The offseason is in the rearview mirror for St. Louis. The Cardinals are eyeing their 12th World Series championship—second most in baseball. However, it’s never a bad time to dive into the foreseeable future.
The Cardinals are the best team in the National League. Hence, they are representing the NL in this year’s Fall Classic against the “Beards” of Boston. However, a few players were essentially non-factors this season. They caused more downfall than triumph. They struggled instead of thrived. They whiffed at their chances in the spotlight under the Arch in front of arguably the best baseball town in America.
One player was lost for the season before it began, while another labored into exile. Still, another may be too expensive for a franchise that seldom throws wads of cash at aging players to keep (see: Albert Pujols).
With that said, here we go.
Rafael Furcal was a quick fix at shortstop—a problem the Cardinals have had since Edgar Rentería patrolled the position. The Cardinals inked Furcal to a two-year, $14 million deal in December 2011. The idea was for the soon-to-be 37-year-old to hold down the middle infield until a long-term solution emerged.
That long-term solution has come.
Furcal, a 13-year veteran, played in 171 games for the Cardinals from 2011-12 before tearing a ligament in his throwing elbow on Aug. 30 of last year. He missed the final two months of the season, including his team’s run to the National League Championship Series against the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants.
Initially, Furcal resisted surgery. He was prescribed rest, rehab and a platelet-rich plasma injection. The formula worked for the time being. His elbow seemed to respond.
However, during spring training, the pain became unbearable and ultimately forced Furcal to have season-ending surgery to repair the ligament.
Furcal’s return to the Cardinals in 2014 is all but decided. His contract is set to expire. Though Matt Carpenter doesn't play shortstop, he has the leadoff spot locked up for years to come after his historic season that saw him lead all of baseball in runs scored (126), in doubles (55) and in hits in the NL (199). Carpenter is nearly 10 years younger than Furcal. There’s more spring in his legs and swag in his step. And he's a much cheaper option for the future.
There’s no need to keep Furcal, an injury-prone veteran past his prime. The Cardinals can either make due with Pete Kozma, who for the most part has gotten the job done, or sign a free agent (Clint Barmes, Jhonny Peralta, Alfredo Amezaga, Willie Bloomquist).
Jake Westbrook, acquired by the Cardinals at the trade deadline in August 2010, appears to have pitched for the final time as a member of the Cardinals. Westbrook, 36, has an option for 2014, but it’s unlikely that the Cardinals will exercise it given his subpar performance this season.
The right-hander went 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA in 19 starts this season. However, he lost four of his last five starts, failing to last six or more innings in all but one of those starts. Not to mention Westbrook was left off of the NLDS, NLCS and World Series rosters. His last appearance came in the regular-season finale, a token of appreciation for his efforts this season.
Hint, hint, hint.
The Cardinals have the option of seeking a veteran free-agent starter (Erik Bedard, Jon Garland) to add to their rotation, or they could insert another young arm (Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Tyler Lyons) into the vacancy. The latter seems the better alternative.
Carlos Beltran is the final piece to this jigsaw puzzle and presents a tricky situation. Do the Cardinals give the future Hall of Famer a multi-year contract extension? Or do they let him walk?
Either scenario would work for the both sides.
The Cardinals have the talented Oscar Taveras waiting in the shadows for his opportunity.
The Cardinals signed Beltran in 2011 in order to fill the void in their lineup after Pujols' departure. The switch-hitter hit .269 last year and .296 this season. More importantly, Beltran has been a staple of this lineup. He’s helped this team in many ways, both on and off of the field. His postseason numbers are unheard of, Babe Ruth like.
He’s a true veteran—a leader who sets an example for the younger guys. And it appears there’s more in the tank for Beltran, as he makes his first World Series appearance in his 16-year career.
The futures of Furcal and Westbrook are all but certain. The Cardinals can go either direction with Beltran.