As players cleared out their lockers on Sunday, a day after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs in three games by the Dodgers, the reality of the club's situation became more starkly clear. Numerous key contributors from the '09 Cardinals can be free agents, and they won't all be back.
Among those with the right to leave are Matt Holliday, Rick Ankiel, Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, Smoltz, Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer. Smoltz, at least, made it clear that he considers St. Louis an excellent fit if he decides to commit to one more Major League season.
"It would be great," he said of a potential second season in St. Louis. "A lot of things have to play out for both parties."
Smoltz explained that he would likely take about three weeks entirely off, then begin working out on about Nov. 1. At that time he will determine whether he is ready for the haul of another season. If so, it's likely that the Cardinals would love to have him back.
Holliday, meanwhile, did not drop by the clubhouse while reporters were allowed in on Sunday. But on Saturday night, he batted away questions about his future.
"I'm not going to answer any questions about that," he said.
Pressed further, he would elaborate no more.
"Like I said, I enjoyed my time here," Holliday said. "We've been 30 minutes since the game is over. There will be time to discuss that."
The Cardinals would love to have Holliday back, but it's little secret that signing the former batting champion won't be easy.
"I haven't talked to him," manager Tony La Russa said. "I haven't asked him. I'm curious what he's thinking. I think he'll say that he likes it here, but we'll go through the process and see what happens."
DeRosa, the club's other big-name trade acquisition this season, was more direct about his interest in remaining a Cardinal. In a way, though, his situation may be more complicated. He is expecting to undergo surgery near his Atlanta home in the coming weeks, in order to repair a tendon sheath in his left wrist.
Neither Holliday nor DeRosa, though, has a situation as emotionally charged as that of Ankiel. A Cardinal since 2000, and the famous author of a pitching-to-hitting conversion, Ankiel remains one of the team's most popular players. However, he saw his playing time dwindle late in the year, and it's unclear how he fits in the 2010 plan if in fact he does at all.
"I think he's going to look for the best deal he can this winter, which includes opportunity and money," La Russa said. "So I don't know. I'd love to see him make the improvements and learn to do it here, but I don't know if we've got the best shot for him. ... I don't count us out. I don't think he counts us out."
On the pitching side, Smoltz may be a key to Pineiro. It's highly unlikely that both will be back, as signing the two right-handers would have an impact on the budget that might prevent St. Louis from making additions to its offense. So if the Cards can work out a reasonable deal with Smoltz, they might well let Pineiro walk.
They have not hesitated in recent years to allow free-agent pitchers to depart, and truth be told, they've rarely regretted the decision. Pitchers such as Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan have taken big-dollar contracts elsewhere and struggled to live up to the deals.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.