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Oswalt likes Cardinals; everyone wants pitching

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

An American League general manager who’d spent another recent afternoon considering where he’d find roster help before the trading deadline, fingering the résumés of Roy Oswalt(notes), Dan Haren(notes), Ted Lilly(notes) and Ben Sheets(notes) and whomever, sighed wearily.

“Every July,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what the year, who’s president, what the weather is, it’s the same thing. Everybody needs pitching.”

So they trudge toward July 31, 2010, Obama still running things, hot all over, and with the Texas Rangers having outmaneuvered the pitching-thin to Cliff Lee(notes), leaving no sure things and plenty of competition for them.

Beyond Oswalt, whose record – 6-11 – reflects his current teammates, and Haren, whose puffy ERA contradicts many of the numbers beneath it, most of the game’s available starters are middle-of-the-rotation quality, but possible rotation savers nonetheless.

In, say, Minnesota, the Twins are watching their season erode under a drizzle of imprecision from Nick Blackburn(notes), Kevin Slowey(notes) and Scott Baker(notes).

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers have no true No. 1 and no No. 5 of any sort.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals run out of steam after Adam Wainwright(notes), Chris Carpenter(notes) and Jaime Garcia(notes), as do the Philadelphia Phillies beyond Roy Halladay(notes) and Cole Hamels(notes). And what do the Detroit Tigers do after Justin Verlander(notes) and Max Scherzer(notes)?

With 10 days before the deadline, the Astros of Oswalt and Brett Myers(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks of Haren and Edwin Jackson(notes), Chicago Cubs of Lilly, Pittsburgh Pirates of Paul Maholm(notes), Cleveland Indians of Jake Westbrook(notes) and Fausto Carmona(notes), and Oakland Athletics of Sheets, along with others, have only to measure the desperation out there and pick their spots.

The sense among needy GMs (those who have inquired on Oswalt and Haren) is that Houston will cover a portion of Oswalt’s salary if a package of players (at least one major league-ready player along with multiple prospects) is adequate and that Arizona is regrouping after firing GM Josh Byrnes but still willing to move Haren as part of an organizational freshening.

The no-trade clauses – Oswalt’s is comprehensive, Haren’s covers 12 teams – make deals stickier, but not impossible. The expectation Oswalt will insist his $16 million option for 2012 be exercised as a condition of a trade, for example, has yet to play out in some negotiations, though it reportedly cooled talks with the Phillies. GM Ed Wade is well into negotiations with the Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers and Twins, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the New York Yankees, who hang around these things for reasons of industriousness and sport, become involved, too.

Financially, the Yankees would – as always – have the advantage. But, the Dodgers shed salary after this season and believe they have the payroll flexibility to take on a good portion of Oswalt’s salary. The Twins, conversely, face the first season of Joe Mauer’s(notes) new contract ($23 million annually), among other raises, and the Cardinals have Albert Pujols’(notes) upcoming free agency to consider.

Many of the same clubs, along with the Tigers, are in on Haren, who is guaranteed $29 million in 2011-13. Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall told reporters Thursday that trading Haren would not be a “cash dump” and would require major league-ready pitching in return.

Oswalt’s preference in a trade destination is St. Louis, according to sources, a relevant detail in the Astros’ deadline maneuverings because of the decorated right-hander’s no-trade rights.

The Astros and Cardinals were in discussions Thursday, and talks appeared to subside in other places, leading to speculation the Cardinals – and not the Phillies – might be closing in on a deal.

“Just rumors,” a Cardinals official said.

A person familiar with peripheral negotiations said it sometimes seemed the Astros weren’t entirely committed to trading Oswalt, but were determining his market and whether the return would be enough to bolster their thin minor league system. When all final bids arrive, Wade will consult with owner Drayton McLane.

Oswalt, who will make his next start Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds, is 11th in the National League in ERA (3.12) and tied for fifth in WHIP (1.07). While he’s won one of his past five starts, he pitched poorly in only one of them, and remains the most coveted of a dozen-or-so potential upgrades.

The rest likely will have to wait until Oswalt and Haren shake out, a process that could run straight into the deadline.