A Wednesday night report at NBCSports.com called the Cardinals the "front-runners" for Oswalt, whose future has been speculated about at length in recent weeks. Earlier reports had indicated that serious momentum was growing for a deal that would send Oswalt to Philadelphia.
ESPN.com reported Wednesday that Oswalt, who has the right to veto any trade, would insist his $16 million option for 2012 be exercised. It remains to be seen if the Phillies would make that commitment -- they feel their $140 million payroll has reached its max -- or if Oswalt would accept a trade to Philadelphia in the first place.
For St. Louis, however, it would be a different story. A Major League source said on Wednesday night that Oswalt would love the opportunity to pitch in St. Louis. The source said that the Astros ace even indicated earlier this year that he would not require the option to be picked up at all if he were traded to the Cardinals.
Oswalt, who is owed roughly half his $15 million salary this season and $16 million next season, said Wednesday the Astros have not approached him about a trade.
"I don't know anything about it," Oswalt said. "I really don't. I saw it on TV this morning, actually. I've seen a bunch of other things on TV news and whatever. Until I get told something, I don't know."
Asked specifically about a deal with Philadelphia, he said: "It would have to work for both of us. If it doesn't work for both of us, no. But if it does, maybe."
He likely would have more enthusiasm for a deal to St. Louis, which is close to his Mississippi home and features a clubhouse culture that would suit Oswalt well.
The question is how the Cardinals would make such a deal work. The club has relied heavily on the front of its rotation, but the back half has been a question. Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny remain on the disabled list, and though Lohse is progressing rapidly from forearm surgery, manager Tony La Russa said on Wednesday that he'd still love to add not just a back-end, depth starter but a frontline type.
"If somebody is good enough to pitch, you're improved by definition," La Russa said. "But if you want to get greedy, the more the impact, the better it is for our team."
The Cards' most compelling potential trading chip for most teams would seem to be 2009 first-round Draft pick Shelby Miller, a right-hander who has been on a roll lately at low Class A Quad Cities. Farm director Jeff Luhnow was given the opportunity on Wednesday to classify Miller as untouchable, but declined to do so. He said the right-hander quite surely would not be moved for a two-month rental player, but that for a longer-term upgrade, any and all prospects could conceivably be in play.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined comment, but the Phillies could pull back their pursuit of a top pitcher like Oswalt (D-backs right-hander Dan Haren remains a possibility) if they continue to fall out of contention in the National League East and NL Wild Card races. The Phillies exited Wednesday's game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium seven games behind the Braves in the NL East and four games behind the Reds for the NL Wild Card with four teams between them.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that despite the team's problems offensively and elsewhere, a trade for a big-time pitcher still could help.
"I look at St. Louis," he said. "Believe it or not, we've scored more runs than they have. Their pitching definitely must be a big help to them. That just goes to show you that their pitching is definitely keeping them in games and winning for them."
The Phillies had outscored the Cardinals, 434-428. The Cardinals have a 3.30 ERA, while the Phillies have a 4.13 ERA.
In contention or not, they will try to trade right fielder Jayson Werth, who is a free agent after the season and unlikely to return. There are numerous reports the Phillies are talking with the Rays about a trade. Other teams are interested.
To trade Werth, the Phillies would want MLB-ready talent they can control beyond this season.
Trading Werth would allow the Phillies to promote top prospect Domonic Brown from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Brown would finish the season playing every day in right field, which would give him some experience heading into 2011.
Amaro fueled speculation Tuesday that a trade or two were imminent when he said a replacement for Kyle Kendrick's spot in the rotation could come from outside the organization. The Phillies still have not named a starter for Saturday, although left-hander J.A. Happ is a possibility. Of course, there are reports the Astros could be interested in Happ, which is interesting considering he is coming off a left elbow injury that has cost him most of the season.
The Phillies also need a starter for Sunday after left-hander Jamie Moyer strained his left elbow Tuesday and is headed to the disabled list.
Astros owner Drayton McLane told MLB.com that any trade for Oswalt likely would come much closer to the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"[General manager] Ed [Wade] and I talk several times every day, but nothing's imminent," McLane said. "Trades really don't get done [until close to the Deadline]. There is no imminent trade with the Phillies or anybody else. There have been lots and lots of discussions, nothing close to a trade."
The Astros have a history of taking things to the wire. McLane and former Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker pulled off a blockbuster deal in 1998, acquiring Randy Johnson from the Mariners in exchange for three players just before the Deadline.
"Gerry and I got that done five minutes before the Deadline," McLane said.
Oswalt, 32, is having a terrific season, with a 6-11 record that is the result of poor run support. He has made 19 starts and has a 3.12 ERA. He is scheduled to make his next start Saturday at Minute Maid Park against the Reds and needs one win to tie the franchise record of 144 career victories.
Originally scheduled to pitch the first game after the All-Star break, Oswalt asked management to push him back in the rotation to allow him to have an additional start at home with a shot to break the record. He'll now have one chance to tie and possibly one to break it at home.
In May, with Oswalt frustrated by a lack of run support and the Astros' slow start, his agent, Bob Garber, called McLane and requested he be traded to a contender. Oswalt hasn't been clear about which teams he would approve being traded to, short of saying he wanted to have a chance to play for a contender.
"Until they come up to me, there's really nothing I can do," Oswalt said. "I don't want to go up to them and ask them every time something comes across the ticker. So until they come to me, I'll just wait and see."