Despite 2013 Success, Cardinals Have Many Off-Season Issues
In many ways the 2013 regular season is one in which the St. Louis Cardinals were overachievers. Losing a front end starting rotation pitcher in Chris Carpenter; losing closer Jason Motte; losing shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, all before the season got underway. Then, a month into the season, the Redbirds lost the only left-handed pitcher in their starting rotation, Jaime Garcia. Add to that list of challenges, designated replacement closer Mitchell Boggs proved to be totally ineffective and was demoted to the minors and eventually traded to the Colorado Rockies.
In spite of all this, the Cardinals made it all the way to the World Series before they ran out of momentum and succumbed to the Boston Red Sox in six games. However, the World Series exposed the primary shortcomings of the Redbirds; and those deficiencies will have to be addressed in the upcoming off-season if St. Louis wants to stay ahead of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division.
The Cardinals have many issues or concerns; some of them are good problems to have while others will present a significant challenge to the front office of the Redbirds. In no particular order of importance, then here are the issues that lie ahead of Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak.
Carlos Beltran fell short in his effort to secure an elusive World Series ring, and he will be a prized free agent in the off-season. Beltran has made it known that he would like to play 2-3 more seasons, Given that Beltran is currently being paid $12 million annually, it is unlikely that the Cardinals will make a serious effort to resign the talented outfielder.
Highly regarded prospect Oscar Taveras has been waiting in the wings to replace Beltran, but his progress was slowed in 2013 due to a nagging ankle injury. Center fielder Jon Jay was having a down 2013 regular season until he got hot in the final two months of the season. However, he had an atrocious 2013 post-season so it is possible that he could be moved to open up center field for Taveras if the Cardinals decide to attempt to resign Beltran.
Shortstop Pete Kozma had the third lowest OPS of any regular player in the Major leagues during the regular season, but he did play a solid shortstop in the field. However, his inability to provide any offense in the post-season was a glaring shortfall in the St. Louis attack. It is almost certain that the Cardinals will not attempt to resign free agent Furcal so finding an upgrade at shortstop to replace Kozma has to be a priority for the St. Louis front office.
Third baseman David Freese‘s offensive production took a big downturn from his 2012 regular season numbers, and he was also a major disappointment during in the 2013 post-season. The front office will have to decide if his 2012 numbers are to be counted on going forward or else they will need to consider seeking an upgrade for him as well.
Rookie Kolten Wong was brought up late in the regular season, and he was placed on the roster throughout the post-season. However, he was less than impressive offensively so the notion of inserting him at second base and moving Matt Carpenter to third base to replace Freese will have to wait until spring training to see if that can pan out.
The Cardinals do have a wealth of pitchers available to compete for a spot in the starting rotation in 2014. Adam Wainwright is a lock at the top of the rotation, and Joe Kelly and rookie Michael Wacha emerged late in the season as solid contributors. Shelby Miller will be a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate for his stellar 2013 regular season performance. Mysteriously, Miller only made one appearance in relief in the post-season so hopefully he is not injured and his psyche will not have been damaged by the post-season slight he experienced.
Jaime Garcia, assuming he has recovered from the surgery that he underwent during the regular season, will also be counted on to rejoin the starting rotation. Lance Lynn has been maligned for his inability to deal with stressful situations when he is on the mound, but he has compiled a 33-17 record the past two seasons in the Cardinals starting rotation.
That is six pitchers competing for five spots in the starting rotation, and that does not include rookies Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, and John Gast; all of whom enjoyed some success when they were briefly inserted into the starting rotation in 2013. Also, we can not rule out Chris Carpenter making another attempt to comeback from the injury that has plagued him the past two seasons and rejoin the starting rotation.
Finally, the closer role will likely be a crowded competition during the 2014 Spring Training. Motte saved 45 games during the 2012 regular season, and he should be extended an opportunity to regain his job next spring. Edward Mujica was solid in the closer role once he was inserted into that spot after Boggs was not able to deliver.
However, Mujica faltered considerably in the final couple of weeks of the regular season and he was barely used during the post-season. Rookie Trevor Rosenthal replaced Mujica for the final few weeks of the 2013 regular season, and was pretty much automatic in the post-season when asked to close out a game. It is possible that Mujica could take up the seventh inning setup role that he filled so effectively during the regular season after he was acquired at the trade deadline in 2012. Motte or Rosenthal could then alternate between the eighth and ninth innings or one of them could be designated as the eighth inning setup guy with the other one slotting in as the closer.
All in all, the Cardinals are not likely to be a team that came close to winning it all and stands pat with their existing roster. Instead look for the St. Louis front office to be very active in trying to upgrade the group of players that show up at Jupiter, Florida next February.