Hours after a report characterized his team as a "serious bidder" for A.J. Burnett, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak shot down any notion of his team signing the free-agent right-hander.
"I don't know where that started," Mozeliak told reporters at his daily press briefing during baseball's annual Winter Meetings. "We've just never engaged with them."
The issue is not Burnett, whom the Cardinals actually like quite a lot. Instead, the simple fact is that it is all but impossible that the Cardinals will commit more than two years to any newly acquired starting pitcher. The team already has long-term commitments to Chris Carpenter (through 2011, with an option for 2012), Kyle Lohse (through 2012) and Adam Wainwright (through 2011 with options for 2012-13).
"What I look at is what we have," Mozeliak said. "When you look at having three pitchers under multi-year deals, adding a fourth, I don't know if that makes much sense. If we add a starter, it would have to be something with more flexibility."
That means a one- or two-year deal for a free-agent starter, or a trade for a starter not on a long-term deal. Among the starters reported to be potentially available for shorter contracts are Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte and Brad Penny. But there's also the trade market, where the Cards' top chips are outfielders -- primarily Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.
Mozeliak acknowledged on Monday that he's looking to deal an outfielder because of the glut, but emphasized that he "[doesn't] want to settle." The plan is not to move a flycatcher simply to do it; it's to shore up an area of need while also clearing a logjam. The Cardinals have top prospect Colby Rasmus waiting for a Major League shot.
Both Ludwick and Ankiel have their pluses to the Cardinals and to potential trading partners. Ankiel can be a free agent after 2009, but he's also a plus defensive center fielder. Ludwick is under control for three more years, but he's stretched as a center fielder.
Moreover, the Cardinals' outfield tilts strongly to the left, which might argue for dealing the left-handed Ankiel rather than the right-handed Ludwick. Mozeliak said the latter concern wouldn't be a major issue, though.
|"When you look at having three pitchers under multi-year deals, adding a fourth, I don't know if that makes much sense. If we add a starter, it would have to be something with more flexibility."|
|-- GM John Mozeliak|
One rumor that surfaced during the day on Monday was the possibility of a deal in which Ankiel would go to the Braves. However, Mozeliak said he didn't see any particularly good fit with Atlanta. The Braves, like the Cardinals, are seeking starting pitching, rather than looking to offload it.
The Cardinals do not expect to be able to add a closer in a trade for an outfielder, so they'll plumb the free-agent options for a ninth-inning pitcher. Trevor Hoffman is not on St. Louis' radar at this time, nor is it likely that the Cards will trade for a setup reliever and convert him to closing.
However, unlike in the starting rotation, the Redbirds might be willing to commit more than two years to a closer.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.