ST. LOUIS -- General manager John Mozeliak said the St. Louis Cardinals will be buyers at the trade deadline despite a slow start to the second half of the season.
The World Series champions came into Saturday night's game against the Cubs five games back in the NL Central at 48-45. Last year they were 49-44 at the same point, then won the NL wild card on the final day of the season before upsetting the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in the postseason.
Mozeliak said there is payroll flexibility for the short and long term but indicates the team most likely will seek bullpen upgrades. The relievers were a collective 9-15 with a 4.37 ERA and 14 blown saves in 35 chances.
Mozeliak won't comment on talk of a deal for either of the Cubs starters expected to be on the market, Ryan Dempster and Saturday starter Matt Garza. He wasn't opposed to trading inside the division, as long as the Cardinals weren't shipping a top prospect who might haunt them for several seasons.
The GM referenced last summer's deal that sent former top prospect Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays that brought starter Edwin Jackson and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski in a three-team trade, as one that made more sense.
"It's one thing when you do a trade with, say, Toronto, where it's sort of out of sight, out of mind, vs. you're going to see somebody 16 times a year," Mozeliak said.
The rotation has been strong, even with Chris Carpenter out for the season. Lefty Jaime Garcia is expected back in mid-August and heads to Jupiter, Fla., Sunday to start a rehab stint. However, there are durability concerns, with Adam Wainwright coming off reconstructive elbow surgery and Lance Lynn a first-time starter.
"It's not overstated. It's certainly not something we're going to ignore or run from," Mozeliak said, before adding, "Right now both guys appear to be strong, stronger."
The emergence of rookie Joe Kelly, who's 1-2 but with a 2.75 ERA in seven starts, has lessened the need for starting pitching.
"Our starters have been great," Mozeliak said. "Who are you really bouncing out, and how are you improving?"
The offense has been more problematic despite leading the NL with a .273 average and 445 runs, scoring three or fewer runs every game of a 1-5 trip coming out of the break before getting four and ending Dempster's 33-inning scoreless streak on Friday. They could make a move for a second baseman, but don't want to block Kolten Wong, a first-round pick in 2011 who's making good progress at Double-A Springfield.
The Cardinals are hoping the 37-year-old Carpenter, who has one year left on his contract, will be ready for spring training following shoulder surgery for a nerve issue on Thursday. But Mozeliak said it's not a sure thing.
"Everything I've heard based on how that surgery went is very encouraging, but you can ask that question in a month," the GM said. "I think he has to throw."