I don't know if anyone noticed this, but the Cardinals are suddenly loaded with free agents.
Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Edwin Jackson, Rafael Furcal, Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, Nick Punto, and Gerald Laird are all free agents after the season. Additionally, Ryan Theriot is likely to be non-tendered. Skip Schumaker and Kyle McClellan are both non-tender/trade candidates. Thats about half the team.
Obviously, the big offseason priority will be to re-sign Albert Pujols. I think the Cardinals are going to somehow figure this out. I was originally concerned that teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, or Mets would make a serious run, but they don't seem to be in a position to make that kind of move right now.
The next major decisions will be centered around Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman. I just don't see how the Cardinals can even consider picking up Carp's $15 million dollar option for his age 37 season. I also think it would be a bad idea to renegotiate his deal to cover not just his age 37 season, but also his age 38 season at over $10 million per season. I say offer him arbitration and let him walk. I don't think he'd accept as this will be his last chance to get a multi-year deal. Also, he's a Type A free agent and we'll collect 2 high draft picks for him signing with someone else. I think Lance Berkman would be a much more sound investment. He's shown that he still has a ton left in the tank (holy crap did you see him flying around the bases yesterday!). I would try to lock up Berkman to a 2 year deal with an option for a 3rd. Maybe something like 2 years/$22 million plus an $8 million option for his 3rd year. I know that seems kinda low considering the season he's put up, but these would be his age 36-38 seasons. He seems to like it here and we know he doesn't want to go to the American League. I think the only other place he'd want to go is Houston - and that's not gonna happen.
Next on the list is Edwin Jackson. I think everyone agrees that he's not the top-flight starting pitcher that we were hoping for in a Colby deal. I think he's a better pitcher than he gets credit for, but at the same time I wouldn't want to get involved in a massive multi-year deal for him. I think those kind of deals for slightly above average pitchers are really the types of deals teams should avoid. Let someone else make this move and we'll take the draft pick.
Rafael Furcal has a $12 milloin option for next season. No thanks. However, if we can spin that into a 2 year deal at around $13 million, I would jump on that. If this magnificent bastard could just stay healthy, he'd be worth a lot more than that. Also, it'd be nice to have a true leadoff hitter and someone who could be relied on at short, both offensively and defensively (its been a while). A 2 year deal would cover his age 34 and 35 seasons, so its a little risky, but I'd still do it.
Octavio Dotel is old and a type B free agent. Draft pick please. Its hard to imagine Corey Patterson, Nick Punto, or Gerald Laird coming back for any reason. Corey Patterson makes everyone want to puke. Nick Punto would be nice if healthy, but he's also getting old - he'll be 34 at the start of next season. Gerald Laird is an awesome dude, but the Cards seem to like Tony Cruz, so I can see them letting Laird go and paying Tony half the price.
Ryan Theriot - It didn't work. Everyone knows this. I'd be surprised if he can make it until the end of the season. If he does, he will be an absolute lock to be non-tendered.
Skip Schumaker already makes $2.4 million. There's not a reason in the world to keep him when Descalso is a similar player offensively and way better defensively for around league minimum. I think 2B will be Dirty Dan's job to lose next season.
Kyle McClellan already makes $1.375 million and I'd imagine he's in line for a signifcant boost through arbitration. I think he'd surely get between 3 and 4 million through the arbitration process and even if the Cards signed him to a 2 year deal it would be for no less than $2.5 million per season. Now, thats not a bad price for a quality reliever - especially one that can handle lefties. Honestly, I think he'll be back, its just that I wouldn't do it at anything over the $2.5 million mark per season. I don't think he'll be non-tendered, but I can certainly see the Cards making a trade involving him.
Jake Westbrook - I'd rather the team pay him $4 million next season to not pitch for us than $8 million to pitch for us. No way anyone will take on the full salary but at $4 million per season teams should be interested. Hell we might even be able to pull a decent little player out of the deal.
The team has some very interesting players right now in the minors that can make a big play for roster positions next spring. Matt Carpenter apparently didn't impress Tony and company in his measly 15 at bats that he got this season, but he's too old and too good to keep in the minors any longer. Adron Chambers is better than Corey Patterson right now. Tyler Greene is not necessarily done with the organization. I can see him getting one last chance next season as the backup MIF.
Shelby Miller - Its possbile that I'm in the minority on this, but I'm all for letting him finish the year at AAA and giving him an opportunity to open the season with the big club. If he doesn't make it we can fall back to Mark Rzeps..er...Scrabble, until Shelby is ready.
Lance Lynn has been filthy in the bullpen this year. I'd be very comfortable with him in the rotation next season.
So the team should look a little like this:
1B - Albert Pujols - $28,000,000
2B - Dan Descalso - close to league minimum
SS - Rafael Furcal - $6,500,000
3B - David Freese - less than a million
C - Yadier Molina - $7,000,000
LF - Matt Holliday - $17,000,000
CF - Jon Jay - close to league minimum
RF - Lance Berkman - $11,000,000
Bench - Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Adron Chambers, Tony Cruz, Tyler Greene - all around league minimum - roughly $2.1 million all together
SP - Adam Wainwright - $9,000,000
SP - Jaime Garcia - $3,250,000
SP - Kyle Lohse - $11,875,000
SP - Lance Lynn - league minimum
SP - Shelby Miller - league minimum
RP - Kyle McClellan - $2,500,000
RP - Jason Motte - around a million
RP - Mitchell Boggs - less than a million
RP - Fernando Salas - close to league minimum
RP - Eduardo Sanchez - league minimum
RP - Mark Rzep Scrabble - less than a million
RP - new lefty reliever - around a million
Emergency call-up possibilities include: Matt Adams, Zack Cox, Bryan Anderson, Andrew Brown, Peter Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Aaron Luna, Nick Additon, Adam Ottavino, Jess Todd, Brian Broderick, John Gast, Adam Reifer, Maikel Cleto, Sam Freeman, and Brandon Dickson,
Dead Money: Jake Westbrook ($4,000,000), Chris Carpenter ($1,000,000 buyout), Octavio Dotel ($750,000 buyout - is Toronto paying? Not sure so I'll count it)
I'd imagine David Freese, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Scrabble are all going to get decent raises of a few hundred thousand each, but I don't know how this really works, so we'll have to work with estimates - it won't make the overall total too far off. By my count...it puts the overall payroll at right about $110,000,000. That probably leaves very little wiggle room. It's certainly possible that Furcal doesn't come back and we go cheap at SS - again! - and add some cheap vet bats to the bench also. Also, I realize the likelihood of Lynn and Miller both in the rotation is pretty much slim and none, but I'd try it. Lynn has proven he's a big league pitcher and Miller could be a ROY candidate.