The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen troubles—and the MLB trade rumors that are spun around them—are, on a national level, usually wrapped tightly around a core that contains Ryan Franklin's sudden and complete collapse after two-plus seasons as the team's closer and Heath Bell's clear status as a top trade chit ahead of the trade deadline. But in St. Louis the left-handed relief has caused just as much grief as the right, with no young flamethrowers on the horizon to solve the problem. Brian Tallet and Trever Miller have each struggled as the primary left-hander in the pen, and thirtysomething Memphis arrival Raul Valdes has been unspectacular in his second MLB season. Trade prospects, unfortunately, look just as uncertain.
Former Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez, currently struggling with the Baltimore Orioles, won't be a great fit in any pitch-to-contact system but still knows his way around a strikeout. The prize of the list, such as it is, is the brilliant and troubled Hong-Chih Kuo, a typically unhittable left-hander whose injury problems and recent anxiety issues have combined with the Los Angeles Dodgers' financial and on-field woes to put him on the market.
One interesting option: intermittently successful Japanese import Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox, who has spent much of the season in AAA, posting impressive numbers. A LOOGY whose success is predicated on deception and a blooper curveball might get more than the usual player from a change of leagues.
On the minor league front the Cardinals could look at well-traveled ex-prospect Royce Ring, who recently left the Mariners' system after a less-than-steller half-season at AAA. A first rounder back in 2002, Ring spent 2009 with Memphis and was, once upon a time, traded to the San Diego Padres—along with fellow Mets prospect Heath Bell.