The St. Louis Cardinals are facing a pivotal offseason. Albert Pujols has two years left on his contract and has stated again that he wants to wait and see the commitment.
The Cardinals traded a lot of depth to win now and lost. Those pieces are free agents.
The Cardinals have $56 million committed to eight players (and Julio Lugo for free). So how will they spend that?
The Cardinals will have two rotation openings. They will also have an opening at third base, left field, and four open bench roles. Some can be filled from within, while others will be addressed from outside.
The Cardinals will have Todd Wellemeyer and John Smoltz leaving via free agency. General manager John Mozeliak has said he wants to address one role from within and address the other opening through free agency.
Jamie Garcia is the current favorite to land a rotation job. Smoltz is the most likely guy to take the other because of the Cardinals' familiarity with him, and he'll be a year removed from shoulder surgery rather than a few months.
One possible route, but highly unlikely because of the dollars and years it will take to commit, is trading Kyle Lohse. Lohse had a down 2009 and is set to start making the real money in his contract.
The Cardinals can address a need by dealing Lohse, but the problem is that Lohse has a full no-trade clause. If he would be willing to waive it, the Cardinals could find a taker if they are willing to eat about $5-7 million of the total amount owed to Lohse.
The reason that dealing Lohse would make sense is that the Cardinals could replace him with John Lackey.
Now, hear me out. The Cardinals currently have more than $30 million coming off the books, and if Lohse was traded, that would free up more. With not a lot of raises coming via arbitration, the signing could be conceivable.
The issue: dollars and years. Lackey will probably command a five-year, $90 million contract. If Lohse was traded, the Cardinals could match that easily and create the best 1-2-3 rotation punch in recent memory.
Will it happen? No, but Mozeliak has proven to have surprises up his sleeve. Do not be shocked if he tries to pull off something big like this.
The Cardinals have one Type A free agent (Matt Holliday) and three Type B free agents (Troy Glaus, Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro). Pineiro, Holliday, and DeRosa are almost locks to be offered arbitration.
Glaus could be a wild card. The best thing that can happen is that he declines. He won't cost a team a first round pick, meaning he could be easily signed, especially when he's coming off an injury-plagued season.
The worst thing is that he accepts and does not agree to a one-year, incentive-laden contract. If he would agree to that, it wouldn't be the worse thing in the world.
If you noticed what I just said above (that thing about Lackey), you'll realize that means no Holliday. In fact, without Lackey, there should be no Holliday.
Holliday is a very good player, don't get me wrong. The issue is that despite his notions about comfort over dollars, his agent is none other than Scott Boras himself. If Holliday wanted to go with comfort, he would still be a Colorado Rockie for close to $16 million a season.
It will take more than that to re-sign him.
Let's say that Holliday will make $20 million a year, and Pujols's next contract starts at $20 million. Add in that the Cardinals pick up Chris Carpenter's $15 million option and Adam Wainwright's $9 million option (duh).
That would be $64 million committed to FOUR players. If Lohse is still on the team and Yadier Molina's option is picked up, that is another $19 million tacked on.
If you can add, that is $83 million in a dying market committed to SIX players.
Doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.
The only true reason Holliday should be re-signed is because it will give Pujols some false notion that the Cardinals are committed to winning.
News flash: You can be committed without overpaying money to one player.
There are really three candidates for the left field job: Allen Craig (the most likely), Jon Jay, and Holliday.
The Cardinals will be losing DeRosa and Glaus to free agency. While the Cardinals will try to re-up with DeRosa, it could easily backfire.
DeRosa will not be looking for an incentive-laden contract, and that is what the Cardinals will probably offer. He is not a $10 million per year player, the kind of money a stupid team (insert New York Mets joke here) will pay for his great services.
If he does sign, probability for returning at full strength, while on the back nine of career, from the type of injury he has, is unlikely. His numbers will likely decline, sticking the Cardinals with a bad contract...again.
David Freese is more than ready with the glove to take over the hot corner. While he won't post the numbers would you expect from a third baseman (20-25 home runs, .280-plus average, 85-plus runs batted in), he will post a decent line for a rookie four years removed from college.
His glove will be the asset anyway. Everyone knows that. His bat will come, a la Ryan Ludwick, but the glove will be there. In that respect, he could easily perform at the same or a better level than the 2010 DeRosa.
However, the Cardinals could go with Glaus. He did miss a lot of time, but being a Type B free agent, he could and should be offered arbitration. If he declines, draft pick. If he accepts, well, that's where it gets tricky.
Glaus will not get a multi-year deal from any team (insert another Mets joke here), but he could better his chances if he did accept arbitration. The Cardinals could give Glaus a one-year deal with a base salary of $3 million, plus $5 million in incentives.
The incentives would not be impossible. It would be for games played, started, and plate appearances. He would also platoon with Freese in a way to phase Freese in, while phasing Glaus out in a good way.
At the end of the season, Glaus would make close to full incentives, Freese would have valuable playing time, and the Cardinals would have good production from the hot corner.
Jason LaRue, Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene, Glaus, and Joe Thurston are on their way out of St. Louis. The only one of the group that could feasibly return would be LaRue, but that too is unlikely.
Ankiel and Greene are guaranteed goners. No doubt. Ankiel was told where he fit in the plans when he sat all three postseason games for Colby Rasmus. Greene was told when he was left off the postseason roster entirely.
Thurston is a likely goner as his production dropped way off after April and his usefulness went with it. With Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso on the cusp, Thurston is without a job.
Glaus, we touched on. LaRue could be back, but as I said, unlikely. Matt Pagnozzi impressed the coaching staff with his game calling and receiving abilities this spring and September, and while his bat is a work in progress, he has the thumbs up from most everyone.
LaRue could also land a starting job. He has shown he can handle a backup role and has been a starter in the past. With his success off the bench, he can convince a team to give him a small deal with some incentives to give him a chance every day.
The likely bench configuration, barring surprises, would be: Pagnozzi, T. Greene, Lugo, Jay, Shane Robinson/Joe Mather/Nick Stavinoha.
Believe it or not, the bullpen is set. Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes are both signed for 2010. Ryan Franklin is also signed. Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Brad Thompson, Blake Hawksworth, Josh Kinney, and P.J. Walters are under club control.
The issue here is that the Cardinals still lack a true closer. I will be the first to back up Franklin and say how good he is, but he is not a true stopper. His stuff is not that of a closer in today's game. He is an unbelievable setup man, but not a closer.
Where will the Cardinals find that true closer?
Remember that Lohse being traded proposition?
Lohse to the Chicago White Sox for Bobby Jenks.
The White Sox need to and will dump Jenks. Lohse could be the best piece they receive.
Not many teams are in need of a closer, leaving the White Sox to cut Jenks and get nothing in exchange. Trading for Lohse would not only allow for more pitching depth (pushing Freddy Garcia to a sixth starter role), but it wouldn't add much payroll either.
Jenks would more than likely earn close to the same amount as Lohse in the 2010 season. The White Sox will also be losing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski's contracts after 2010 (not to mention Jermaine Dye and Octavio Dotel's this season), making Lohse affordable.
Likely to happen? Nope, not in the least bit. But it is a thought that will be thrown around within the Cardinals' front office, maybe even talked about between Kenny Williams and Mozeliak.