We know that St. Louis GM John Mozeliak met with the agent for Albert Pujols today in regards to a possible extension, but as Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch informs us, their immediate to-do list is far shorter.
Following the club's acquisition of Lance Berkman, the Cardinals are now focused on exploring trade interest for defensive whiz Brendan Ryan and securing a backup catcher. The $8MM allocated to Berkman, as well as the same figure that was allocated to Jake Westbrook and the acquisition of Ryan Theriot have left the redbirds with little financial flexibility.
Mozeliak adamantly denied rumors of continued interest in Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett, stating two reasons:
"One is, we've already made a trade for a player," he began. "And Number 2 is, after we did the Berkman deal, (finances) are something we have to become aware of, too. We're pretty comfortable now with what we've done in the middle infield."
Strauss says the Cardinals would want a pitching prospect or fringe major leaguer in return for Ryan's services. Mozeliak made his intentions clear when he prioritized their plans for Ryan in order: trade him for immediate help, trade him for depth, or retain him as a backup.
Ryan's bat doesn't bring much to the table -- he hit just .239/.279/.294 last season -- but his reputation as a defensive sensation is well-deserved. His UZR has increased in each of the past three seasons, and his cumulative UZR/150 at shortstop over that time is 11.4, second only to Jack Wilson (among players with 1500 innings or more). He's capable of swiping a base (25 SB over the past two seasons, career 75% success rate) and is arbitration-eligible for the first time, meaning he won't see a significant salary in 2011.
The Cardinals filled their backup catcher role with Jason LaRue from 2008-2010, but LaRue retired this season after suffering an injury in a team brawl with the Reds. Earlier today, they were linked to Gregg Zaun, who missed most of 2010 with an injury of his own. However at age 39 and coming off that injury, he should fit into the club's pay range.
As it stands, St. Louis is projected to have approximately a $106MM payroll, which includes a small allocation for a backup catcher in the mold of Zaun. Other options in that price range could include (my own speculation) Josh Bard, Gerald Laird, and Henry Blanco.