Free agent preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Despite losing the Albert Pujols last winter, the Cardinals won 88 games, the wild card playoff against the Braves, their Division Series against the best regular season team in the National League, and had a 3-1 lead on the Giants in the ALCS before the Giants caught fire and obliterated them and the Tigers on their way to the championship. All of that is to say that the Cardinals were just fine in Year One of the Post-Pujols era. That doesn't mean there aren't concerns going forward, though; the Cardinals are a veteran team that's going to see more turnover in the coming seasons and maintaining their perch as the National League's premier franchise won't  necessarily be easy. 

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The Cardinals are going to be relatively unchanged headed into 2013. Lance Berkman is unlikely to be back, but the emergence of Jon Jay and Allen Craig as reliable regulars in 2012 meant that the Cards barely felt his injury-induced absence in 2012. There are still questions for the Cardinals up the middle more than anywhere else; both Daniel Descalso and Rafael Furcal had terrible seasons at the plate. Furcal was ably replaced by Pete Kozma down the stretch, but it'd be foolish for the Cardinals to expect him to bat nearly 100 points over his minor league batting average in the long-term. Similarly, Skip Schumaker had a nice bounceback year at the plate and filled in decently for Descalso, but he's generally on the downswing of his career and may not be a great long-term option. On the mound, the Cards are losing Kyle Lohse to free agency and while their rotation is fairly strong behind him, there are still plenty of depth questions there with guys like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia that have battled plenty of injuries over the past couple of seasons.

Potential Options
If we start from the assumption that the Cardinals probably shouldn't stay pat at short or second or with their rotation, the good news for the Cardinals is that their farm system is loaded. Shelby Miller made his Cardinal debut last year and he'll be ready to help the Cardinals however they need him in 2013, maybe by starting him in the bullpen and ease him into the rotation as needed. Kolten Wong is also moving through the minors pretty quickly and could be ready to take over at second base as soon as mid-season. That means that Schumaker and Descalso really would be just stop-gaps at second base. 

Trade Options
The Cards' prospect depth gives them a few options on the trade market, should they look to explore this winter. Oscar Tavares is going to be beating down the door to Busch before long (he put up a .953 OPS at Double-A as a 20-year old in 2012) and so the Cards could move Jon Jay to make room for him, either this winter or during the season. With Craig moved to first base, the Cards also have to decide what to do with Matt Adams: is he a long-term solution at first with Craig going back to the outfield when Carlos Beltran hits free agency again after 2013, or is he maybe an attractive trade chip to someone this winter? 

Trade Targets
It's true that the Cards have the pieces in place to make an absolute blockbuster move this winter, should they want to, but it seems much more likely to me that the Cards will probably focus on minor moves this winter to plug some holes and try to make one more run at things with the Beltran/Carpenter/Holliday/Wainwright core in 2013. That core is getting older, but the young wave of talent coming up behind them will certainly make that plausible. As a result, I think the Cards will probably put off making decisions like what to do with Adams or whether or not to trade Jay for another year, because that's what will give them the best chance in 2013. As a result, I don't know that they'll look much further than what's available on the free agent market to give them some depth and support in case the young guys aren't quite ready this winter. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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