ST. LOUIS -- Though a playoff spot is still within reach, the look of the Cardinals' first half leads them toward the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline with a potentially more complicated approach.
With a 10-5 finish to the first half, the Cardinals expunged any notion that they'd approach the next few weeks solely as sellers. But this is also an organization hesitant to go all-in given the erratic results of the first half and the fact that a National League Wild Card berth may be too tough to attain.
And so, the Cardinals are likely to fall somewhere in the middle. They'll look for ways to flip short-term assets into long-term ones and to minimize the effect on the farm system, while seeking players who can contribute beyond 2017.
"I don't view that as selling," principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said recently. "I view that as investing."
It will offer a unique test for new general manager Michael Girsch, who said in his introductory press conference that he still believes this club can contend.
Lance Lynn and Seung Hwan Oh, both of whom will be free agents after the season, could be moveable pieces. The Cardinals aren't opposed to dealing from their Minor League depth, either, though they won't start flipping prospects for a short-term solution. The organization also has a glut of outfield talent from which it could deal.
Adding to the complexities of this Trade Deadline is that this 2017 roster could use help in several areas. The Cardinals lack an imposing middle-of-the-order bat, and the back end of their bullpen has been thrown into disarray with Oh's struggles as the closer. Improving the depth of the starting rotation could also be crucial if the team hopes to make a run this year.
If the Cardinals want to be considered a serious contender this year, they'll need to add an impact bat. They have the financial flexibility to take on salary, so perhaps there's a deal to be made with the Marlins, who have three available outfielders: Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton. High-level pitching prospects would have to be included in such a deal.
What are they playing for?
To reclaim the NL Central title that was theirs from 2013-15. The Cardinals open the second half 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers and even with the Cubs for second place in the division.
The road ahead
The Cardinals play 43 of their final 74 games on the road, including the first 10 out of the break. The club has eight games remaining against the Brewers and another 10 versus the Cubs. Circle the final homestand of September, too, as the Cardinals will be hosting both Milwaukee and Chicago to close out the season.
Key player Dexter Fowler came off the disabled list for the final series of the first half, and the Cardinals need him to be a key contributor in the second one. Managing his chronic heel injury will be critical.
Prospects to watch
Outfielders Magneuris Sierra and Harrison Bader could emerge as contributors. Luke Weaver, who joined the team earlier this month, could be a candidate to move into the rotation, if there is need. And Carson Kelly is waiting as another catching option.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.