Offseason In Review: St. Louis Cardinals

The defending World Champions lost a pair of franchise icons this offseason, but they appear poised to contend for another title after signing Carlos Beltran and promoting Mike Matheny as manager.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Scott Linebrink, Alex Cora, Koyie Hill, R.J. Swindle, Eugenio Velez.

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Obtained 19th overall selection from Angels for Albert Pujols. Also obtain supplementary first round pick, 36th overall.
  • Obtained 52nd overall selection for losing Dotel. 
  • Obtained 59th overall selection for losing Jackson.

No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa. The Cardinals team that takes the field on Opening Day will look a whole lot different than the club that won the 2011 World Series. But GM John Mozeliak's offseason moves have the club ready for another run at the postseason.

There's no replacing Albert Pujols, who has been nothing short of baseball's best offensive player for the past decade. The Cardinals appear to have made a substantial bid for the first baseman, but he left for the Angels' $240MM offer. Even at 32, he's one of the best hitters in the game, as his postseason performance showed. The short-term blow to the Cardinals' lineup is undeniable even though they may be applauding themselves for bidding cautiously five or six years from now when Pujols starts declining significantly.

Former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny took over as the team's new manager following Tony La Russa's retirement. The 41-year-old Matheny inherits a team that's as strong as any rookie manager could hope for. In another significant off-field development, the Astros hired Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' longtime VP of scouting and player development, as their new GM.

Carlos Beltran represents the Cardinals' biggest offseason investment and he'll join Jon Jay and Matt Holliday in a strong projected outfield that could include Allen Craig at times. Even at 34, Beltran does a lot of things right and the Cardinals did well to obtain him for two years and $26MM.

The signing shifts Berkman to Pujols' former position, first base. Berkman doesn't come close to matching Pujols' defensive ability, but the 36-year-old is probably better suited for first base than the outfield at this point in his career.

The Cardinals dealt with their middle infield by re-signing Rafael Furcal, locking Skip Schumaker up for two years, non-tendering Ryan Theriot and letting Nick Punto leave via free agency. Furcal, always an injury risk, wasn't much worse than league average at the plate, even during a down season. He has some offensive potential if he can stay healthy and the Cardinals' investment suggests they believe Furcal can stay on the field in 2012-13. However, $14MM seems like an over-aggressive commitment for a 34-year-old who's missed an average of 70 games per season since 2008.

Even though the middle infield doesn't project to add much to the offense, the Cardinals should score enough runs. They led the National League in scoring last year and figure to be among the league leaders again, even after losing Pujols.

The Cardinals' rotation may be better than the group that led last year's team to the World Series, since Adam Wainwright is back from Tommy John surgery (exercising his options was an easy call). They entertained the idea of signing Roy Oswalt, and pursuing the free agent right-hander may become increasingly appealing if the injury currently sidelining Chris Carpenter proves serious. Oswalt's intriguing, especially on a one-year deal, so he figures to be on the Cardinals' radar even as Lance Lynn opens the year in the rotation. Top prospect Shelby Miller will start the season in the minors and could be a mid-summer callup. 

The Cardinals essentially left their bullpen alone this offseason. They've developed and acquired lots of quality relievers over the years and so contented themselves with the signings of J.C. Romero, Scott Linebrink and R.J. Swindle to low-risk deals. The Cardinals' young bullpen looks good on paper, and Mozeliak can add a reliever at the deadline if it falls short of expectations. A major addition to the bullpen wouldn't have made sense for this team.

The Cardinals also locked up Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75MM extension. It's a sizable contract for someone whose knees have been through 1,000 innings per season since 2004, but Molina is emerging as a premium player. Finding an All-Star catcher is difficult, and Molina is just 29, so the deal makes sense for both sides. Back when the Cardinals’ postseason hopes seemed faint, Mozeliak locked up Carpenter and Berkman to deals worth mentioning, even if they technically occurred before the offseason began.

It was an offseason unlike any other in St. Louis. The celebration of a championship, the retirement of a Hall of Fame manager, the departure of one of the greatest hitters in history. But now that the chaos has ended and another season is upon us, the Cardinals are contenders once again.



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