WASHINGTON — With the season in full swing and team officials scattered around the country, not consolidated in the same hotel for a few December days, it’s rare for executives to be able to meet face to face for negotiations at the trade deadline.
Let alone have that meeting caught on camera for live TV.
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo were shown together during the local broadcast of the Cardinals’ 5-0 Victory Sunday at Nationals Park. The two executives at the center of one of the most-watched trade talks at the deadline chatted, shook hands and divulged no details. The content of their talks remained private, but the meeting was public. It just wasn’t their first time they had spoken in person over the weekend as Tuesday’s trade deadline nears.
Because of a fluke in the schedule that put the Cardinals in Washington for the Soto sweepstakes, Mozeliak and Rizzo met previously during the series for “discussions,” a source with knowledge described.
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The Nationals are entertaining offers on several players, including young superstar Juan Soto. The Cardinals are interested in the right fielder and the Nationals, according to sources, have sought conversations with the Cardinals because of the quality of prospects in the system. The Cardinals have seven prospects ranked in Baseball America’s updated Top 100 list, and that group does not include Rookie Nolan Gorman. The Headline prospects, Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, represented the Cardinals at the Futures Game, and Class AA standout Walker had his second two-homer game of the past week on Sunday.
It is only the rarest of deals that the Cardinals would consider including Walker, and that is part of the measure of the moment: Is the Soto deal at his age (23) and years of control the rare one? The prospect cost for Soto, who will not be a free agent until after the 2024 season, is expected to be steep.
And that factors into the Cardinals’ other ongoing conversations, the ones on the phone and via text message and not held in a suite at Nationals Park for a camera to see.
They have canvassed the industry to determine what starters are available and found a variety at different price points — and quality. The options that have interested the Cardinals to varying degrees range from higher-cost starters like Oakland’s Frankie Montas to rentals like Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Kuhl or Noah Syndergaard, or a Veteran option such as Houston’s Jake Odorizzi. San Francisco will reportedly consider trading Lefty Carlos Rodon, and Miami has been open to discussions about Pablo Lopez. Both have strikeout traits the Cardinals seek. The Cardinals want to add at least one pitcher before 5 pm St. Louis time Tuesday.
Mozeliak said increasing the innings they can count on is important for the final two months of the season, especially as they prepare to be without Lefty Steven Matz.
A fifth starter has not been announced for this week.
They do hope to acquire him.
“There are still moving parts,” manager Oliver Marmol said, sitting near his office in the visitors’ clubhouse with no camera present.
Molina is the target for Tuesday
With soggy weather in the forecast, the plan Sunday for Yadier Molina was to start at designated hitter for Class AAA Memphis and use those at-bats to slingshot back to the majors Tuesday. A rainout that postponed Sunday’s Redbirds game changed the amount of work that Molina could get, but that won’t change the Cardinals’ plans.
The team intends to have Molina join them in St. Louis and go through an evaluation from team trainers and the coaches. If ready, he is likely to be activated Tuesday.
He’s set to make his 317th start with Adam Wainwright on the mound.
“He feels good,” Marmol said. “He feels like he’s in a real good spot. That’s why I’m not concerned with him having to catch back-to-back days (in the minors). Getting at-bats was important.”
Molina’s return is “a big deal,” Marmol added. “Looking forward to it.”
Molina was struck by a pitch in his left hand during his first rehab assignment game. The hand was tender during his five innings behind the plate Saturday but “loosened” as he went, Marmol said. They had a single and a walk at the plate. The Cardinals have played six weeks since their Veteran Catcher went down injured with a swollen right knee. Molina, who has said he’ll retire at the end of the season, used that time to rest the knee and improve his conditioning for the Sprint to the finish — the closing weeks of his career.
“He’s coming back for a reason,” Marmol said.
O’Neill sidelined by leg soreness
Outfielder Tyler O’Neill was not available Sunday after leaving the previous night’s game with cramps and discomfort in his left leg. They said he was being cautious after returning recently from a hamstring injury. O’Neill continued to receive treatment Sunday, and the team hoped that a break that day coupled with Monday’s off day would alleviate any concern so that he could return to the lineup Tuesday, when the Cardinals open a series against the Cubs.
Pujols, Molina honored by Nats
To celebrate the Careers of Albert Pujols and Molina in the Cardinals’ final visit in their Careers to Washington, the Nationals held a pre-game tribute and presented the retiring Cardinals framed photos signed by current Nats players and mounted seats from the ballpark. The two seats given to Pujols, both with the No. 5, had plaques to commemorate Pujols’ 400th and 500th career home runs — which were hit as a visiting player at Nationals Park.
Pujols was also presented with a US flag that flew over the Capitol.
Wainwright accepted the gifts on behalf of Molina. While included in some of the “last run” promotional material and merchandise, Wainwright, 40, has not decided whether he will retire at the end of this season. They may return to pursue 200 wins.
The crowd at Nationals Park chanted Pujols’ name late in Sunday’s game, calling for a late appearance by the three-time MVP. He did not take an at-bat.