10/15/2003 4:35 PM ET
Cards to be reshuffled in 2004
St. Louis faces multitude of offseason roster decisions
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Has Fernando Vina played his last game with the Cardinals? (Cardinals/Scott Rovak)
You wouldn't want to be running the Cardinals this offseason. Not if you have any plans to take a winter vacation, go home for the holidays, anything like that. It's going to be a busy job, to say the least.
Making the job more difficult this year is that nearly all of the questions facing the team are interrelated. In order for the pitching staff to improve significantly, the offense will likely have to become less expensive. Whether some core players are kept depends on how much money other core players make. It's not as simple as plugging one or two or three players into some key holes.
As free agency season approaches, here are five questions that management will have to answer between now and when pitchers and catchers report in February.
J.D. Drew / RF
1. Who plays in the outfield? This is cheating a little bit, because it's really at least two questions. Jim Edmonds is due about $9 million in 2004, and though he produces, that's a lot of money for a guy who will turn 34. If the Cards want to bring in a frontline starter -- and it's safe to say that, money permitting, they'd like to -- someone will have to go. It wouldn't necessarily be Edmonds, but his combination of price tag and trade value makes him a logical possibility.
If Edmonds is moved, that might move J.D. Drew to center field, a position that he enjoys playing and that seems to be easier on his right knee. Then again, if Edmonds is on the Opening Day roster, it may mean that Drew himself is moved. If the team goes to arbitration with Drew, or even exchanges arbitration figures with him, he'll almost certainly make upwards of $4 million, no small figure. Should Drew stay healthy and produce like he's capable, that's a bargain. But there's no guarantee of that.
And somewhere in all of this is Eli Marrero, who should be fully recovered from a horrible ankle injury. If either Drew or Edmonds finds himself wearing another uniform next year, Marrero would probably take over as the starting right fielder.
Brett Tomko / P
2. Who fills out the rotation? Matt and Woody and hide under your hoody? The back of the rotation was inconsistent at best in 2003. Matt Morris and Woody Williams will be back -- that question is one for the 2004-05 offseason, when Morris is free-agent eligible and Williams has a club option. This year, the Redbirds need to figure out who pitches in the third, fourth and fifth spots.
Brett Tomko may very well be back, though he's probably going to make in the neighborhood of $4 million. Whether to offer arbitration to Tomko will be one of the toughest single decisions facing general manager Walt Jocketty in the coming month or so. Garrett Stephenson is probably gone despite his low price tag, while many hopes rest on the surgically repaired right shoulder of Chris Carpenter. Danny Haren will vie for a shot, but the team would rather have a more experienced option and let Haren work in the minors for a while longer.
Question two depends heavily on the answer to question one. It all boils down to the amount of money available -- if there's money, look for St. Louis to try to add one of the elite starters who may be available in free agency or via trade: Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon or Javier Vazquez are the names that spring to mind.
Bo Hart / 2B
3. Who leads off? Fernando Vina is probably gone. His '04 option will almost surely price him out of the team's plans, leaving question marks at second base and in the leadoff spot. Bo Hart will probably take at least some of the time at second, but Hart does not appear to be ready to lead off in the Majors. Getting on base was a problem for Hart, who seems better suited to being a No. 8 hitter for now. Ideally, both second base and the leadoff spot will be filled with the same player, preferably a low-cost veteran.
4. Will Albert hit the jackpot? Albert Pujols is looking at a huge raise over his $900,000 2003 salary, now that he's arbitration-eligible for the first time. The only question is, how huge? And by how much will he shatter Derek Jeter's first-year-arbitration-eligible record of $5 million? With all the other puzzle pieces to fit together, a long-term deal for Pujols may have to wait some more, though clearly the team has no desire to go to arbitration with its best player.
Albert Pujols / LF
5. Is that all? Nope. Almost no one is completely safe. That's because no one was happy with a third-place finish and 85 wins. It remains to be seen who will be back in the bullpen, with Steve Kline eligible for free agency and the team holding an option on Mike DeJean. Drew and Edmonds are not the only position players who could be moved to clear payroll space. Don't get too attached to anyone, because the 25 players who head north next April will include many new faces.