The regular season is in full swing for the St. Louis Cardinals. That said, it’s never too early to predict which players will stay, and those who will depart from one of baseball’s greatest cities.
As of now, the Cardinals boast nine players currently under contract for at least the 2014 season.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright recently signed a five-year, $97.5 million contract extension—a move that keeps the right-hander under the Arch through the 2018 season.
Slugger Matt Holliday will have three years plus an option for 2017 remaining on his seven-year, $120 million contract after this season. Yadier Molina—the best backstop in the industry—will remain at his post through 2017 after inking a five-year, $75 million extension in 2012.
The emerging Allen Craig signed a five-year, $31 million extension—a deal that ensures the first base position will be occupied for years to come. Lefty Jaime Garcia will have two years plus options for 2016 and 2017 remaining on his four-year deal.
Starter Jake Westbrook is locked up for this season, and has a mutual option for 2014.
Youngsters Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Pete Kozma, Tony Cruz and Daniel Descalso look to be locks for 2014.
However, with certainty comes anxiety.
For a vast number of players, returning to St. Louis for the 2014 season is no guarantee. Some may walk, others will lobby.
Let’s take a look at some of the more important obstacles owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak will face once the final out of the 2013 season is recorded.
David Freese, Third Base
Local talent David Freese avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $3.15 million contract this season.
It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals letting Freese walk.
Last season, Freese hit .283, with 20 home runs and 79 RBI and earned his first All-Star appearance. He also turned the third-most double plays (29) in all of baseball at his position, and finished with the fourth-highest range factor (2.62) among all MLB third basemen. What’s more, Freese was the hero and MVP of the 2011 World Series—the 11th title in franchise history.
Freese has leverage to garner a heftier contract. It’s up to DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak to make it happen.
When it’s all said and done, the Cardinals and Freese will work out a long-term deal that satisfies both parties.
Jon Jay, Center Field
It’s crucial for the Cardinals to retain Jay’s services for years to come.
He’s one of the most underrated and talented center fielders in the game. Jay was the lone National League center fielder that didn’t commit an error last season.
Moreover, Jay has proved he can provide consistent pop at the plate. In 2012, Jay managed a steady .303 mark, with four homers, 40 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Jay is also a superb situational hitter, as he hit .331 with runners on base last season. He also batted .303 as the Cardinals’ leadoff man in 2012.
There doesn’t appear to be any reason for alarm. Jay is an important asset for the future of this franchise, and DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak are fully aware of the skill set Jay brings to the table.
Jake Westbrook, RHP
The Jake Westbrook-Cardinals romance is perhaps the biggest mystery moving forward.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Westbrook signed an extension with the Cardinals last August. The deal includes $9.75 million this season, with a mutual option of $9.5 million for 2014.
Whether the Cardinals exercise that option likely hinges on Westbrook’s performance this season.
However, history shows that Westbrook’s career in St. Louis could be coming to an abrupt close. From 2010-2012, Westbrook started 73 games for the Cardinals, and worked 433 innings. But, he went just 26-24, with a 4.178 ERA.
Known for his ability to induce ground balls, Westbrook’s ground-ball totals have dropped over the last two seasons. According to Fan Graphs, in 2011, Westbrook recorded 365 ground balls. In 2012, he notched just 332.
More glaring is Westbrook’s injury history. The right hander missed a start last season due to an oblique injury. He was also hampered with other side ailments in 2007 and 2008 with Cleveland.
It’s hard to imagine Westbrook remaining in the Cardinals uniform for an extended period of time, even if the Cardinals exercise his option for 2014.
Carlos Beltran, Right Fielder
After Albert Pujols bolted for Los Angeles, the Cardinals aggressively went after Carlos Beltran, and ultimately inked the slugger to a two-year, $26 million deal in December of 2011.
The Cardinals’ investment in Beltran looked no less than stellar during the first half of 2012, when he hit .296, with 20 home runs and 65 RBI. Though, he batted just .236, with 12 home runs and 32 RBI following the All-Star break.
Beltran is certainly an asset on the field and in the clubhouse. He brings stability, experience and veteran leadership.
However, with all of the excitement surrounding emerging prospect Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals may consider passing on Beltran after this season.
Mitchell Boggs, RHP
On paper, it looks as if Boggs’ future in St. Louis remains bright. His pitches are both effective and efficient. He’s a reliable late-inning arm out of the bullpen.
Boggs is able to pitch in multiple roles, including the ninth inning. That asset alone makes it vital for the Cardinals to keep the righty around.
The Cardinals and Boggs avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.475 million for 2013.
Edward Mujica, RHP
The Cardinals acquired Edward Mujica from Miami on July 31, 2012. It was a move that bolstered the bullpen.
Mujica made 29 appearances with the Cardinals last season, worked 26 1/3 innings and boasted a microscopic 1.03 ERA.
Mujica and the Cardinals agreed on a one-year contract, worth $3.2 million for 2013. However, it appears Mujica will have to produce another noteworthy season for the Cardinals to invest a long-term contract in him. Otherwise, the veteran relieve will become a free agent at the end of the season.
Rafael Furcal, Shortstop
After suffering an elbow strain last season, Rafael Furcal missed the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
Initially reluctant to undergo reconstructive ligament surgery, Furcal used the offseason to rehab his malfunctioned elbow. He was supposed to be ready to go by spring training, but the ligament flared up once more, and surgery was the only option.
Furcal is lost for the season, which would have been the final stint of his two-year, $14 million contract.
With the young Pete Kozma in place, it looks as if Furcal will be in a different uniform in 2014.
As 2013 continues to move along, the Cardinals will have some big choices to make in November. Funds are expendable, talent is at a premium.