With the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals are both at a crossroads without a clear decision on which route to take.

With the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals are both at a crossroads without a clear decision on which route to take.

The situation is a little different this year than it has been in the past for both teams. Oh sure, the Cardinals are good again, entering Sunday they sit at 62-39 overall, and the Royals are below .500 — though after Saturday’s win they’re just a game below at 50-51.

The road St. Louis is traveling is a bit less hectic than Kansas City’s, however. Imagine the Cardinals on a freshly paved four-lane interstate with little traffic, while the Royals are poking along on a bumpy, hilly dirt road stuck behind a slow farm tractor. The Cardinals are well on their way to making it to the restaurant well ahead of their reservation. The Royals just hope to get there before dinner gets cold.

That’s a long-winded way of saying the Cardinals are really good. Kansas City is better than they have been, but still trail the Detroit Tigers by seven games and have to leapfrog two teams to claim the driver’s seat in the AL Central. That’s a tall task for a team that has yet to show any consistency at the plate this season. It’s doable, but the numbers say don’t bet on them.

So what should either team do at the trade deadline? I’m not sure either team knows yet. As it is with all teams who participate at the deadline, there are risks involved. The Cardinals must soon decide whether the risks of buying at the deadline are less than the reward of acquiring a rental player at the cost of minor league prospects. It goes beyond that, however, as they also risk bringing a player aboard that might not fit well in the locker room and affects team chemistry. On the flipside, they risk standing pat with the roster that’s gotten them this far in hopes that the starting rotation irons itself out in the second half only to find themselves needing that extra piece come playoff time.

With less than a week until Wednesday’s non-waiver deadline, the Cardinals have been linked to a number of starting pitchers in the rumor mill, including Kansas City’s Ervin Santana (6-6, 3.06 ERA) and Chicago’s Jake Peavy (8-4, 4.28). Neither player is expected to come cheap and both have their flaws: Peavy has an extensive injury history, while Santana, minus any injury concerns, had two dreadful years prior to breaking out with the Royals this season after coming over in a trade with the Angels during the winter.
Can those players help? Are they worth the risk? That’s the conversation going on in St. Louis right now.

Meanwhile, the Royals must decide, most importantly, whether they’re buyers or sellers. Reports have surfaced that the team is now, after previously debunking the idea, receptive to trade offers for Santana. At the same time, and rightfully so, they’re believed to be asking a small ransom in return for the right hander. To complicate matters further, General Manager Dayton Moore recently told reporters his team wasn’t ready to wave the white flag — even saying he thought the team could win 15 out of 20 games in the second half and push the Tigers for the Central crown.

In other words, they’re not sure they’re out of the race yet and might prefer to hold onto their pieces in hopes of making a run. The Royals are currently thin at second base and in right field at the big league level and could seemingly fill one of those voids in a trade involving Santana. Do they make that move for the future and regret not having Santana’s arm in the rotation in a month? Or do they hold onto him and regret in a month not getting valuable pieces for the free-agent-to-be?

That is the conversation going on in Kansas City right now.

Following Saturday’s win over the White Sox, the Royals have won five in a row, though they still sit seven games back in the division. Do they have enough to catch the Tigers? The Cardinals have been beating up on the competition all season. Are they good enough to win a World Series with this team or do they need to make a move?

By Wednesday we should have answers.