ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals made their intentions perfectly clear on Wednesday. By Sunday morning, they may as well have hired a skywriter to make the point. The Redbirds are pushing to win in 2011.Hours before the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed, St. Louis completed its second aggressive, win-now move in less than a week. No contending team did more to turn over its 2011 roster in advance of the deadline. The Cards added five players to their 25-man roster in July trades, including a starting pitcher, an everyday infielder and two relievers who project as key late-inning contributors. The capstone was Sunday's move for Rafael Furcal, who immediately slides in as the club's primary shortstop and leadoff man. Furcal was held out of Sunday night's starting lineup after getting no sleep and flying cross-country. But starting Monday, he will be expected to serve as the igniter in what was already the league's most prolific lineup. In return for Furcal, Los Angeles will receive Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos. The Cardinals will pay about $1.38 million of the remaining $4.8 million of Furcal's salary. The move follows a deal in which the Cardinals acquired players from the Blue Jays to shore up their bullpen and starting rotation.
The Cardinals parted with center fielder Colby Rasmus, long projected as a future star, in the Toronto trade, along with young right-hander P.J. Walters and a pair of veteran relievers. Between Rasmus, Walters and Castellanos, they dealt away three players who could be under their new teams' control for quite a long time. In return, the only guarantee they have for 2012 is lefty Marc Rzepczynski.There's no doubt that the goal is to make the playoffs, and go a long way once they're there. "You obviously have to play the games, but we certainly feel good about the [next] two months when you look at what we have," general manager John Mozeliak said on Sunday afternoon. Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players clear waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings, and if he is claimed by one of the teams, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player. Mozeliak said Sunday that he does not anticipate any waiver deals, but would not entirely rule out further movement. For a team with significant questions looming this offseason, an opportunity to win in 2011 is extremely compelling. Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman are among the key Cardinals who are eligible for free agency in the coming winter. St. Louis feels it has fortified its two greatest areas of need, the bullpen and middle-infield defense. "I think we've significantly improved our chance to win," manager Tony La Russa said. "Added three pitchers, and I think Rafael is a championship-type player." Furcal, 33, had the right to veto any trade as the result of his having 10 years' Major League service time, including the past five with the same team. He chose to waive that right for the chance to play deep into October. "I've gotten in nine playoffs but I've never been to the World Series," Furcal said. "That's part of my plan, to win a ring. I think it's the time to do it. A two-time All-Star, Furcal should shore up one of the few positions in the Cardinals' lineup that has lacked for production. He entered Saturday batting .197 with a .272 on-base percentage in 37 games, but the switch-hitting speedster has been slowed by injury for much of the year, and in recent weeks, he has been much more effective. The Cardinals scouted him heavily in recent days and came to the conclusion that he is sound. For his career, Furcal is a .283 hitter with a .349 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage. He put up a .300/.366/.460 line for Los Angeles in 2010. He has dealt with back troubles for some time, and spent time on the disabled list in 2011 with a left oblique strain and a broken finger. "I feel like more myself," he said. "My finger is not bothering me anymore, and my oblique never bothered me [after] I started playing. Now everything, my back, everything is 100 percent." Furcal has been an average to above-average defensive shortstop for the bulk of his career, representing a needed upgrade in that regard as well. St. Louis fields a ground-ball-oriented pitching staff in front of a defense that has at times been too porous. The Furcal addition follows an eight-player deal with the Jays on Wednesday. In that trade, St. Louis acquired starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, relievers Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, and outfielder Corey Patterson. That move was made very much with the club's 2011 chances in mind, much like the Furcal deal. Furcal is in the final year of a three-year deal that contains a club option for 2012. The option is worth $12 million, with no buyout. That is, if the club declines the option, it owes the player no additional money beyond the 2011 salary.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.