ST. LOUIS -- Despite winning 100 games and a third straight National League Central title while navigating through a series of debilitating injuries, the Cardinals appear poised for a roster shakeup this offseason. The club needs to address its offensive deficiencies of the past two seasons, as well as fortify its depth and retool the bullpen.
General manager John Mozeliak, speaking two days after the team's season abruptly ended in Chicago, acknowledged that there "is a lot of work to be done" as he looks ahead to the next three months.
"It's a good team, but we didn't reach where we wanted to," Mozeliak said. "So that means there is room for improvement. That's what we'll focus on."
Mozeliak intended to reach out to the Cardinals' impending free agents to gauge any potential mutual interest in a 2016 return. That's most notable with Jason Heyward, whom the Cardinals hope to retain. Soon, too, the club will have to make final decisions about whether to exercise options on pitchers Jaime Garcia and Jonathan Broxton.
The Cardinals will also develop a broader offseason strategy over these next two weeks before the free-agent market opens. That will happen five days after the end of the World Series.
The organization has been quick to strike the past two offseasons, completing most of its big moves before the Thanksgiving holiday. The Cards may not have that luxury this year with the late end to the World Series and the possibility that Heyward's free agency drags on for some time.
"Like all offseasons, this year will have its challenges," Mozeliak said. "But it'll also have its opportunities. I'm looking forward to exploring those and to try to get a better understanding of what those look like."
Here is a look at where the Cardinals stand entering the Hot Stove season:
Rotation: Although Lackey will become a free agent, the Cardinals retain a wealth of starting depth. Adam Wainwright will return as the team's ace, and the Cardinals have right-handers Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn lining up behind him. The Cards hold a reasonable $11.5 million dollar option on Garcia, who posted a 2.43 ERA in 20 starts. The question is whether there are lingering concerns about durability or lackluster October performances. The Cardinals have depth behind these established Major League options, too. Lefties Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons have all shown flashes of promise at the big league level. And keep your eye on top pitching prospect Alex Reyes, who could make a push to join the Major League staff sometime next year.
Bullpen: Expect there to be some shakeup in the bullpen, which could lose as many as five relievers to free agency if Cishek is non-tendered (likely) and Broxton's option is declined (very likely). The Cards may target Villanueva again, as he provided valuable innings as a long reliever. The club does not expect to replace Choate with another lefty specialist, though it does need to add depth to the left side to take some of the onus off Kevin Siegrist, who made a Major League-most 81 appearances. Rosenthal returns as closer and Maness as the team's designated fireman. The club is also hopeful that Jordan Walden recovers from a right shoulder injury that cost him the last five months of the 2015 season. Young arms, including Sam Tuivailala, Mitch Harris, Dean Kiekhefer, could find fits, but the Cardinals are going to have to go outside this winter to add to that bunch.
Catcher: Entering the fourth season of his five-year deal, Yadier Molina will remain the team's starting catcher. But after injury-plagued finishes for Molina in 2014 and '15, the Cards may finally be moved to pull back on his workload. Cruz, who has been Molina's backup for four years, is arbitration eligible for the second time. The Cardinals may make a move to look for another backup option, particularly if they anticipate Molina playing fewer games. The organization saw potential in Minor League catcher Cody Stanley, but he was hit with an 80-game suspension after a second violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and will miss the first two months of the '16 season.
First base: It's not yet clear how the club will fill this position. If the team re-signs Heyward, it's likely that Stephen Piscotty will get a bulk of the first-base playing time. If Piscotty is needed in the outfield, the Cardinals have Adams as an option, though he has yet to overwhelm as an everyday player. Moss, if tendered a contract, could also be a fit here. For a team looking to upgrade offensively, it could also go out and sign an established first baseman, as long as such an acquisition does not keep Piscotty blocked.
Second base: Kolten Wong returns following his first full season in the Majors. He endured a sharp offensive regression in the second half, something the Cards hope he can avoid next season. One way they'll look to prevent that is by augmenting the team's middle infield depth. Other than Greg Garcia, the Cardinals currently lack sufficient backup options.
Shortstop: The Cardinals need the same backup help at short. Jhonny Peralta will handle the majority of the reps, but as he showed this year, he will also need more time off. The Cardinals' heavy ask of the 33-year-old, who appeared in 155 games, caused him to wear down over the final two months. Pete Kozma, Peralta's backup this season, is out of options and unlikely to cling to a 40-man roster spot any longer. Garcia's range at short isn't terrific, which is why the Cards intend to look for another external option. Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, could also be a factor after his strong finish in Triple-A.
Third base: Unless the Cardinals do some serious shuffling and bump Matt Carpenter to the right side of the infield, he'll return as the team's everyday third baseman. Carpenter had what he described as an odd year, but even with some of the worst stretches of his career, he finished as the team's leader in several offensive categories. Carpenter also hit more homers (28) than he had in his previous four years combined. Look for the Cardinals to add a utility infielder who can provide coverage if anything were to slow Carpenter down next year.
Outfield: Left fielder Matt Holliday will be in the final guaranteed year of his current contract and back in left field. How the rest of the outfield shakes out will depend largely upon Heyward. The Cardinals have expressed high interest in re-signing the 26-year-old right fielder, though Heyward is certain to get strong interest from several other clubs after another all-around strong season. If he returns, the Cards will likely plug the other outfield spot with some combination of Randal Grichuk and Piscotty. They have control over Jon Jay and Bourjos for another season, though the Cards are likely to part ways with at least one this winter. Tommy Pham is positioned as an attractive fourth outfielder option. If Heyward departs, the Cardinals will look to add another bat.