Questions Loom for the St. Louis Cardinals in a Pivotal Offseason

Jeffrey LageContributor INovember 30, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 25:  Matt Holliday #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals singles in the sixth inning off of relief pitcher Jose Contreras of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 25, 2009 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals' front office has many questions that need to be answered this year.  Building for a successful 2010 season is not the only goal.  The moves made this offseason will likely dictate much of the franchise's success over the next decade.

The elephant in the room is obviously outfielder Matt Holliday.  Holliday was traded for on July 24 for a set of prospects in the hopes that the Cardinals would have a successful postseason in 2009.  Holliday had a tremendous second half offensively and helped to anchor a fearsome lineup.  Re-signing Holliday will not be as easy as trading for him was.  He is widely considered the top free agent this year. 

The Cardinals also have several players such as 3B/LF Mark DeRosa, SP John Smoltz, SP Joel Pinero, 3B Troy Glaus, OF Rick Ankiel, SS Kahlil Greene, and Pitcher Todd Wellemeyer all coming off the books this year.   Which carries some positives, several million coming off in payroll, and several options now present themselves for filling future holes.

The dominoes will be dictated by outfielder Matt Holliday's decision.  Being a Scott Boras client, chances are, a decision will not be made for a couple more months.  Boras has a history of getting every penny for his client and will fully test the market to see what offers exist for Holliday. 

This carries several negatives with it, the main one, being that we are not sure who will be in that bidding still, and the other negative is that we cannot start building our 2010 roster until we know what will happen with our prized free agent.

So that leaves the questions of the rest of the free agents this year for the Cardinals and the way the market is set up.  If Matt Holliday is not retained, there is a pretty significant drop off in overall talent behind he and Jason Bay (whom Mozeliak has already dismissed the notion of signing), meaning that we could see an internal outfielder such as Allen Craig in left next year.

Players like Greene, Glaus, Wellemeyer, and Ankiel will all likely be playing for new teams in 2010.  Pinero has a chance of coming back, but he will likely command a contract in the three year, $30 million range.  I personally do not see the front office committing that sort of money to another starting pitcher with Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lohse already locked up. 

You could see a trade made for a fourth starting pitcher, or you could see John Smoltz back in red at near average starting pitching.  And the last rotation spot could go to top pitching prospect Jamie Garcia, a left-hander coming off Tommy-john surgery.

The Cardinals have a history of not offering multi-year deals to outside players.  I do not see that changing this offseason, so players like John Lackey or Jason Bay will not likely wear the Cardinal red.  Any pitching additions will almost certainly come from a trade. 

The current payroll, post arbitration should be somewhere in the $70 million range, leaving around $20-25 million available to spend (assuming they match 2009's payroll dollars).  Re-signing Matt Holliday could cost almost all of that, and be for a term of five to seven years. 

Handcuffing Mozeliak's ability to resign players such as Mark DeRosa, any pitching, and possibly harming their ability to lock up long term franchise player Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols is really the reason the decisions made this offseason could easily dictate the franchise's direction for the new decade.  With a relatively thin prospect system, the team experienced a "win-now" philosophy in 2009.  Other than Garcia, and possibly players such as Daryl Jones, David Freese and Allen Craig, there will not be any other prospects making an impact for several more years.

Albert Pujols has said he has 10 fingers, and only one ring.  He wants nine more, and while he may not get nine more rings, he has also said he is willing to be a lifetime Cardinal, but he wants to win even more.  The moves made this offseason will tell Albert, whose contract ends after 2011, if they will have a chance of making his dream a reality.  

John Mozeliak has to get a little creative with his decisions this offseason; they will likely determine if the franchise player will remain a lifetime Cardinal.  Signing a player like Matt Holliday sends a pretty clear message to Albert that the team is committed to spending money and being competitive for at least another five to seven years.

The other side to the issue is that locking up too much money could mean the Cardinals cannot afford Albert's extension, he could demand a record setting extension.

If the Cardinals can keep Matt Holliday, re-sign Smoltz to a one-year deal, and let Freese/Craig/Mather play third next year I think we have the room to give Albert his extension as soon as next year, and I think he will stay, so long as the team performs above average next year. 

If we cannot re-sign Holliday, and we in turn just take compensation picks for losing players like Pinero, DeRosa, and Holliday, the job of resigning Albert may get that much harder. 

The other question, if you cannot re-sign Holliday, do you sign B-level free agents such as Adrian Beltre and Xavier Nady?  I have my recommendations, but I am curious what you think. 

My vote is to re-sign Matt Holliday, and if possible something in the five to six year, $17-19 million a year range, going a little higher may even be worth it.  Get Smoltz back, trade for back end rotation type pitcher that is under a small contract, and let third base be battled for.  Craig is possibly major league ready, and can fill in the fourth outfielder spot. 

DeRosa is commanding a lot of attention this offseason and will likely get a multi-year deal somewhere, same with Pinero.  If a player like Ming-Wang is non-tendered, he could be an interesting option instead of Pinero on a one-year deal. 

There are many options, but some of the decisions will be held hostage by Matt Holliday's decision.  Until he makes one or allows us to know better where he is wanting to go, I doubt you see anything other than a few minor league deals, maybe a small time third basemen, or a trade for a back end rotation pitcher. 

The other edge of the sword is that the Cardinals need to be somewhat aggressive.  Waiting on Holliday is fine, but if you wait too long, and cannot land him, our future could have some serious questions.

John, we are all watching this offseason, we wish you the best of luck.