The St. Louis Cardinals finished two wins shy of a World Championship in 2013. That fact would not suggest the team would need to make sweeping changes as it moves forward. The progression of top prospects, the migration of veteran free agents and the desire to not fall short next season will have the team looking at all of the options for 2014.
The offense fell flat during the postseason. The Cardinals managed to fight their way forward despite that fact. Joe Strauss of StlToday.com notes that big changes could be coming next season:
Change approaches — not a ripple, but a wave. It is conceivable the National League champions could return only three, maybe two, position players to their same stations next opening day.
That's not to say that some of the same players will not remain. Strauss is simply pointing out that some of the same faces might find themselves in different roles.
Read on to take a look at each offensive position for the team and what the future may hold.
All statistics are sourced from Baseball-Reference.com.
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The one position that is virtually guaranteed to not change in the near future is catcher.
Yadier Molina serves as a leader of this team and shows no sign of slowing down. He posted career highs in batting average (.319), runs batted in (80) and doubles (44). Most importantly, his defense did not suffer from his offensive progress. He earned his sixth straight Gold Glove in 2013.
The Cardinals relied on Molina's presence to handle a young pitching staff throughout 2013. While there is no reason to believe that the team will utilize so many first-year players in 2014, the young stars of 2013 will be returning.
Molina's veteran presence behind the plate remains his strength for this team. Adding his offensive prowess makes him almost irreplaceable.
The other options: Tony Cruz will certainly return as the backup in 2014. It remains to be seen who the additional options might be should injuries happen to either Molina or Cruz.
First base promises to be a position that the Cardinals will fill with a player who is currently under contract with the team. That is not to say that first base is not a point of consideration for the team.
Allen Craig opened 2013 as the starting first baseman and went on to establish a run-producing season like few others. Craig posted a .454 batting average with runners in scoring position in 2013, driving in 83 runs in those situations.
Craig may have been a great run producer, but Matt Adams was a jolt of power the lineup desperately needed at times. The young man known as "Big City" found himself in the middle of the lineup after Craig's foot injury in early September. Adams finished the season with 17 home runs and 51 runs batted in and should be considered for a starting role going forward.
The potential changes: The potential for change here ties very closely to shortstop and right field. Allen Craig could open the 2014 season in right field and Matt Adams could very well be the team's starting first baseman. In addition, Adams could be used as a valuable trade chip to help the team improve at shortstop, which would leave Craig as the starter again.
The other options: The Cardinals will rely primarily on Craig and/or Adams at first base in 2014. There may be the opportunity for Yadier Molina or even Matt Holliday to see some playing time occasionally, giving each of the veterans a break from their primary positions while keeping their bats in the lineup.
Kolten Wong was one of the highest rated prospects in the Cardinals organization coming into 2013. A young second baseman who has hit well, shown great speed and flashed stellar defense throughout his minor league career, Wong will be given every chance to win the second base job in 2014.
Matt Carpenter, a third baseman through most of his professional career, reported to spring training in 2013 willing to learn how to play second base in order to help both the club and his playing time. No one could have predicted the amazing season Carpenter would put together.
Carpenter would lead the league in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55) while posting a .318 batting average, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 78 runs. Carpenter opened 2013 as the Cardinals' starting second baseman and he will not be relegated to a bench role in 2014.
The potential changes: No matter how well Wong plays in the spring, it will take another change to give him his opportunity to be an everyday player. The Cardinals find themselves in the position to have to make a choice at third base that may allow Carpenter to return to his natural position and open the door for Wong.
The other options: Daniel Descalso should find himself in the conversation as a bench player to find some playing time at second base. Should Freese be given the chance to prove himself at third base again in 2014, a rotation of Carpenter and Wong could be created that involves Carpenter spending at least some time at third base.
The hero of the 2011 World Series, David Freese struggled throughout the 2013 season. The emergence of Kolten Wong at second base and the prowess of Matt Carpenter at the plate may squeeze David Freese out of playing time going forward.
Freese was injured near the end of spring training in 2013 after chasing a foul ball and falling through a gate in the fence. It kept him from making his season debut until almost a week into the season and he never seemed to find the stroke that he established in 2012. Whether he was playing through an injury or not has not been publicly revealed but it would not be a surprise given his lack of production.
That being said, there should not be urgency for the team to make a change at third base. Freese had a down year but there is little reason to believe that 2013 was the rule instead of the exception. If Freese survives the offseason without being traded, he will open the 2014 season as the starting third baseman.
The potential changes: The Cardinals will be on the lookout for a shortstop during the winter and Freese's name could very well come up in trade discussions in order to achieve that. Should he remain in a Cardinal uniform, he will likely see his playing time diminish as Matt Carpenter will play third base from time to time to allow Kolten Wong some time at second base.
The other options: Daniel Descalso's ability to play multiple positions, including third base, will keep him on the bench for the team going forward and allow him to find some occasional playing time.
Rafael Furcal found himself having Tommy John surgery early in 2013, costing him the entirety of the season. Due to his production in 2012 while Furcal was on the shelf, Pete Kozma was awarded the starting spot in 2013 and promptly fell flat.
Kozma's defense kept him on the field throughout the 2013 season, though he did find himself losing playing time to Daniel Descalso. However, Descalso failed to show the team much more offensive ability than Kozma did, and that leaves the team looking to make a change at the position going into 2014.
The organizational depth at shortstop is extremely weak and offers very little help to fill the most obvious void on the roster. The free-agent class this winter is sparse and offers very few key players who may quickly price themselves out of the Cardinals' comfort zone.
Bleacher Report's own Corey Noles brings up the thought that the answer may be a familiar face for the Cardinals in his recent article regarding Rafael Furcal. If the Cardinals do not like the options elsewhere, an incentive-laden contract for Furcal may be just what the team needs.
The potential changes: The changes facing the Cardinals at shortstop are many. The answer is most likely outside of the organization. Should the team go by way of trade, it may impact players on the pitching staff, at first base or at third base. The shortstop position is likely to be the most important position for the Cardinals this offseason.
The other options: Yet again, Daniel Descalso's name will come up here as a player who will see some playing time as the primary backup from the bench. Ryan Jackson could see some time as well depending on other roster changes, though confidence in the young shortstop seems to be on the decline.
Yadier Molina's position may be the only guarantee every year, but Matt Holliday shouldn't be far behind.
Holliday has been at the heart of the Cardinals' batting order for more than four years now and has been a key run producer every year in that role. He posted a .300 batting average for the first time in four seasons and maintained a high slugging percentage (.490) and respectable runs batted in (94) mark. His defense is suspect, but he doesn't hurt the club nearly as much as it would seem.
Holliday will likely remain in left field, and there is little reason to believe that he will not be the cleanup hitter going forward. His contract was signed in 2010 and will run through 2016 with a team option for 2017. There is no reason to believe that he will not be in St. Louis and in left field throughout that contract.
The other options: Shane Robinson should see some playing time in all the outfield positions throughout the season. Young prospect Oscar Taveras may see some playing time at all three positions in the outfield as well.
Jon Jay has done an adequate job in center field each of the last three years, allowing the team to trade away Colby Rasmus and focus on other areas of the field. His 2013 season was not horrible by any means, but it may have been just short of ensuring he would be the starter going forward.
Looking over Jay's shoulder is Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals' top prospect. Taveras should be given every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster in spring training and that may leave Jay without a starting position.
Taveras posted outstanding numbers in 2012 at Double-A but battled through multiple injuries in 2013 that limited him to only 46 games. The team continues to recognize the potential despite the lack of playing time, and they recognize that his time is coming very soon.
The potential changes: Should Taveras perform as expected in the spring, Jay will find himself relegated to the fourth outfielder spot and battling for playing time. Jay's 2014 salary will be set in the arbitration process and could make him a commodity the team is willing to trade if/when Taveras arrives.
The other options: Jay and Taveras will be the battle everyone has their eye on, but Shane Robinson deserves some time in the discussion as well. If Taveras opens the season at Triple-A Memphis, Robinson could challenge Jay for some playing time himself.
Carlos Beltran stepped into St. Louis as the player who was signed when Albert Pujols departed. He was the investment in the middle of the lineup to help withstand the absence of the departing slugger, and he became a leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Replacing Beltran will not be easy and the Cardinals will primarily look to internal options to do so.
Derrick Goold of StlToday.com recently sat down with 101Sports.com, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, and discussed the right field situation and its impact on the rest of the roster:
St. Louis brass have yet to decide on whether they'll try to re-up with Beltran, though parting ways with the outfielder would allow them to start Allen Craig in right field, as the club would like to do, Goold says. Such a move would also open a spot for outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, while Matt Adams could get regular time at first base.
Beltran has filed for free agency and is likely to land a multiple-year contract with a team that can ensure him playing time. He has stated publicly that he would like to come back to St. Louis but understands the team's standpoint.
The potential changes: The team will primarily look to Taveras to take over in the outfield, either in center or right, at some point during the 2014 season. Allen Craig may see some time in right field depending on the team's confidence in his health and whether or not Matt Adams remains a part of the team going forward. Right field offers the most intrigue going into the 2014 season as it relies on a lot of the other decisions with the roster.
The other options: Taveras has played in center field primarily but could find himself playing a corner outfield position in the big leagues. Shane Robinson should find playing time at all three outfield positions. In addition, Jon Jay may need to practice the corner outfield positions to make himself a more valuable bench option going forward.
John Mozeliak has quite a few decisions to make for a general manager who just watched his team come within two wins of a World Series victory.
The development of Oscar Taveras, the departure of Carlos Beltran and the need for a shortstop will all register high on the list of evaluations Mozeliak will be looking into as winter begins. The decisions he makes will potentially affect all but two positions on the field going into 2014.
Molina and Holliday will continue to be on the field in their customary positions when the Cardinals open the 2014 season. Everything else is up for much debate this offseason.
The defending National League champions may look a lot different than the team that won that title.