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Cards trade Pham to Rays for 3 prospects

St. Louis nets 2 additional Minor Leaguers from Indians for outfielder Mercado
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Seeking to walk that tricky tightrope of creating big league opportunities for young players while still trying to remain in the playoff hunt, the Cardinals capped a five-day flurry of transactions by executing two more trades just ahead of Tuesday's 3 p.m. CT non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Those included sending starting center fielder Tommy Pham, along with $500,000 in international bonus pool money, to the Rays in exchange for Minor Leaguers Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez. The Cardinals also swapped Minor League outfielder Oscar Mercado to the Indians for low-level outfielders Conner Capel and Jhon Torres.

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ST. LOUIS -- Seeking to walk that tricky tightrope of creating big league opportunities for young players while still trying to remain in the playoff hunt, the Cardinals capped a five-day flurry of transactions by executing two more trades just ahead of Tuesday's 3 p.m. CT non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Those included sending starting center fielder Tommy Pham, along with $500,000 in international bonus pool money, to the Rays in exchange for Minor Leaguers Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez. The Cardinals also swapped Minor League outfielder Oscar Mercado to the Indians for low-level outfielders Conner Capel and Jhon Torres.

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But despite a week in which the Cardinals have purged excess from their Major League roster, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak cautioned against characterizing the club as a Deadline seller. Rather than package prospects for proven big league talent as most contending clubs do at this point in the season, the Cardinals sought to open a path for those prospects to be the help they need to make a push in the Wild Card race.

The Cardinals began the day four games back in those standings. Five teams sit ahead of them.

"I feel like what we were trying to do was put ourselves in position to get a peek at the future," Mozeliak explained. "They're probably not the most exciting moves to all the people out there watching, but for us, we did feel like we accomplished some things. The way it was going wasn't working. Trying to do something different was our approach."

Video: COL@STL: Mozeliak talks about trading Pham to Rays

Subtracting Pham from the mix opens up an opportunity for rookie outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill to share playing time in center. O'Neill, who led Triple-A Memphis with 26 homers and 61 RBIs in 61 games, was recalled on Tuesday and plugged into the starting lineup.

Playing time, Mozeliak said, is likely to be split fairly evenly between the two.

The chance to see what both can do with extended opportunities mirrors the organization's approach with the bullpen. Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals have added four pitchers from Triple-A (Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon, Dakota Hudson and Tyler Webb) and another (Chasen Shreve) acquired via trade.

In essence, the Cardinals have turned the present over to their future. And the organization is gambling that the chance to win now has improved through that approach.

"We're not trying some unique experiment," Mozeliak said. "We're taking guys who we feel are ready to perform up here. Now, their roles might be a little different than what they were down in Memphis. But they were having a lot of success down there, and now we're hoping to have a lot of that success up here.

"I think when you look back at our history of how we have utilized our Minor League system, that tends to be our more successful recipe. And so when we look at where these guys were, we felt like it was better to give them a chance, instead of just trying to flip them for something else."

The belief that the Cardinals can still compete for a postseason berth is also why they did not further deplete their Major League roster. Closer Bud Norris and first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez were among the players the Cardinals shopped to other teams before deciding to hang onto both. The Cardinals were not enticed by the potential returns they were offered.

"Just having short-term gratification was not our goal," Mozeliak said. "Do I come here telling you we hit a home run over the last 24 hours? No. But we still were able to successfully go down the path we felt we needed to. It was an incremental strategy that we feel, in the end, will have long-term benefits."

A breakout star a year ago, Pham found out his 12-year tenure with the organization had ended when he woke up to a phone call from Mozeliak. Returning as the club's starting center fielder this year, Pham was among the Majors' most productive players in April, but he had endured a drastic drop in production beginning with an 0-for-31 stretch during the latter part of June.

Pham heads to the Rays with a .248/.331/.399 slash line and .730 OPS.

In dealing the 30-year-old Pham, the Cardinals lost a player over whom they carried three more years of control. Pham had been interested in pursuing a long-term contract with the club over the offseason, but he did not think the Cardinals' two-year, $4 million offer was strong enough.

Though all three of the Cardinals' Opening Day outfielders have underperformed this season, Pham was the one best positioned to be dealt. Dexter Fowler is under contract for another three seasons and has a no-trade clause. Marcell Ozuna, whom the Cardinals gave up several prospects to acquire, will be arbitration-eligible again next year.

"When you look at where we were, I think staying status quo was not getting it done," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, trying to create opportunity also for O'Neill and Bader was something we thought we needed to do. It had to do with creating opportunity for others. And look, performance matters."

Video: Top Prospects: Justin Williams, OF, Rays

An organization already overrun by outfield talent did add more to the mix through Tuesday's trades. But the Cardinals like that Williams and Capel hit from the left side, and they were willing to part with Mercado in exchange for outfielders who will slot in lower in the farm system.

Capel, 21, will be assigned to Class A Advanced Palm Beach. Torres, 18, is expected to join the Cardinals' Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Williams (No. 9) and Cabrera (No. 14) immediately slide into the Cardinals' Top 30 prospect rankings, according to MLB Pipeline. Williams, an outfielder, had appeared in one game for the Rays.

Mozeliak described Cabrera as "an electric arm" who adds to the organization's left-handed pitching depth. Ramirez, 23, will pitch in relief for Double-A Springfield. 

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Tommy Pham, Justin Williams