One of the players the Cardinals will have to decide to trade or keep before Monday's deadline is pitcher Lance Lynn. (File) 

By Rob Rains

With the clock ticking steadily toward the trading deadline of 3 p.m. Monday, the Cardinals find themselves still in a bit of a quandry about whether they should add players, deal players, some combination of the two or stick with what they have.

Normally, a team under .500 in the final week of July doesn’t have all of those concerns. Any chance of making the playoffs with that kind of record with two months left in the season is usually a false hope.

This year is different, of course, because how far the Cardinals are under .500 doesn’t really matter in the NL Central. With the Brewers, Cubs and Pirates all being very similar to the Cardinals, the race to win the division is wide open.

What John Mozeliak, the new president of baseball operations, and general manager Michael Girsch need to focus on between now and Monday, however, is not what happens in the next two months. What happens in 2018, and 2019, should be their motivator for any potential trades.

The Cardinals have seen the future in the last few weeks with the major-league arrivals of Paul DeJong, Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and Luke Voit. Alex Reyes will be back next year, and Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson will be in St. Louis soon. That’s the future. That should be the team’s new corps which Mozeliak and Girsch should build around.

Even without making any deadline deals, those players should get a lot of playing time between now and the end of the season, and they just might play well enough to bring this team a division title. If they fall short, all of the experience will only make them better heading into next season.

It should be up to Mozeliak and Girsch to try to add players who can support that group, not necessarily in August and September but down the road.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:

Keep Lance Lynn

This might seem counterproductive to the argument about focusing on the future when Lynn will almost certainly be wearing another uniform next season, but it’s not as if his signing with another team over the winter would not bring anything in return.

As long as the Cardinals make Lynn a qualifying offer of just more than $18 million, they would receive an extra compensation pick in the 2018 draft if he were to sign elsewhere. Lynn could accept the deal, and that would be fine with the Cardinals, because they would then have the option of trading him again next July.

The draft pick would not be as high as it once was under the changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would be a compensatory pick after the second round, making it somewhere around the 75th pick in the draft. With the pick, however, would come more slot money and that is always important when it comes to selecting and signing players through the draft’s first 10 rounds.

Trade Mike Leake and Trevor Rosenthal to the Nationals for prospects

All of the focus of the Nationals’ interest in a Cardinals’ starting pitcher has been on Lynn, but Leake could be a possibility for a couple of reasons.

The Nationals made a strong attempt to sign him as a free agent before Leake signed with the Cardinals, and they are not really looking for a rental pitcher. They want somebody who is controllable beyond this season, and Leake falls into that category with three years left on his contract.

Plus, Nationals manager Dusty Baker is familiar with Leake, who pitched for him for several years with the Reds.

With almost the first two years of his contract completed, Leake will be owed $48 million, plus either a $5 million buyout of mutual $18 million option for 2021. Leake does have full no-trade protection, so he would have to agree to the deal.

Giving the Nationals a potential closer in Rosenthal would have to be part of the deal to get them to assume Leake’s contract. Rosenthal does not become a free agent until after next season, and he would just be the latest Scott Boras client to wind up in Washington.

The Nationals probably would not surrender their top prospect, outfielder Victor Robles, in this deal, but that’s OK because of the money the Cardinals would be saving in unloading Leake and the knowledge the Cardinals are top-heavy with young outfielders. The package of prospects the Cardinals could get in this deal should be headed by 19-year-old shortstop Carter Kieboom, who could move to third base as he gets older and stronger. Baseball America ranks Kieboom as the Nationals’ fourth-best prospect.

Trade Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham

As mentioned, the Cardinals have too many outfielders so somebody needs to go, whether it is the next few days or sometime in the off-season. Grichuk and Pham make the most sense, especially now, because they are as hot as they are ever going to be which should increase their value.

There is not nearly as much demand for outfielders as there is for starting pitcher or relievers, however, so that will make unloading them for a decent return a harder task for Mozeliak and Girsch. Perhaps one of them could be included in the proposed deal with the Nationals, if that deal could be expanded.

Trading either Grichuk, Pham or both would help clear up the logjam of outfielders on the Cardinals. Stephen Piscotty should be back from the DL by early next week, and even if Dexter Fowler is out a while longer, the combination of Piscotty, Bader, Sierra and Jose Martinez should do a more than adequate job in his absence.

When they come back, both Piscotty and Fowler are going to have to start playing better than they have so far this season but it might be time for them and the Cardinals to just write off this season and hope they are healthy are ready for 2018.

There might be some reluctance in the front office to trade Grichuk, but in reality, DeJong is showing that he can be the middle of the order power bat the Cardinals thought they had in Grichuk, but in a player two years younger and who plays a more premium position, one without the depth the Cardinals have in the outfield.

One possible trade partner could be the Indians, who were interested in J.D. Martinez of the Tigers before he was dealt to Arizona. Not in the race, but looking for outfield help, are the Giants and A’s.

Trade at least one of the left-handed relievers

The member of this group who would most likely generate interest from other teams is Zach Duke, a free agent at the end of the season and a veteran, but he has yet to prove he is 100 percent back after Tommy John surgery. Kevin Siegrist could possibly bring the most in return.

It might also be time to consider moving Tyler Lyons, giving him a fresh start in another organization, since he always seems to be an after-thought with the Cardinals despite having success as both a spot starter and reliever. As much as the Cardinals probably would like to move on from Brett Cecil, the contract will all but prohibit him from being traded.

Make more deals in the winter

While the trading deadline offers the Cardinals their first chance to clear up some of their roster issues and look to the future, they won’t be able to accomplish all of their goals before Monday. It’s unlikely they will find the veteran power bat they need in the middle of the lineup or a lights-out closer. The winter will bring more trade discussions, and hopefully opportunities to unload more veterans as the team wisely builds for the future.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains