The Cardinals traded pitcher Jaime Garcia to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday for three minor-league prospects. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

It turns out the Cardinals did not have to wait until the winter meetings next week to find a trading partner for left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia.

The Cardinals traded Garcia on Thursday to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for three prospects, including 21-year-old second baseman Luke Dykstra, the son of former major-leaguer Lenny Dykstra.

Also coming to the Cardinals are two right-handed pitchers, John Gant and Chris Ellis.
According to the latest rankings, Ellis was the number 17 prospect in the Braves’ farm system, Gant was 21 and Dykstra 29.

It was all but a foregone conclusion the Cardinals would trade the 30-year-old Garcia this winter as soon as they decided to pick up the $12 million option on his contract for next season. There was no spot for him in the projected rotation and he did not seem like a fit for the bullpen.

Picking up the option instead of paying Garcia a $500,000 buyout was a gamble by general manager John Mozeliak that he could move Garcia and get something in return, which he apparently accomplished on Thursday.

The weak free agent starting pitcher market made it easier to find a taker for Garcia, the third veteran starter acquired by the Braves this winter following the signings of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.

The Braves are picking up all of Garcia’s contract, which frees up more money for the Cardinals for another trade or free agent signing.

The Cardinals’ primary off-season need for a centerfielder remains. Right-handed pitching already was the strength of the farm system, and the addition of Gant and Ellis only fortifies that area of depth.

The 24-year-old Gant made seven starts among 20 appearances for the Braves last season, going 1-4 with a 4.86 ERA. Gant also made 10 starts at Triple A. He was drafted by the Mets in 2011 before being traded to the Braves.

Ellis, also 24, split the 2016 between the Double A and Triple A levels, compiling a combined 12-9 record with a 4.49 ERA over 28 starts. He made the Southern League All-Star team.

Dykstra is a 21-year-old second baseman who spent last year at Class A Rome, Ga., where he hit .304 and was named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team.

Garcia had been with the Cardinals’ organization since 2005, a career often interrupted by injuries. He had an overall record of 62-45 with a 3.57 ERA in 158 games.

Gant will replace Garcia on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. Neither Ellis or Dykstra have to be protected on the 40-man roster.

The winter meetings begin Monday just outside Washington, D.C.

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