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Decision Time Looms for the St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have managed to hang within striking distance of first place throughout the 2014 season. Tied for first place with the Milwaukee Brewers at the weekend, they now reside two and a half games back, sharing second place with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After 101 games, they are seven games over .500.

The trade deadline is a week from today, at 11 pm Central time on July 31st. This is the time by which an acquiring club must have a player on the active roster for that player to be eligible for post-season play. All the usual targets have been lined up and parsed ad nauseum, but what can general manager John Mozeliak realistically do? What are the factors pushing–and pulling him–in one direction or another?

The rationale to stand pat:
The St. Louis Cardinals are within three games of first place, with the next six games against teams with losing records. All four teams in the hunt in the National League Central are flawed. Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez have been disappointing in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates’ defense and pitching aren’t as good as last year. The Reds have been buffeted by injuries all season. Joey Votto is out of the lineup with a sore knee. The Brewers are better than they were last season, but they have ruled atop the division mostly because the Cardinals haven’t lived up to expectations.

The division is there for the taking, if one of these four clubs got hot down the stretch. It’s cold comfort for John Mozeliak, as there are pressing concerns:

The imperatives to deal:
The flawed nature of this group of teams and their tight bunching means all four could decide that a move or series of moves could tip the balance of power in their favor. Is there a deal available that the Cardinals would do to circumvent the desires of another NL Central club?

The continued impressive turnout of fans at Busch Stadium: the Cardinals are second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in attendance. They are expected to bring in 3.5 million paying customers this season. How would attendance be affected by failing to upgrade the roster? What will the standings look like in a week? These have to be  considerations for the organization, which understands that high expectations bring a lot of pressure to bear on the club.

The failure of the hitters and the faltering rotation: a club that came second to the Boston Red Sox in scoring runs in 2013 is near the bottom in slugging, runs, and homers. Too many nights end in shutouts. The staff has been decimated by injuries, with Joe Kelly (and now) Michael Wacha out for months. Jaime Garcia is again done for the year. Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller have been shaky. Yadier Molina won’t be back until some time in September.

The St. Louis Cardinals appear to have too many needs to be addressed on the fly. Optimism keeps one mentally healthy. Realism keeps one grounded. How does Mozeliak view what’s occurred, and what will he do about it? Stay tuned.

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