furcal. Stephen Drew and Yunel Escobar are two shortstops who could solve that problem fast, and each is on the trading block.

Each also has his own problems to deal with. Drew has struggled with injuries himself, missing half of 2011 and much of 2012 so far with a broken ankle. J.D. Drew's younger brother has never quite turned into the star many expected him to be, but he's a solidly average shortstop with a bat that falls somewhere between average and above-average, which makes him a very valuable player if he can stay on both feet for the rest of the year. 29 years old, he's got a $10 million mutual option with a $1.35 million buyout for 2013 before becoming a free agent.

Yunel Escobar, meanwhile, has his reputation as a clubhouse pariah to deal with—it followed him from Atlanta, where he was a highly touted young shortstop, to the Toronto Blue Jays, where his bat has collapsed in 2012 after a solid 2011. He's also 29, and at his best he's probably a step better than Drew, with the same bat and better defense. But he's rarely been at his best, lately, and now two teams have been willing to deal him on the cheap to get rid of him.

Neither of these players is a star, but either of them would make an interesting bargain acquisition; if the Cardinals grabbed one he would likely have to move to second base, but he could also count on being the backup shortstop and Furcal's likely replacement in 2014.

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Shelby Miller-James Shields Trade Rumors Put The St. Louis Cardinals' Rotation Back In Discussion

Just when you thought it was safe to be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation: Post-Dispatch rumor maven Joe Strauss, appearing on Tim McKernan's ITD Morning After show on KFNS, returned Shelby Miller trade rumors to their place of prominence in the Cardinals' trade deadline discussions by suggesting a specific name in return: James Shields, of the Tampa Bay Rays. Here's 140 characters, give or take, from McKernan's tweeted summary of the interview:

James Shields is an interesting-enough name that even those of us who remain firm believers in Shelby Miller's future have to take notice when it comes up. At 30 years old he's proved remarkably durable, put together some fine seasons in the middle of Tampa's famous rotation, and, while he was at it, given his team two option years, in 2013 and 2014, for a total of $21 million.

He's having a rough season now, but his peripherals are nearly as good as usual; his 3.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio is more likely to carry forward than the .339 BAbip. The main thing this trade has to recommend it, however, is that he wouldn't just be a 2012 rental.

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Are Huston Street's Trade Rumor Days Over After The Padres' Carlos Quentin Extension?

One San Diego Padres trade rumor down, one more to go--less than a week after threatening to keep both of their veteran trading chits around for seasons to come Josh Byrnes and the Padres announced they were signing Carlos Quentin, the slugging-outfielder piece of the equation, to a three year deal worth at least $27 million. The merits of that deal aside--I'm not sure I get it--that leaves us to wonder whether Huston Street, their coveted closer, left on the trading block.

Don't get me wrong--as a St. Louis Cardinals fan and a charter member of the relievers-are-overrated club, I kind of hope he isn't. But I was also, until the Padres really did sign Quentin, convinced he had to be; there was simply no reason for the Padres to keep Street when they could have turned some other team's panic into a quick prospect or two.

Now, though--well, anything could happen. So if this whole Carlos Quentin thing was just really expensive cover for their true intentions about Street--well, score one pyrrhic victory for them against the rumor-industrial complex, I guess.

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Ryan Dempster Rumors No Longer A Focus As St. Louis Cardinals' Pitching Stabilizes

For a while, there, trade rumors about the St. Louis Cardinals had begun to center around Ryan Dempster, the Chicago Cubs starter whose pending free agency and general cromulence suited an unstable Cardinals rotation just fine. Now, though, after solid outings from Jake Westbrook and Joe Kelly at the back of the rotation and a return to form from first-half rock Lance Lynn, it looks like the Cardinals' trade deadline focus will return to the bullpen.

And bullpen trades, of course, are a much more confusing story. Unless they go for the top-of-the-line model and pony up the prospects for Huston Street it's almost impossible to say just who or what they'll land on as the salve for their unstable relievers. The Houston Astros, under former Cardinals farm guru Jeff Luhnow, just unloaded both Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers without drawing interest from John Mozeliak, but since they're in the bullpen middle-class it's uncertain whether they were too poor or too rich for Mozeliak's blood.

(Though if they were too rich, I'm not sure what the Cardinals will be able to do besides signing more Brian Fuentes types.)

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MLB Trade Rumors: Chicago Cubs Nearly Lose Meal Ticket After Matt Garza Injury

Right now, at least two members of the Chicago Cubs' rotation are worth more to them as the subject of swirling MLB trade rumors than they are as starting pitchers. Ryan Dempster, shipped frequently with the St. Louis Cardinals, started on Friday and won his first game for them... while with the Cubs. Matt Garza, the big ticket, started yesterday... and left after three innings with an injury in what turned, eventually, into a 12-run bloodbath.

Luckily for the Cubs, who would suddenly have found themselves with an untradeable 28-year-old starter on their hands, the injury wasn't any more serious than a muscle cramp. So if the right-hander is really the object of the Los Angeles Dodgers' affections--it's been suggested that they'd rather have him than Dempster because he's under team control for another year--the Cubs can go back to counting their prospects before they've hatched.

They've already lost Ryan Dempster's scoreless innings streak in this weekend set; they can hardly afford for their best assets to depreciate some more.

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St. Louis Cardinals Rumors Settle On Cubs' Ryan Dempster, For Now

Here's the thing about the MLB rumor mill: It spins for a while, on multiple wheels like a Mayan calendar, until two of them catch and a team is connected to one Perfect Trade Target almost exclusively for a while. That's happened to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the player, in this particularly odd case, is in division: The Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster, who's gotten attention from nearly every playoff-aimed team in baseball.

And for good reason: Dempster, in the midst of a 33-inning scoreless streak, is more affordable than the top rentals on the market, but he's having a great year and has been, as a Cub, a startlingly consistent member of the rotation.

It was a surprise, initially, coming from the 35-year-old, who began his career as an injury-prone superprospect and spent some time as a closer, but it's been four-and-a-half years, now, since he ruturned to the rotation, during which he's posted a 3.61 ERA over more than 900 innings.

The Cardinals definitely have the young pitching the Cubs want in return--the question is whether they want to give up enough of it to make the trade happen. For now, at least, the rumor-driven press seems to like the possibility.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Top St. Louis Cardinals Prospect Scouted By Seattle Mariners

St. Louis Cardinals fans with a minor league bent got nervous Tuesday when a Ken Rosenthal-sourced MLB trade rumor included Tyrell Jenkins, one of their clutch of top pitching prospects, in a possible trade with the Seattle Mariners. The real concern is more Rosenthal's speculation--that the Cardinals would be interested in Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas--than his reporting, that the Mariners scouted Jenkins.

Vargas, 29, is 9-7, but his peripherals are unimpressive; his strikeout rate is below six per nine innings, and he's somehow allowed 1.2 home runs per nine innings in four years at the Mariners' cavernous Safeco Field. Jenkins, 19, is raw, but progressing at a solid clip; already in the Midwest League at 19, Jenkins has flashed a strikeout an inning while showing solid control for a teenager. He was drafted as a supplemental first-rounder back in 2010, with the Cardinals pursuing him aggressively and signing him away from a college football commitment.

In short: He's the kind of pitcher you might trade for short-term help, but he's not the kind of pitcher you might trade for Jason Vargas. John Mozeliak's closeness to the player-development side of the Cardinals has me thinking, at this juncture, that the connection is more likely to be Rosenthal's mistake than the Cardinals'.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Huston Street Is Mets, Cardinals, Everybody Else's Quick Fix

I'm sorry, proverbial ladies: There isn't enough Huston Street to go around. Every year around this time a relief pitcher becomes every contending team's ideal quick fix, and articles run across America suggesting that the one thing keeping the hometown nine from the World Series is that they don't have a Proven Closer like--well, like Huston Street, this year. The St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets are the most outspoken candidates for a closer transplant this year, but they're far from the only teams whose fans have declared them interested.

Just look up "Huston Street" on your favorite news engine. Go ahead, I'll wait. From blogs, newspapers, and news sites I count desire from the Cardinals, the Mets, and the Washington Nationals. You could find more if you looked at the team blogs themselves.

It's all for naught, but at least their desire makes sense this year--Huston Street is considerably better than last year's global trade candidate, Heath Bell. The question is whether the Cardinals, or any other team, would want to part with the prospects that the second half of Street's Petco-inspired career year would seem to require in return.

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MLB Rumors 2012: Brian Fuentes Unlikely To End St. Louis Cardinals' Bullpen Search

Saturday afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially signed Brian Fuentes, sending the former All-Star to the minor leagues in preparation for a late-July trip to the major league bullpen. That ended a few weeks of speculation, and the life of a specific and long-lasting MLB rumor, but I doubt it's the end of the Cardinals' hunt for veteran bullpen help. Unless Fernando Salas or Maikel Cleto is able to emerge soon as the third reliable right-hander they need, expect the Cardinals to continue to sniff around any available relievers as the trade deadline nears--even Padres closer Huston Street.

With Kyle McClellan out for the season following a shoulder injury, the Cardinals no longer have even the illusion of help on the way, and the walk-off home run Victor Marte gave up Saturday against the Reds could prove an effective, if over-simplified, example of the dangers of relying on free talent.

One thing to keep in mind: The Cardinals won't necessarily attempt to help their bullpen by acquiring a reliever. Trading for a starter like Bartolo Colon and then moving mid-90s sinkerball-throwing rookie Joe Kelly into the bullpen would be another way of improving the pen while also making up the rotation depth they lost when Chris Carpenter's rehab failed.

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St. Louis Cardinals Rumors: Redbirds Apparently Among Last Teams Interested In Brian Fuentes

Oddly enough, it seems like Brian Fuentes, late of the Oakland Athletics, was more popular as an MLB rumors target when the interested team would have had to trade Oakland a prospect. Now that he's been released, and the St. Louis Cardinals or anybody else could get him for the league minimum and a few well-targeted compliments, teams have been backing out of the rumor mill one after the other.

Wednesday it was reported that the Dodgers were interested in a LOOGY, but not Fuentes; now someone's heard the same thing about the Angels.

The Cardinals, for their part, haven't shown interest as such--but at this point, just not saying that Brian Fuentes sucks and you hate him amounts to interest, so far as I can tell. The former closer--he's got 204 career saves, in case you were wondering--is probably done, but left-handed relievers as a class are so unpredictable and so generally unexciting that I'm surprised teams are singling him out for disapproval among the tens of unpleasant options available to bullpen stragglers.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Just How Good Is Huston Street, Anyway?

The St. Louis Cardinals are in on multiple MLB trade rumors, since they could use--depending on who you talk to--a relief pitcher, a starter, or a second baseman, and since it's easy to imagine them going in multiple directions with each problem. But Huston Street, the San Diego Padres' closer, has long been the going-all-in option at the top of the reliever-rumors totem pole. So how good does that make him?

The cop-out answer is not as good as he's been. Street's numbers are tough to parse, since he spent 2011 giving up a lot of home runs in Coors Field and has spent 2012 giving up no home runs at all at Petco Park.

But assuming that neither stop is particularly valuable as a data point--and that he won't maintain a sub-2.00 ERA wherever he ends up after the trade deadline--Street actually has an easy-to-discern skill-set, one that will be familiar to Cardinals fans who've watched Chris Carpenter for parts of the last eight years. Street has a not-quite-elite strikeout rate for a reliever, and he combines it with excellent control.

It's actually reminiscent of Jason Motte at his best, though it's hard to imagine two closers with less in common. What makes Street particularly valuable is that, like few other relief pitchers this side of Mariano Rivera, he's been able to repeat his trick year after year. I'm not sure if it'll be enough for the Padres to pull the trigger, but I can imagine these Cardinals paying a lot for his level of consistency.

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MLB Trade Rumors: St. Louis Cardinals Dealing Shelby Miller Would Be Selling Low

I can't say the St. Louis Cardinals won't trade Shelby Miller, as rumored recently, because they sold incredibly low on a former top prospect just last year, when they dealt Colby Rasmus for Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson. That one worked out, though I can't quite give John Mozeliak credit for the way it did. But unless their potential trading partners aren't phased by Miller's rough introduction to the Pacific Coast League--he's walked 43 and allowed 17 home runs in 77 innings with Memphis--I can't imagine the Cardinals will be getting top dollar for a player who's been their top prospect for three years now.

Unless he's the linchpin to a major deal--for Zack Greinke, say, as the precursor to a Matt Holliday-style contract extension--the Cardinals would be trading years of value for a few months of a player near the front of the rotation. Miller's a step away from the major leagues with a strikeout rate over 10 per nine innings; even if he's not an ace, he seems likely to be a valuable starting pitcher on the cheap. Oh, and he's 21.

That's a lot to give away for this year's Edwin Jackson, especially now that draft compensation is no longer available for players acquired in midseason. At this point I'd rather see the Cardinals bring Miller up as a reliever for the rest of the season than watch them trade him for anything less than a clear number one.

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