What does it mean for a trade to be “getting close,” and how loud does the clock tick for a team with one glaring offseason need and a commitment to filling it that might be pushed over the next 72 hours?
Oakland’s Sean Murphy remains the top catching option available on the trade or free agent markets, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Sunday night that a deal involving the catcher was approaching completion, later clarifying that the Atlanta Braves are believed to be out of the picture, leaving the Cardinals, Cleveland Guardians, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox among those in pursuit of the backstop.
A Cardinals official, shown that report on a Sunday night flight between St. Louis and San Diego, pulled a face and moved down the aisle to his seat. Call it a polite “no comment.”
Outside of those teams in pursuit of all-world slugger Aaron Judge, the catching market has dominated early conversation as the meetings get underway from San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt. Former Chicago Cub Willson Contreras, considered the top free agent catching option, is scheduled to take meetings this week with interested clubs, including the Houston Astros. It’s unknown whether the Cardinals are currently on the schedule.
What is known is that the Cardinals have professed – unflinchingly, and multiple times – that they intend to increase payroll heading into the 2023 season. Without specifying the extent of that increase, the need to patch readily evident holes on the roster should provide them with more than enough work to stay busy this week and beyond.
None of those holes is more prominent than that behind the plate. Yadier Molina’s retirement was an inevitability, and yet through years of planning, the Cardinals find themselves flat-footed and in need of a pivot.
Should the derby for Murphy not resolve in their favor, a pivot to Christian Vázquez as a defense-first option becomes increasingly likely. Vázquez, a long-time Molina devotee who shares an agent with the retired Cardinals legend, is in demand for other teams, including the Cubs.
The resulting market is a game of musical chairs in which both players and teams are concerned about winding up without a seat.
The media workroom in San Diego has many, and as they fill in the west coast morning and the ocean fog burns away, the pilot light on the hot stove appears to finally be lit.
Whether and what the Cardinals are cooking is a recipe that may well come to a boil in the coming days.