Cards eye offense as Hot Stove season begins

Heyward's decision to stay or go will likely dictate St. Louis' offseason

Cards eye offense as Hot Stove season begins

ST. LOUIS -- After the punch of disappointment that came from being knocked out of the postseason by the Cubs in the National League Division Series, the Cardinals diverted their attention to building a club capable of a deeper October run next year.

Though they are coming off baseball's first 100-win season since 2011, the Cardinals anticipate some roster overhaul ahead. Final decisions on player options and qualifying offers must be made this week, and the free-agent market will be open for business on Saturday.

With the start of the Hot Stove season on tap, here is another look at the Cardinals' position, needs and wants as they look to build for 2016:

Free agents/options: Six players from the Cardinals' 2015 roster have become free agents -- RHP Matt Belisle, LHP Randy Choate, RHP John Lackey, RHP Carlos Villanueva, 1B Mark Reynolds and RF Jason Heyward.

The Cardinals announced Monday that they exercised their option on lefty Jaime Garcia ($11.5 million), but declined righty Jonathan Broxton's $10 million mutual option.

Garcia goes eight in win

The organization will strongly pursue re-signing Heyward, one of the most dynamic outfielders on the free-agent market. The Cardinals will extend a qualifying offer ($15.8 million) to the right fielder so that they can at least net Draft compensation if he leaves. The club may also consider making a qualifying offer to Lackey, who will likely decline it to seek a multiyear fit elsewhere.

Needs: The Cardinals need to improve their offense, and that's one reason why re-signing Heyward is among their top priorities. If Heyward leaves, the Cards will look for an impact bat to plug into right field or first base. There is a desire to add other flexible offensive pieces as well, most notably finding a better middle infield backup option. With some impending turnover in the bullpen, the Cardinals will also be seeking to add relievers.

Potential targets: Heyward remains the primary target, though it's unclear right now how much market competition the Cardinals will have in that pursuit. If the Cards have to look elsewhere for an impact offensive addition, Chris Davis or Justin Morneau could be intriguing options. Ben Zobrist would be the sort of utility player the Cardinals could use as a backup capable of handling significant playing time in the infield. Of the three Cardinals relievers entering free agency, Villanueva would be the most likely to draw renewed interest from the Cardinals.

Heyward's sliding catch

Trade assets: The Cardinals have a glut of outfielders, so they could look to trade from that area of strength. In particular, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos don't seem to have obvious fits anymore. The Cards could also deal from their wealth of starting pitching. Lance Lynn's finish to 2015 cast some doubt on his long-term fit. The club may also consider dealing one of its three young lefties -- Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons or Marco Gonzales -- for the right return.

Financial situation: Owner Bill DeWitt Jr. has prepared for the coming spike in salary obligations and is willing to commit the necessary financial resources to keep the Cardinals competitive in the free-agent market. The Cardinals opened the 2015 season with a payroll of approximately $122 million and now have the flexibility to push that figure north of $130 million for 2016. Re-signing Heyward would likely require a financial commitment of at least $20 million per season.

Bottom line: After an early postseason exit in 2015, the Cardinals are ready for a roster shakeup. They will be most aggressive looking to add on the offensive end and will have much of their offseason dictated by Heyward's decision to stay or to go. With ample financial flexibility at their disposal, the club can be creative in trying to improve a 100-win roster.

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.