Missing the playoffs the last two seasons could prompt John Mozeliak and the Cardinals to be aggressive in this week's winter meetings. (File)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals’ front office contingent will arrive Sunday at baseball’s winter meetings outside Orlando, Fla., with the same three primary goals they had when the season ended more than two months ago.

The team is still looking for an impact bat for the middle of the lineup, a closer and a way to clear up the logjam that exists in the outfield. Whether John Mozeliak and his lieutenants will be able to accomplish all, some or none of that while in Florida will make for an interesting and busy week.

Failing to get Giancarlo Stanton to waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal to the Cardinals has prompted many to believe the Cardinals could be the most aggressive team in the majors during the meetings as they try to fill the holes that have kept them out of the playoffs the last two seasons.

As has been the case so far this off-season, it still seems likely the Cardinals’ path to add new players will be through the trade market more than through free agent signings.
If that is true, then here is a look at the teams the Cardinals appear to have the best matches with for trade discussions this week:

Miami Marlins – Even while the Cardinals were discussing a potential Stanton trade, they no doubt were also discussing other scenarios. How many of the players included in the Cardinals’ offer for Stanton could be shifted to a deal for Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich is a topic the team will no doubt pursue this week.

Trading the 27-year-old Ozuna, who hit 37 homers, drove in 124 runs and posted a .312 average this season – while also winning a Gold Glove – would not bring the Marlins the financial relief that appears to be their primary goal in any trade, which is why a team acquiring Ozuna probably would have to take on reliever Brad Ziegler’s $9 million salary for next year as well. Given the Cardinals’ bullpen needs, that might be something Mozeliak and company would be willing to do since it is the final year of his contract.

Trading Yelich, a year younger than Ozuna at 26, would help the Marlins finances as he is set to make more than $42 million between 2018 and 2021, with a team option for 2022.

Tampa Bay Rays – If the Cardinals want to discuss a blockbuster deal, this is the team to call. The Rays appear to be willing to talk about virtually anybody on their roster, including closer Alex Colome, starter Chris Archer and third baseman Evan Longoria. Like the Marlins, the Rays are looking for financial relief if they trade any of those players but they are not as desperate to merely unload their highest-salaried players. The Rays could also decide to not package those players and try to trade them individually. If that is the case, Colome would appear to be the one with the highest interest to the Cardinals.

Colome, 28, would come with three years of control and led the American League with 47 saves this season and has a combined total of 84 saves in his two years as the Rays’ closer. A deal for Archer likely would have to include one of the Cardinals’ current starting pitchers and more prospects. The Rays’ motivation in discussing Longoria, now 32, could come with the fact he will become a 10-and-5 player early next season and thus would be able to block any possible trade, much like Stanton.

Trading Longoria would give the greatest financial relief to the Rays since he is owed a total of $81 million through 2022, plus a $13 million team option or $5 million buyout for 2023. Longoria won his third Gold Glove this year but saw his offensive production drop off to 20 homers and 86 RBIs.

Toronto Blue Jays – Mozeliak has said often that he is not inclined to trade for a player who comes with only one year of control, which would be the case with third baseman Josh Donaldson, a free agent after next year. The Blue Jays also have said they are not necessarily shopping Donaldson, but since the two teams already have made one trade this winter, with Aledmys Diaz heading to Canada, they certainly know each other’s phone numbers. If the Cardinals wanted to expand a potential Donaldson trade into a bigger deal they should start by asking for starting pitcher Marcus Stroman. As with Archer, trading for Stroman would likely come with a front-end starter heading to Toronto.

Oakland A’s – If the Cardinals don’t come away from Florida with a big bat or a closer, they could at least make some moves to clear up the outfield situation. One of those moves might be sending Stephen Piscotty to the Bay Area. This was discussed before the trade deadline in July and could be revisited for three reasons – it would remove part of the logjam, it would allow Piscotty to be closer to home as his mother battles ALS and the assistant GM of the A’s is Dan Kantrovitz, who was the scouting director for the Cardinals when they selected Piscotty out of Stanford in 2012.

Baltimore Orioles
– There are two players on the Orioles who would provide a major upgrade to the Cardinals, but how open Baltimore is to trading Manny Machado and/or Zach Britton is the question. Machado is the co-headliner with Bryce Harper of the free agent class for next winter and the Orioles will have to decide if they think they can re-sign him or, if not, would it be better to trade him now. Even if Mozeliak is reluctant to trade for a player with only one year of control, Machado is a player who could convince him to bend that rule – and hope Machado likes St. Louis enough to stay for several more years. The Orioles almost traded Britton to Houston last July and could be tempted to move him, depending on what they could get in return and the Cardinals could be interested if the Colome discussions fall through.

San Diego Padres – The Padres are apparently serious about trying to sign free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and if that happens, it could make Will Myers available in a trade. The Padres also have talked about the possibility of moving reliever Brad Hand, who could interest the Cardinals, as another potential bullpen option.

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