The St. Louis Cardinals have enjoyed a great amount of success in recent history. If they expect to continue that success going forward into 2014, some changes will be necessary.
General Manager John Mozeliak does not need to make sweeping changes this offseason. The Cardinals are obviously a franchise that is more than capable of going a long way with the tools they currently have in place. Some changes will be required, some preferred and some would just make the team a little better. The team will need to replace a departing star, make some gut decisions on young talent and take an honest evaluation of some key players.
Here are four changes the St. Louis Cardinals should make to ensure continued success in 2014.
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Carlos Beltran has been a big key to the Cardinals' success. His contract will expire at the end of the 2013 season and, while the team and Beltran both say that they would like to figure out a way for him to stay in St. Louis, it would be surprising if the Cardinals brought him back.
The logistics just do not line up. Beltran would prefer a multi-year contract, and the team has top prospect Oscar Taveras presumably ready to step up to the big league level in 2014. Taveras has been a center fielder in the minor leagues but projects as a corner outfielder when he reaches the big-league level.
Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com took a look at the free agent profile for Carlos Beltran recently and projects the outfielder to reach a deal similar to the two-year deal he is currently on.
I'd expect that he can sign a similar contract this time around, perhaps with a slight raise given his overall solid production in St. Louis. A two-year, $30MM contract would give Beltran nearly the same guarantee that (Raul) Ibanez received over his three-year deal while minimizing the risk, in terms of contract length, for the signing team.
Should Taveras be able to handle center field, the team may take advantage of the situation by moving Allen Craig to right field and allowing Matt Adams to continue to play first base. Alternatively, Taveras could be slotted into right field immediately, leaving Jon Jay in center field and a logjam at first base with Craig and Adams.
The abundance of internal options gives the Cardinals the chance to fill Beltran's absence internally. The biggest variable is Taveras and whether or not he is ready to step in immediately. If not, the team may need to examine a short-term solution while he matures in the minor leagues.
No matter how they go about it, the first step to succeeding in 2014 will be to address the departure of one of the offense's biggest weapons.
Pete Kozma ended the 2012 season with enough offensive production that the team felt it could rely on him going into 2013. Before the season was over, Daniel Descalso was seeing a good portion of playing time at the position. The problem was that neither of them gave the Cardinals any offense to speak of.
It leaves the Cardinals with one of their biggest questions going into the 2014 season. The team does not have a viable option in the minor league system. It leaves John Mozeliak with the task of looking to free agency or to the trade market to find a suitable bat to fill the need.
The Cardinals farm system is deep enough to provide plenty of trade chips should Mozeliak decide to go by way of trade. They will also have some financial freedom if they dive into the pool of free agency. Either route is sure to cost the Cardinals more than what they are comfortable parting with.
The resources will be available for the team to upgrade at a very key position. It will be up to the general manager to pull the trigger on the most important move of the offseason.
The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals relied heavily on the young arms in the system to achieve the success they have found. Players like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Seth Maness have been key components of a successful team.
The young arms have provided excitement and production throughout 2013. They will be heavily relied upon going into 2014 to provide the team with more of the same production. The Cardinals will need to keep a very close eye on the young players to ensure that they do not regress to a point that they could hurt the team.
Young players find slumps in the early years, and the dreaded "Sophomore Slump" will be looking to claim multiple victims in St. Louis in 2014. The team will spend the offseason making sure that they acquire veteran arms that can support the young arms going forward. Some changes may need to be made to ensure that the team is relying on proven commodities over youth that may soon falter.
Despite the success of the team in 2013, the Cardinals have dealt with their share of injuries. Some of those injured players, namely Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte, will be looking to reclaim their positions with the team early in 2014.
Motte threw from a mound on Wednesday, October 23, for the first time since his surgery earlier this year according to Jim Hayes of Fox Sports Midwest.
Motte, the team's projected 2013 closer, did not pitch this season. He won't be pitching in the World Series, either, but he's obviously making progress toward a 2014 return.
The return of these players will cause some important changes in St. Louis. The return of Jason Motte may impact the role of Trevor Rosenthal at the back end of the bullpen. Jaime Garcia will look to reclaim his place in the starting rotation, and that could leave players like Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn without a true place on the team.
The return of the injured players will give the Cardinals a surplus of talent at the major league level and cause some changes to happen. It is a good problem to have, and the team will look to take advantage of it by bolstering the bullpen or utilizing the surplus to acquire talent to fill other needs.
Either way you look at it, too much pitching is never a bad thing.
The Cardinals will need to replace Carlos Beltran's bat in their lineup, find a dependable shortstop, carefully monitor the progression of young players and prepare for the return of key players from injury if they expect to be successful in 2014.
Over the last few years, the team has shown amazing resiliency in overcoming key changes to the roster makeup. They have endured injuries, free agent departures and turnover in the coaching staff without missing a step.
There is no reason to believe that they cannot continue to be successful moving forward.