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Cards in thick of Winter Meetings pursuit

Team's courtship of Stanton, acqusition of Mikolas to shape its pursuit @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- A confluence of events, including highly anticipated decisions by Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani, appear to be setting the stage for what could be a fascinating and frenzied four-day Winter Meetings next week.

And look for the Cardinals to be in the middle of it all.

ST. LOUIS -- A confluence of events, including highly anticipated decisions by Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani, appear to be setting the stage for what could be a fascinating and frenzied four-day Winter Meetings next week.

And look for the Cardinals to be in the middle of it all.

While they are no longer in the running for Otani, the Cardinals remain deep in the Stanton sweepstakes. Their trade proposal was appealing enough to the Marlins that Stanton was granted permission to speak to the Cardinals last week. The Giants, who are considered the other serious Stanton suitor, had a similar face-to-face meeting.

By the end of the Winter Meetings, the Cardinals hope to know Stanton's decision. This would allow them to either end their search for a middle-of-the-order bat or continue it down a different path. Resolution with Stanton and Ohtani is also expected to initiate more movement across baseball's trade and free-agent markets, which has been mostly quiet thus far.

The Cardinals, whose needs extend beyond the addition of an impact hitter, have plenty else to keep busy with during the Winter Meetings as well. In advance of the club's arrival in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., here is a look at what the Cardinals still need, who could be on the move and how payroll plays into it all.

Club needs
This week's signing of starter Miles Mikolas helped the Cardinals fortify their pitching depth, but their biggest offseason needs have still not been addressed. The addition of an impact bat and closer top the organization's wish list. The Cardinals submitted a trade proposal to the Marlins as part of their pursuit of Stanton and now wait to hear whether Stanton, the National League's Most Valuable Player, would waive his no-trade protection to accept a deal to St. Louis.

Video: Cardinals sign Miles Mikolas to a two-year contract

Acquiring Stanton would cross a key item off the team's winter shopping list. If they do not land the slugger, look for the Cardinals to quickly pivot to other options.

Their search for a closer has taken the Cardinals in various directions as well. They have explored the cost of adding free-agent closers Wade Davis or Greg Holland, but have also identified potential trade targets. Among those has been Rays closer Alex Colome, who has three years of team control remaining. Ideally, the Cardinals would like to add multiple relievers.

Video: BAL@TB: Kiermaier solidifies the save for Colome

Who they can trade if necessary
Aside from Adam Wainwright, Dexter Fowler and Yadier Molina -- all of whom have full no-trade protection -- the Cardinals can trade anyone on their roster. And they consider no one untouchable. That said, if the Cardinals make a trade, they are likely to deal from their two areas of strength -- pitching and outfielders.

The organization's young starting pitchers -- a group highlighted by right-handers Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver and Sandy Alcantara -- are likely to be coveted by other teams. Furthermore, the addition of Mikolas gives the Cardinals the flexibility to deal a starting pitcher.

The club also plans to be proactive in trading from its outfield surplus. That could even include trading established big league outfielders Randal Grichuk and/or Stephen Piscotty.

Video: CHC@STL: Grichuk slides in foul ground for great grab

Top prospects
The Cardinals' top 10 prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, include: Reyes, catcher Carson Kelly, Flaherty, outfielder Tyler O'Neill, outfielder Harrison Bader, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, shortstop Delvin Perez, right-hander Dakota Hudson, Alcantara and right-hander Junior Fernandez.

As evidenced by the list, the Cardinals have a particularly deep group of pitching and outfield prospects in their system. Additionally, six of these prospects have already made their Major League debuts.

Video: MIL@STL: Kelly's laser throw catches Arcia stealing

Rule 5 Draft
With one opening on their 40-man roster, the Cardinals currently have room to add a player in the Rule 5 Draft. As for who they might lose? Keep an eye on corner infielder Patrick Wisdom, who was left exposed following a season in which he slugged .507 with 25 doubles, 31 homers and 89 RBIs for Triple-A Memphis.

Big contracts they might unload
The Cardinals are not seeking to lower payroll or dump particular contracts this winter. However, if they were to deal Piscotty, the Cardinals would erase the remaining $23.5 million he is guaranteed over the next five seasons.

Video: STL@CHC: Piscotty makes a tough sliding catch

Payroll summary
Without taking into account raises for their arbitration-eligible players or new acquisitions, the Cardinals have have committed around $132 million in guaranteed contracts for 2018 -- and they are ready and able to add to that figure. The Cardinals' payroll flexibility is further enhanced by a TV rights deal that will begin next year. It is worth more than $1 billion over a 15-year period.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for 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.

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