The St. Louis Cardinals are in a dogfight for the National League pennant and Central Division title. With October looming, let’s take a quick timeout to consider what needs to happen this offseason and who must be released.
What unfolds in September could lead to the 12th World Series championship in franchise history. It would be thrilling, considering the roller coaster season the Cardinals have had up until the past two weeks.
Hold that thought.
General manager John Mozeliak and his staff will have decisions to make this offseason. They must determine which players on the current 40-man roster are worthy of bringing back for another season, and which aren't.
For example, Pat Neshek has done an admirable job. He made the NL All-Star squad. There’s no doubt in my mind Neshek will be at the top of Mozeliak's offseason checklist.
However, which players will be deemed expendable? Better yet, which players must the Cardinals ultimately part ways with for the better good of both sides?
There are a few who come to mind.
The obvious of the minority is Justin Masterson, whom the Cardinals acquired from Cleveland on July 30 in exchange for minor league outfield prospect James Ramsey. The move was considered low-risk for Mozeliak.
The Cardinals have enough minor league outfielders to field a starting nine. More importantly, the Cardinals were in desperate need of starting pitchers because of injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. They didn't want to go all-in for David Price, which would have been foolish. The move was understandable.
However, this was one of a few moves in Mozeliak's tenure as GM that backfired. Masterson has been brutal. In six starts as a Cardinal, the 29-year-old has failed to last five innings three times. The opposition turned each one of Masterson’s starts into a nine-inning batting practice session, posting a .312 average off the right-hander.
Looking ahead to 2015, the Cardinals will have Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, a (healthy?) Michael Wacha and John Lackey to back ace Adam Wainwright.
Accompanying Masterson should be Mark Ellis, the current utility infielder. The Cardinals and Ellis agreed on a one-year contract last winter. To no one's surprise, Ellis' time as a Cardinal has been appreciated, but he's no longer capable of making an impact off the bench. He isn't getting any younger (37), either.
Signing Ellis was everything but a bust for Mozeliak. Sure, Ellis' numbers aren't great. But what did you expect from the 11-year veteran? Ellis is one of many calming presences in a relatively young clubhouse. He’s been around the block. He plays the game the right way. He’s got the intangibles every manager envies.
More importantly, there’s a pool of prospects who will be competing for a job as a utility player next season. (See: Greg Garcia, Jermaine Curtis and Luis Mateo).
Finally, I don’t see the Cardinals bringing back A.J. Pierzynski next season. The Cardinals claimed Pierzynski off waivers in late July. The Cardinals would have to pay Pierzynski more than they would like if they attempted to sign him. Pierzynski did a fine job sharing time behind the plate with Tony Cruz while Yadier Molina recovered from thumb ligament surgery.
Pierzynski provides more pop than Cruz, but the latter is cost-controlled.
As the Cardinals sprint toward October, these three players should enjoy the ride because they almost certainly won’t be donning the birds on the bat next season.