All this happened one day after the White Sox landed the game's top prospect, Yoan Moncada, and three others in trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox.
It's that cost of doing business in the trade market that has stalled some of the Cardinals' pursuits. They have an elite prospect in right-hander Alex Reyes, ranked seventh overall by MLB Pipeline, but prefer to build around him, not deal him. The Minor League talent pool drops from there, leaving the Cardinals unable to match the sort of offers others are making.
"Perhaps one way to think about it is [that] maybe we just didn't have that next tier [of prospects below Reyes] that was good enough to compete with some of the names being bantered about. So we have that gap," general manager John Mozeliak said on Wednesday evening. "I do think Reyes would have been a name that could acquire you a lot, but we just didn't feel like that made sense for us to give him up. For us, Alex has such high value, we would have had to have been overwhelmed to do something."
One way to compensate for a lack of elite talent would be to offer a larger package of next-level prospects. But that, too, has given the Cardinals pause because of the effect it would have on the depth of the farm system and, in turn, the pipeline of talent arriving in the Majors in coming seasons. This is not a team interested in sacrificing its future stability for a short-term gain.
"The problem you start to run into there is then quantity, and how much are you willing to part with if you're not willing to move Reyes?" Mozeliak said. "And that can be a pretty big hit from a volume standpoint. We finally got this system up to where we have some confidence in it. And to move four or five players from there, that would be hard to do."
Mozeliak went on to acknowledge that he'll nevertheless likely have to "step out of [his] comfort zone to get something done." The question remains how far he lunges.
With Desmond no longer available, Dexter Fowler stands out as the best free-agent fit for the team. The Cardinals have met with Fowler's representatives at the Winter Meetings but don't yet have a feel for how soon Fowler intends to accept an offer.
The trade market is more nebulous, but the Royals have a pair of outfielders (Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson) they've reportedly discussed dealing, and the Rockies may entertain offers for Charlie Blackmon now that Desmond is on the roster.
Mozeliak said that few teams have come asking for players from the Cardinals' Major League roster, making it most likely that prospects would anchor any trade.
The Cardinals still have every expectation that they will acquire an impact outfielder this Hot Stove season. When that will happen remains less certain.
"I think it's dangerous to say that if we don't leave [the Winter Meetings] with something that it's been a failure, because what if we do something next week?" Mozeliak said. "I don't feel like we have to have our team wrapped with a bow and under the Christmas tree in two weeks. We have time.
"And I think when you look at the history of what we've been able to do, we have been very successful at adding positives to the club post-Christmas or post-New Year's. The downside is ... if the market is dried up. That could happen. So we have to be careful not to overplay our hand or think we can gamble with more time if the runway continues to shrink. There's still plenty of baseball left to be played in this offseason."