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St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia (right) embraces manager Mike Matheny after throwing a complete game one-hit shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, April 14, 2016, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • For the first nine years and 147 starts of his career, Jaime Garcia knew only one organization and buttoned-up only one team’s jerseys in the majors.

This Thursday, he’ll make a start for a third different team in 14 days.

As baseball’s trade deadline speeds toward a close at 3 p.m. today St. Louis time, it’s doubtful one player will log as much mileage as the former Cardinals’ lefty. He’s been traded three times since December and twice in the past week. The Minnesota Twins traded for Garcia and then promptly lost six of seven games. The only one they won was his start.

Now he’s off to join Matt Holliday with the New York Yankees, and then this winter he’ll be a free agent.

Garcia’s travels tie to the Cardinals in two ways: First, as one of the actively shopped starters on the market he has proven to be an alternative for Lance Lynn, the Cardinals starter they have sought the best offer to move. Second, Garcia offers a good example of what the trade market values — and what kind of return a rental can get.

The Yankees, Dodgers, Boston, Rockies and a few others have either scouted Lynn in recent weeks or been connected to him. Often, both. The Houston Astros were believed to see Lynn as an alternative to another starter they coveted (Sonny Gray?), though one source expressed surprise that there had been little public chatter about the Astros and Lynn. One factor about Lynn that teams must consider is whether he, coming back from Tommy John surgery, could be limited when a contender would turn to him to make a difference — in October.

Two things moving today will influence the market for Lynn the most: Gray and the clock. As teams like the Yankees try to work out a deal for Gray, the Oakland righty will either move and trigger the rush for alternatives (like Lynn and Yu Darvish) or the clock will tick toward the deadline and alternatives will be sought.

When asked recently about what the Cardinals’ end-goals at the deadline would be — buy, sell, long-term, short-term, invest, whatever — an executive said “it could go to the end” to find out.

The example offered was moving Lynn in a last-minute market.

What Darvish and Lynn don’t have that Gray does is years of control.

Enter Garcia.

The adventures of the former Cardinals lefty since he was traded this past winter show how what a player can command shrinks not just with performance, but with simple control. Look at the timeline:

  • On Dec. 1, 2016: Cardinals trade Jaime Garcia for three minor-leaguers, all three of whom are ranked in the Atlanta Braves’ Top 30, per MiLB.com.
  • On July 24, 2017: Atlanta trades Garcia, cash, and a backup catcher for one minor-leaguer, who does not rank in the Twins’ updated Top 30.
  • On July 30, 2017: Minnesota trades Garcia and cash to Yankees for two minor-league pitchers, neither of whom ranks in the Yankees’ updated Top 30.

This, of course, makes some intuitive sense. Although Garcia had performance and teams had need, what really drove the return on Garcia was the time left on his deal, not production or even urgency. Atlanta paid the higher price because it was getting a full season from the lefty. Garcia then went 4-7 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts for the Braves, and it should be noted that in 15 of his 19 starts this season he pitched at least six innings. That’s valuable for the back end of a contender’s rotation.

You can break the deals down simply by years of control.

  • Cardinals got 18 (minors), Braves got 1 (Garcia).
  • Braves got 6 (minors), Twins got 0.67 (Garcia and catcher).
  • Twins got 12-ish (minors), Yankees got 0.33 (Garcia).

That –ish is because it’s not clear if the Twins will make the most of those 12 years of control. The Yankees sent two minor-league pitchers to Minnesota: LHP Dietrich Enns and RHP Zack Littell. Enns, 26, had to be protected this past winter from the Rule 5 draft, and that means a 40-man spot and the possibility that the long-term add of the deal is Littell. At 21, he’s 9-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) at High-A. He has 57 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings, and the Twins would have six years of major-league control.

They gave up 19-year-old Huascar Ynoa to get Garcia. Ynoa, a righthander, was 0-1 with a 5.26 ERA in six starts at rookie ball. Essentially, the Twins traded a teen pitcher for Garcia and got a pitcher two years older and several levels ahead in return for Garcia.

The Cardinals know a little a little more about what they got in the original deal:

John Gant, RHP: Was poised to make the major-league team out of spring training as a long reliever before a groin injury. Had a one-game stand in the majors this season, and could be headed back for depth this September. The Braves’ No. 21 prospect at the time of the trade, Gant has gone 3-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts for Class AAA Memphis. He has 65 strikeouts in 73 innings. Baseball America has him as the 27th-best prospect in Cardinals’ system.

Chris Ellis, RHP: The highest-rated prospect of the group, he’s advanced from Class AA to Class AAA for the Cardinals. For Springfield, he was 2-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) and he had 47 strikeouts and 23 walks in 56 innings. There are scouts that like his reliability, and there are others that see him surging as a reliever. At Memphis, he’s 2-3 with a 7.88 ERA in 11 games (five starts) and he has 31 strikeouts and 15 walks in 32 innings. He was the Braves’ No. 17 prospect, per MiLB.com, entering the season. Ellis did not crack the BA Top 30.

Luke Dykstra, INF: The son of former Phillies’ and Mets’ scrapper Lenny Dykstra, the second baseman has spent the entire season at High-A Palm Beach. He’s hit .244/.297/.304 in 66 games. He’s coming off a two-for-four game that included his second homer of the season. At the time of the trade, Dykstra ranked as the Braves’ No. 29 prospect, per MiLB.com. He did not crack the Cardinals’ Top 30, and at his position he rated behind Eliezer Alvarez and Breyvic Valera on the Cardinals’ depth chart.

As the deadline nears, the Cardinals remain in the Lynn Holding Pattern. They have had discussions with teams about Randal Grichuk, to see what he could command in return. Cleveland has been a team that scouted Lance Lynn and, according to a source, has at least been approached by the Cardinals about the outfielders the Cardinals are willing to move.

The Washington Nationals have also been present at Lynn's start and scouted the Cardinals' bullpen.

Toronto, as reported in The Post-Dispatch, has been circling the Cardinals' Class AAA affiliate and have had discussions with the Cardinals. The Jays would move reliever Joe Smith, though beyond that any other move would be costly. Teams have approached the Cardinals about Tommy Pham and Trevor Rosenthal. The Cardinals would also consider moving one of the lefties from the major-league roster, though it’s not clear any of the lefties have garnered attention.

Stay tuned.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.