The Cardinals no longer deny the increasingly obvious: Scott Rolen is in play.
General manager John Mozeliak confirmed Tuesday that he met with Rolen's agents and discussed the Gold Glove third baseman's availability for trade during last week's GM meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Numerous sources had spoken of the Cardinals' apparent willingness to deal Rolen in the week since the meetings concluded, but the club had played down the combustible issue. With no thaw predicted in the famously frosty relationship between Rolen and manager Tony La Russa, Mozeliak on Tuesday conceded willingness by all parties to at least explore "other options."
Mozeliak called Rolen's status "a very delicate situation."
"We will explore every means available to explore it internally," Mozeliak insisted. "Another way to look at it is as a unique chance to better our situation. But it's not a situation where we move him just to move him."
Others familiar with the central personalities believe the differences between Rolen and La Russa to be irreconcilable.
Rolen has three years and $36 million remaining on a contract extension signed in September 2002. A key component of that deal was full no-trade protection, a provision Rolen is willing to waive should a deal be found with a competitive club.
Neither of Rolen's representatives, Sam and Seth Levinson, returned repeated messages regarding the matter. Both have discussed the matter at length with the club.
Said Mozeliak: "I would describe it as a very delicate situation and one, that for the Cardinals to explore, (Rolen and his agents) have to understand what our return must be to even consider moving someone of Scott's talent."
Rolen almost requested a trade after the 2006 season then made temporary peace with his manager last spring training. The truce unraveled last season, leading Rolen to tell associates that he would seek a trade if La Russa returned as manager. The two barely spoke after the All-Star break. Shortly after La Russa accepted a two-year deal to return, Rolen communicated his unease with the situation.
The Cardinals are not bound to honor a trade request. But Mozeliak also recognizes the potential difficulty posed by an uncomfortable reunion of player and manager next spring.
"What I tried to articulate is how steadfastly we feel about not just giving him away," Mozeliak said. "Can I envision Scott being part of the 2008 Cardinals? Yes. But could there be a scenario in which something else happens? We're finding that out."
Rolen's relationship with La Russa was badly damaged in 2005 after he suffered a serious shoulder injury that ultimately required two operations and ended his season. Rolen felt the club misled him about the severity of his condition.
Rolen later obtained a second opinion from Cincinnati Reds team orthopedist Dr. Tim Kremchek and, after threatening legal action to combat club opposition, had Kremchek perform the second procedure.
The matter flared anew in 2006 when La Russa benched Rolen during the division series against the San Diego Padres. Rolen accepted a cortisone injection to his left shoulder and ended the postseason riding a 10-game hitting streak.
Rolen, 32, struggled for most of last season, hitting .265 with only eight home runs and 58 RBIs in 392 at-bats. Rolen accepted a series of cortisone injections to his shoulder and managed a .302 average with 16 RBIs in July before his condition again deteriorated in August. Rolen ended the season with a .729 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, compared to his previous .909 career figure.
La Russa sent a letter to Rolen shortly after this season conveying what he believed Rolen needed to do to rehabilitate his standing. If the correspondence was intended to heal any rift, it failed, according to sources familiar with the player's reaction.
Rolen was "infuriated," according to one source told of the letter's contents by Rolen.
Last summer's season-ending surgery to remove scar tissue and address "tightening" of the same shoulder further complicates Rolen's value. The Cardinals are reluctant to eat salary in an attempt to move him.
"I really believe in my heart of hearts he's 100 percent physically," Mozeliak said. "Everything I've been told medically backs this up."
Still in his first month as Cardinals GM, Mozeliak communicated a willingness to pursue all options. In return, the Cardinals would expect Rolen to formally waive his no-trade without additional compensation.
"If something can be done to make the St. Louis Cardinals better, we'll look into it. But it could become a moot point," Mozeliak said.