What Do The Cardinals Need?

I have no answer to the question—I seriously want to know.

The cop-out answer is “a lot.” Obviously the Cardinals, like a number of teams, have been decimated by injuries and it has definitely caught up to them. But the walking wounded are slowly trickling back to the lineup, and as they do maybe the powers that be can start to get a clearer picture of how the second half of the season will shake out.

Still, even with the disabled list completely empty, this team has needs. And trying to assess the best possible moves to be made is nothing short of maddening.

For instance, it could be said the Cardinals need to acquire a strong relief pitcher. OK, fine…lefty or righty? Because with the erratic ineffectiveness of guys like Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Brain Tallet, and Trever Miller, it’s easy to see where a stopper that throws with either hand could be a boost to an already taxed bullpen. But how long before one new arm becomes equally taxed?

Perhaps, then, the best move would be to acquire a starter that can eat some innings. The Cardinals could then move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen, maybe killing two birds (ahem) with one stone. But before Chris Carpenter’s eight inning performance Friday night, the Cards had been hard-pressed to get more than six innings out of any of their starters. Would one starter be enough to give the bullpen a break? Anymore, it seems like Cardinal starters are hitting the wall earlier and earlier each game.

Part of the reason for that could be having to get extra outs each inning. The Cardinals have made a lot of errors this season. In terms of game outcome, some errors are more costly than others. But all errors give the other team an extra out, and that means extra pitches thrown. It adds up quickly. And the Cards’ rotation is not exactly made up of 200 inning workhorses. So should a stud defender be their target? Maybe pick up a flashy shortstop that could move Ryan Theriot to second base? Then the Cards’ pitch-to-contact starters may be more efficient…which would allow them to throw more innings…which in turn would put less stress on the bullpen.

The list of available players is still relatively short, though. The Angels just released lefty starter Scott Kazmir, who is still pretty young but has been battling injuries and ineffectiveness in recent years. JC Romero has just been designated for assignment by the Phillies, too. He could provide help for the left side of the bullpen. Both would represent low-risk acquisitions. But these guys were cut loose for a reason; would either be any better than what the Cards already have? More players like them will start to show up on free agent lists as the summer wears on, too.

The only other option is for the front office to totally move all in and make a blockbuster trade of some kind. Teams like the Mets, Padres, and Orioles may be selling soon, and all have players that could help the Cardinals. But impact players never come cheap, and really that is what the Cards need. Role players and supporting cast they have plenty of. So it’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” this time of year. Is Cardinal Nation willing to bid farewell to someone like Colby Rasmus for a chance to win now? Because if you want to see someone like Jose Reyes or Heath Bell wearing the Birds on the Bat, someone like Rasmus will be asked about.

Even in the throes of a seven game losing streak, the Cardinals are still only a game out of first place. It may not yet be time to hit the panic button. But the NL Central has become a four team race (Pirates!), so the margin for error is slimmer than ever. If John Mozeliak and company do not have a contingency plan in place, now would be the time to draw one up.

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