PITTSBURGH — As the trade deadline appeared on the horizon this month, the Cardinals’ front office candidly said it was straddling the market, teeter-tottering between buy, sell, or standstill. The officials waited on a sign from the team that it was something other than a .500 club.
They wanted a nudge.
They got a shove.
With the four-game sweep of the Pirates completed Thursday and a 7-1 road trip, the Cardinals return to Busch Stadium with a share of first place in the National League Central — and a clear direction for the front office.
“It pushes our viewpoint off the midpoint to the buyer side,” general manager Michael Girsch said Thursday at PNC Park. “Whether that comes to fruition is hard to say. Who knows at this point? Certainly, it has changed our perspective. That is no longer the question.”
The trade deadline arrives Wednesday, and for the first time it’s a true deadline. There will be no waiver deals, no salary dumps, nothing of the sort that used to populate August. Girsch described the marketplace as “complicated, right now.”
Some of the teams that were positioned to be sellers, like San Francisco, have had a winning stretch to alter their plans, and other teams who insisted they would contend this season, like the Mets, are now open to talk trades. There have been reports that the Mets would listen to offers for Noah Syndergaard, a frontline starter with one of the game’s best fastballs and nicknames (“Thor”).
While the winning stretch has given the Cardinals the impetus to shop, their list is still taking shape. The known available hitters, like Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos, don’t offer the obvious fit for the Cardinals. And some of the pitchers who appeal to the Cardinals, like San Francisco’s Will Smith or Cleveland’s Brad Hand, may not be available.
Finding a lefty reliever is high on the Cardinals’ priorities, officials have indicated. The Cardinals have explored possible options at starting pitcher. The list of available starters seems to shift with the standings. Arizona offers an intriguing place to send a few text messages with lefty Robbie Ray and high-priced, high-performance righthander Zack Greinke part of a team looking to commit to a direction.
Girsch declined to discuss specific targets, per team policy.
He did make it clear the Cardinals have played their way into contention for a division title, and that adding to the roster for a title run and not a wild-card run has appeal.
“The goal is winning the division,” Girsch said. “I think our job is to be somewhat practical. You can’t chase something that’s too far out of reach, but you don’t give up on something that is going well.”
The finality of the deadline and the jumble of races will separate teams based on their timelines to contend. Sellers are going to be the teams looking a year, two, three down the road. For the first time in several years, the Cardinals have a thinner group of prospects to offer. They are not interested in conversations that hinge around switch-hitting Class AA outfielder Dylan Carlson, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said he was not looking to trade from the team’s major-league roster.
“Where we are in the standings and how we’re playing obviously influences what we’re ultimately able to do at the deadline,” Girsch said. “The offense has come alive. It’s been great seeing us play the way we thought we’d be playing.”
After a discussion with manager Mike Shildt on Thursday morning, Carpenter and the club have decided the third baseman’s rehab assignment should continue through the weekend, and he will not be joining the team in St. Louis on Friday. Carpenter will instead shift from Class AAA Memphis to Class AA Springfield and appear in the S-Cards lineup at home on Friday night. In his two games with the Triple-A Redbirds this week, Carpenter went zero-for-six with three strikeouts, and he drew a walk before scoring a run.
Carpenter is recovering from back spasms and a deep bone bruise near his right ankle — injuries that put him on the injured list twice this month. He’s also using the access to minor-league games to heal his swing. Shildt said the former All-Star’s performance will determine when he returns, and what role he has when he does.
“He’s feeling better, but the results weren’t there as far as the numbers,” Shildt said. “We trust the opinion that he’s moving toward a positive place again. Continue to get some at-bats and make sure he feels like he’s ready to go.”
GYORKO, MOLINA, OZUNA & MORE
Jedd Gyorko (wrist surgery, calf strain) will participate in batting practice with his teammates on Friday and could be headed for a rehab assignment as early as Saturday. Gyorko has increased his baseball activities in the past week and is ready to join teammates at least in the cage and possibly on the field for infield drills. Shildt said a conversation is scheduled for Saturday to determine where Gyorko will go to start what can be a 20-day rehab assignment. …
Marcell Ozuna (hand fractures) has seen an increase in his grip strength this week, and he and Yadier Molina (thumb tendon) are scheduled to meet with a hand specialist this weekend to determine the ongoing recovery. A timetable for both players’ return could solidify during the home stand. …
Dexter Fowler’s homer Thursday was his first career homer at PNC Park in the regular season. He had a home run in the 2015 wild-card game at Pittsburgh to send his Cubs into a division series against the Cardinals.