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Cardinals notebook: John Mozeliak talks trade options to help now, and beyond

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WASHINGTON — The Cardinals have forged a reputation and outfitted recent rosters by turning prospects into players traded months or even years before their final season of contract control. They did that with current corner infielders, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and departed outfielders Jason Heyward and Marcell Ozuna.

Now they’re looking into doing it again — with one significant difference.

The temperature is hotter.

And so is the pressure.

This summer’s trade deadline has brought interests like Washington outfielder Juan Soto and a handful of pitchers, opportunities the Cardinals usually explore in winter. That timing has changed the calculations of doing business.

“Obviously, there are names being discussed out there that might be, arguably slightly unusual given the years of control, (and) I would agree that’s rare,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “Finding a meeting of the minds on something like that is going to be complicated because it’s not like you can look at past market or past precedent and say what is fair. … Those type of players typically weren’t moved (in July). I think what we’re seeing is that the market of the trade deadline is probably the best opportunity for the highest return. In some cases, maybe the least rational.”

The Cardinals made their first trade of the deadline period Saturday by sending shortstop Edmundo Sosa to Philadelphia for a minor-league pitcher, lefty JoJo Romero. The motivation for the move was to clear a spot on the roster for former All-Star Paul DeJong’s return from the minors. DeJong was officially added to the roster in time to start Saturday night against the Nationals. Sosa was out of options and the Cardinals knew they could not pass him through waivers without a team taking him.

The Cardinals had discussions about Sosa with several teams, including the New York Yankees, before turning Saturday to acquire a pitcher with options who could give left-handed depth at Class AAA. Romero, 25, throws a sinker and has a hyper groundball rate.

He was assigned to Class AAA Memphis.

In addition to maintaining contact with the Nationals this weekend about the best player available at the deadline — 23-year-old Soto — the Cardinals are in rolling conversations with teams listening to offers for starting pitchers ahead of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. They seek innings, and their need for at least one starter is acute. Lefty Steven Matz will undergo tests Monday on the tear in his left knee. While the team is hopeful Matz can avoid surgery, Mozeliak conceded that it is “very, very difficult to get him back this year.” Mozeliak said there is a “sliver” of a chance.

Fellow starter Jack Flaherty (shoulder) may not return till September.

To fill the hole in the rotation, the Cardinals have had discussions with Oakland about right-hander Frankie Montas. They have also had talks with Houston about right-hander and Breese, Illinois, native Jake Odorizzi, sources confirmed. They’ve at least discussed internally Boston right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and Angels’ right-hander Noah Syndergaard.

The latter two are two-month rentals. The first two fit the new look to the deadline, especially Montas. Miami’s Pablo Lopez would be similar if available. One of the best pitchers available, Montas, 29, has another year of control on his contract before he becomes a free agent, so an acquiring team will have him for two playoff pushes.

The price for a pitcher just above Montas was revealed Saturday night when Seattle acquired Cincinnati ace Luis Castillo. Like Montas, Castillo is under control through 2023, and the Mariners paid a premium to get more than a rental. The Reds got four prospects in return, including Seattle’s top prospect, shortstop Noelvi Marte. The foursome included two prospects ranked in Baseball America’s overall top 50, and two others ranked in the Mariners’ Top 30.

That defined the “market for top of the rotation-type starter,” Mozeliak said.

“That doesn’t mean … it has to be matched, or topped,” he continued. “There is a line in the sand. So we can understand that part of it. But then there’s also the part there about some opportunities out there who might not be ‘top of the rotation’ but can fill innings. Just because of what happened (in Seattle) doesn’t necessarily mean that market has been defined as far as cost. That’s what we’re working through.

“The great asset we have right now is still time.”

And prospects.

This year, prospects.

Led by Jordan Walker, who homered twice for Class AA Springfield on Friday, the Cardinals have seven players on Baseball America’s Top 100 list. They also have three younger players in the majors who could be ranked if eligible: Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and Sunday’s starter Andre Pallante. This “prospect capital” gets them a seat at the trade deadline’s most intriguing option: Soto. Washington has wanted to talk. The Nationals want a haul. But in return, a team will get two-plus years with Soto and three playoff chances with one of the game’s top hitters of any age. He just happens to be younger than 24.

Soto will also be entertaining the arbitration years when he and his career .963 OPS start to set records for one-year salary bumps.

“I think what’s rare is the timing,” Mozeliak said when asked about Soto. “We traded for Paul Goldschmidt. We traded for Nolan Arenado. But that’s the only thing about that player. Age.”

He elaborated, speaking in general about the market.

“What excites me is that we are in a very strong position from a minor-league standpoint,” Mozeliak concluded. “And it’s a great compliment that we’re drafting and signing well. But I do find that we’re in conversations because of that, yes, because we’re in the position to be talked about.”

Arenado commits to Team USA

Arenado, All-Star and an MVP candidate at midseason, agreed to participate in next spring’s World Baseball Classic as the third baseman for Team USA, the tournament’s defending champ. The Cardinals and Team USA confirmed Arenado’s pledge Saturday. For the nine-time Gold Glove-winner, it’s a return to the national team after competing in 2017’s WBC, where he became close friends with future Cardinals teammate Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt has an invitation to return to the national team for the MLB-sponsored international contest, but he has yet to make a decision, a Cardinals official said.

Mike Trout was the first of the active players to commit to Team USA, and the Angels outfielder will captain the group. He said during the All-Star break he’ll also actively recruit. The 2023 WBC will begin with pool play March 8 in Taiwan, and the championship will be 13 days later at loanDepot Park in Miami. Participants are excused from spring training with their teams during the WBC run.

Molina’s rehab advances

Yadier Molina caught five innings for Class AAA Memphis on Saturday night, and depending on how he recovers will attempt to at least repeat that workload Sunday. Molina, out since mid-June with a knee injury, got a base hit, walked, and grounded out in his final at-bat. The team expects him to join the active roster Tuesday as a series with the Cubs opens at Busch Stadium.

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