The 2013 season has drawn to a close for the St. Louis Cardinals. The National League Champions may have held the best record in their league this season, but especially considering Wednesday's loss to the Red Sox to end the World Series in disappointment for St. Louis, that does not mean that changes are not coming this offseason.
A few key players will leave via free agency to make room for more young players from the organization's minor league system. A veteran player may very well call it a career. Two key players may find themselves wearing a different uniform in order to help the team improve at another position via trade.
Any way you look at it, the Cardinals will look to improve this offseason. General Manager John Mozeliak will surely have a busy winter as he looks to make all the right choices to keep his team playing championship baseball in 2014 and beyond.
Statistics in the following article, including salary information, are sourced from Baseball-Reference.
Jake Westbrook arrived in St. Louis as part of a three-team trade in 2010. His presence in the rotation through the final months of that season led to a new contract through 2013 with a mutual option for 2014.
That option comes due this season and carries a price tag of $9.5 million. The Cardinals can exercise a $1 million buyout, and most everyone would be shocked if they did not.
It is not to say that Westbrook has been subpar since his arrival in St. Louis. While he has not been spectacular, he has produced a steady production that has solidified the back of the rotation.
His 2013 season was riddled with injuries and inconsistencies on the mound. Meanwhile, the Cardinals tapped in to a wealth of young pitching arms that appear more than ready to assume their place at the big league level. Names like Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller have been successful enough to ensure that Westbrook's departure is the easiest one to predict.
Where does he end up? Westbrook may have well played his final game of his career. At 36 years old and battling injuries, retirement is a sound prediction.
Jason Motte's early-season injury led the Cardinals to audition arms for the suddenly vacant closer role. Edward Mujica made the best of the situation and played a big part in the early-season success of the team.
Mujica came to the Cardinals as a midseason trade in 2012 and quickly established a spot as a consistent middle relief pitcher. As the team's closer in 2013, Mujica found his way into the All-Star game as one of the National League's top finishers. He ended the season with 37 saves, despite losing his closing role to young Trevor Rosenthal in the season's final month.
Rosenthal has continued that success throughout the postseason and has made Mozeliak's decision regarding Mujica a lot easier at the end of the season. Mujica will enter the free-agent market for the first time in his career this offseason, and despite being supplanted, the market may reward him quite well.
Mujica's stock has not taken a huge hit, and his price tag will look unattractive to a team like the Cardinals, who have a surplus of young, inexpensive talent ready to take over. MLB Trade Rumors took a look at Mujica's free-agent profile and projected a healthy contract for the reliever:
Despite his slide at the end of the season, I believe that a three-year, $21MM deal remains a reasonable expectation given his youth, durability, elite command and strong track record.
Where will he end up? Predicting where Mujica will play in 2014 is the equivalent of drawing a team name from a hat. Many teams will be in the market for a dependable relief pitcher to shore up their bullpen. The Cleveland Indians should be willing to entertain bringing Mujica back to the franchise that originally signed him in 2001.
Carlos Beltran is the player on the list that no one, seemingly including Beltran and the Cardinals, wants to see go. He arrived in St. Louis prior to the 2012 season with a two-year, $26 million contract. He has been a leader on the field and in the clubhouse and a fan favorite.
Why would the team part ways with him, then? There are actually a few reasons, but most of all it comes down to the arrival of baseball's top prospect, Oscar Taveras. In addition to the young outfielder preparing to make his major league debut, Beltran will likely seek a mutli-year contract, and the Cardinals may be scared of going back down that road.
Lance Berkman was a key part of the Cardinals in 2011 and turned that into a contract extension to keep him around through 2012. The 2012 season saw Berkman yield to his age as injuries caused him to play in just 32 games. Berkman's breakdown may cause Mozeliak concern when dealing with Beltran.
Beltran will reach the open market as the Cardinals continue to get younger and allow prospects to take over key roles on the field. MLB Trade Rumors took a look at his free agent profile to gaze into a crystal ball and predict his upcoming contract:
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 Ibanez received over his three-year deal while minimizing the risk, in terms of contract length, for the signing team.
Beltran figures to be the only current Cardinal to receive a qualifying offer prior to free agency, yielding the team draft-pick compensation when he signs with his new team.
Where will he end up? Carlos Beltran will look most attractive to an American League team that can use him as a designated hitter as well as in the outfield. The Kansas City Royals are continuing to get more competitive and are rumored to be shopping their own designated hitter, Billy Butler, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. It would be a homecoming for Beltran and the leadership the Royals need.
David Freese, the third baseman who grew up in St. Louis and delivered some of the greatest postseason moments in St. Louis history, may very well have played his final game in a Cardinals uniform. Amazing moments in 2011 aside, his production has dropped off and his health is a concern.
Freese nears the top of this list as the most likely person to be non-tendered from the St. Louis roster. He remains under team control as he approaches his second trip to the arbitration table this offseason. He will demand a higher price than his 2013 contract of $3.15 million and has not offered the necessary production to match his potential salary.
The Cardinals will most likely look for a trade partner willing to take Freese, who may well benefit from a change of scenery. The Cardinals may struggle to get enough of a return to justify the trade, though. Freese could find himself included in a package deal to a new home as a part of the Cardinals' presumed search for a shortstop.
The Cardinals will turn to Kolten Wong to take over at second base permanently and slide Matt Carpenter back to third base, his natural position. Should Wong reach the potential the team feels he has, the offense will be better off and the defense will be remarkably better than it was with Freese.
Where will he end up? That question is tied to the Cardinals' ability to trade him. J.J. Hardy could be a good match should the Orioles be willing to consider moving Manny Machado back to his natural position at shortstop. It would take more than just Freese to get Hardy out of Baltimore, but the Cardinals have the prospects to make a deal of that nature happen.
The Cardinals will be shopping for a shortstop to upgrade over Pete Kozma and will likely look to deal from their surplus of pitching to acquire one. John Mozeliak has shown a strong affinity for his prospects, historically. Lance Lynn is the best trade chip the team has this offseason.
Lynn has shown success in two seasons in the big leagues. The 26-year-old pitcher has been consistent and productive as a member of the Cardinals' starting rotation. According to Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation Blog, Lynn will remain non-arbitration eligible for 2014, missing the super-two cutoff by three days.
On Sunday, the 26-year-old right-hander absorbed a home loss to the Red Sox in Game 4 of the World Series. On Tuesday, Lynn missed the cutoff for salary arbitration eligibility by just three days, a circumstance that may have cost him several million dollars in earnings for the 2014 season.
That means that his salary for next season will be set by his team, making him an extremely valuable, and cheap, piece for any team. More importantly, it will make him an attractive trade piece should the Cardinals be willing to listen.
The group of young arms behind staff ace Adam Wainwright has been well documented, and Lynn is the most expendable of all of them. He would bring a great return, would keep the Cardinals from dealing from their prospects and is replaceable within the organization. A rotation that features Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and a returning Jaime Garcia is more than capable of absorbing the loss of Lynn.
Where will he end up? That depends largely on which shortstop the Cardinals target. The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers hold young shortstops the Cardinals have been rumored to covet for some time. The Baltimore Orioles offer an interesting possibility as well. Lynn may well find himself in the American League before Christmas.
The St. Louis Cardinals will continue their youth movement in 2014 by allowing some veteran players like Jake Westbrook, Edward Mujica and Carlos Beltran to leave via free agency. That same youth can provide them with the ability to trade David Freese and/or Lance Lynn in order to improve themselves at other positions.
The five players on this list have a real chance to find themselves in different uniforms by opening day. The chances are much greater for the first three players but the last two should not feel overly comfortable. The Cardinals could very well improve their roster by opening the season without any one of these players.
The story for the Cardinals may not change much over the next few seasons. The young players will continue to be the core of this team.
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