Cards have work to do beyond signing Pujols

Cards have work to do beyond signing Pujols

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols won't be the only priority for the Cardinals in Dallas next week, no matter what you may have heard. There's plenty of business for St. Louis to transact when baseball's annual Winter Meetings get under way.

Several areas of the World Series champs are set, starting with the rotation, but there's nonetheless work to be done for the Redbirds.

Second base and shortstop are both question marks at this point, though in both cases the pieces are in place for an internal solution if need be. The left side of the bullpen could use some attention, and there's never anything wrong with adding depth to the bench.

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The meetings will also represent a bit of a debut for new manager Mike Matheny, who has obviously been introduced to the St. Louis media but who maintains a relatively low profile nationally. Matheny takes over a champion team, of course, but he also steps in for a legend.

Here's a look at where the Cardinals stand as they prepare to head southwest to the Hilton Anatole.

Club needs

Middle infield: This is the big one. After all, first base is set no matter what. If Pujols doesn't sign, Lance Berkman moves to first and Allen Craig takes over in right field. The Cardinals may be content to mix and match at second base with a group that will include Daniel Descalso, as well as some combination of Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and perhaps Nick Punto. Shortstop, however, likely will receive some attention -- especially if Pujols departs. Rafael Furcal could return, or the Cardinals could even look at someone like Jimmy Rollins if the price were right.

Left-handed relief: The two lefties with whom St. Louis started the 2011 season were both gone by the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Marc Rzepczynski figures to hold down one spot, but that likely leaves a second opening. Arthur Rhodes might come back but is no lock.

Backup center fielder: Adron Chambers could fill this role, but ideally, the Cards could use a right-handed hitter to back up Jon Jay.

Whom they can or need to trade

RHP Kyle McClellan: McClellan's role is unclear after a tumultuous year. He easily won a spot in the starting rotation and held his own in that role until July, when he was moved to the bullpen to make room for Edwin Jackson. But upon returning to relief, McClellan was less effective than he had been in past years and dealt with some "dead arm" as well. With no openings in the rotation, and the closer role seemingly locked up by Jason Motte, McClellan would appear to be a potentially expensive middle reliever. That's not something that teams usually carry, so the Cards could gauge McClellan's value in the market -- perhaps to a team looking for a starter rather than a reliever.

A right-handed reliever: Beyond McClellan, there's still a lot of depth. Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez, Maikel Cleto, Fernando Salas and, of course, McClellan and Motte add up to more right-handers than the Cardinals can carry. They may well look to leverage that depth to upgrade other areas.

Infielders Schumaker or Theriot: It's hard to see the Cardinals paying both of them arbitration-determined salaries, given that neither projects to be an everyday starter in 2012. Either could conceivably be non-tendered, but obviously, any team would rather trade a player than simply cut him loose if possible.

Top prospects

Most of the Cards' best prospects remain at least a year away, if not longer. At the top of the heap is right-hander Shelby Miller, who pitched superbly after making the huge leap from the Florida State League to the Texas League. He could arrive in 2013 but likely no sooner. Fellow righty Carlos Martinez may be as exciting as Miller but is a bit less polished and is at least a year behind him at this point. Infielder Zack Cox also handled Double-A well, though not quite as seamlessly as Miller, and remains on track.

The most exciting emergence in 2011 was outfielder Oscar Taveras, who simply abused the Class A Midwest League and has established himself as a very intriguing prospect. Another breakout came from first baseman Matt Adams, who dominated the Texas League. First-round pick Kolten Wong hit very well in his pro debut and could be a fast mover.

The Cards aren't likely to deal any of them. General manager John Mozeliak has expressed a reluctance to trade from the farm system, preferring to trade from the Major League roster if needed.

Big contracts they might unload

The Cardinals have a few big contracts, but none that they're likely to move. Some fans would like to see the club move either Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook in order to sign a flashier starter, but that's highly unlikely. Lohse and Westbrook both have blanket no-trade protection, and even if they didn't, the Cardinals would not be motivated sellers in either case.

Arbitration-eligible

Schumaker, 2B/OF; Theriot, 2B/SS; McClellan, RHP; Motte, RHP

Non-tender possibilities

Schumaker, Theriot, McClellan

Payroll summation

The Cardinals have just about $80 million committed before tending to Pujols, not to mention the arbitration-eligibles. So there's some room if they come in between $100 million and $110 million, but not a lot if Pujols returns. However, the front office consistently maintains that there's not a hard ceiling on payroll. It's more a matter of case-by-case; if an individual signing makes sense, they'll do it.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.