Cards' front office already looking toward '16

Club's top priority is bringing Heyward back in offseason

Cards' front office already looking toward '16

CHICAGO -- After a flight home on Tuesday night to digest a 6-4, Game 4 loss to the Cubs that ended the Cardinals' World Series hopes in the National League Division Series, general manager John Mozeliak will head to his office on Wednesday and begin to look ahead.

He'll meet with staff members, not only to assess the ride of the last six-plus months, but also to create the blueprint that will guide the Cardinals' decisions over the next several. And there are plenty to make.

Game Date Results
Gm 1 Oct. 9 STL 4, CHC 0
Gm 2 Oct. 10 CHC 6, STL 3
Gm 3 Oct. 12 CHC 8, STL 6
Gm 4 Oct. 13 CHC 6, STL 4

The Cardinals have six soon-to-be free agents, most notably starting right fielder Jason Heyward and veteran right-hander John Lackey. Matt Belisle, Randy Choate, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Villanueva round out the rest of that group.

It will be re-signing Heyward, however, that tops the Cardinals' offseason to-do list.

The Cardinals envisioned Heyward as more than a one-year fit when they swung a November 2014 trade with the Braves that cost them 10 years of controlled pitching for one guaranteed year of Heyward. By bringing Heyward in a year ahead of his free-agency eligibility, the Cardinals hoped to help him find a home.

Their intent was to sell St. Louis as he was selling himself to them.

Heyward, 26, dazzled in the outfield, where he logged 10 assists and countless defensive gems. Offensively, he led the Cardinals with a .293 average, 160 hits and 23 stolen bases. He emerged as the team's best baserunner and was among the few consistent faces in a lineup that featured others in and out all year.

"I did a lot of growing this year, as a player and as an individual," Heyward said. "I had a lot of fun playing with this group of guys and this coaching staff and the fan base. Job well done on our part, but this wasn't the last step we wanted this year."

And of the possibility of coming back?

"This is definitely an ideal situation," he said. "I can't tell you what's going to happen. I wouldn't have been able to tell you a year ago I would be in this spot right now. But I'm very fortunate to have had the opportunity this year to play with these guys. We'll see what happens."

Lackey seems a less likely target for the Cardinals, who, while fortunate to have him as an anchor in the rotation this season, are deep in starting pitching. The club already has starters Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha set to return, with youngsters Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney offering depth behind them.

Lackey's fifth strikeout

Lackey will be 37 later this month and likely looking for the final multi-year contract of what has already been a 13-year career.

Lackey laments one pitch in shortest playoff start

"I'm not getting into all of that," Lackey said after the Game 4 loss. "I'm not even thinking about that kind of stuff right now. We'll see what happens."

The departures of Belisle, Choate and Villanueva will lead to some bullpen retooling, though Villanueva, who proved valuable as a reliable long reliever, could be an offseason target by the club again.

Reynolds, who signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals last December, said he would welcome another season in St. Louis if the club has a fit for his right-handed bat off the bench.

"I would love to be back," Reynolds said. "It's one of the best years of my career as far as relationships and as far as people to be around. I have been places where it is not as pleasant in the clubhouse, and to get to come here and be around these guys all day, it was just a pleasant surprise."

The Cardinals have another two pitchers -- starter Jaime Garcia and reliever Jonathan Broxton -- with club options to consider. The organization is expected to decline Broxton's $9 million option by paying a $1 million buyout.

The decision with Garcia will be more complex following his bounce-back season. The option is valued at $11.5 million, a potential bargain if the lefty is healthy and as effective as he was over 20 regular-season starts in 2015. But his injury history is lengthy, and Garcia has yet to show up big for the Cardinals in the postseason.

There is a $500,000 buyout if the Cards do not pick up that option, the first of two built into Garcia's contract.

The Cardinals also have looming decisions with their arbitration-eligible players. They have three strong non-tender candidates, including Steve Cishek and Brandon Moss, both of whom were Trade Deadline acquisitions. Cishek made $6.65 million this season, while Moss earned $6.5 million. Both would see their salaries rise through the arbitration process. The Cardinals could, of course, make a run at re-signing either at a lower cost without entering arbitration.

Sparingly-used center fielder Peter Bourjos seems unlikely to return.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.