SAN FRANCISCO -- Once the sting of this National League Championship Series loss to San Francisco passes, the Cardinals will reflect on how much they accomplished en route to a second straight division title in 2014. But they won't just be looking back. They'll also be looking ahead.
One hundred and seventy-one days sit between the 6-3 loss in Game 5 and Opening Day 2015, and the Cardinals will use those months to construct a club that they hope can get them back into October for a fifth straight year.
"We'll give it a few days, probably have a meeting over the weekend with the staff, and then Monday or Tuesday, start rolling up the sleeves and start thinking about '15," general manager John Mozeliak said from the a quiet visiting clubhouse on Thursday night.
While Mozeliak won't let the winter pass without trying to fill some holes, the Cardinals are fortunate in that they won't have many of them. Just three players on their postseason roster (Pat Neshek, A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Ellis) are eligible for free agency, and only Neshek played a prominent role for this team. Jason Motte and Justin Masterson round out the Cardinals' free-agent class.
The Cardinals won't make any qualifying offers, and it's likely that they won't retain any of those five free agents. Ellis and Pierzynski are nearing -- or perhaps at? -- the end of their careers. The non-waiver Trade Deadline deal that brought in Masterson proved to be a bust for the Cardinals. Motte, a lifetime Cardinal, is at a crossroads after struggling in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. And Neshek, with a stupendous season, likely priced himself out of the Cardinals' bullpen plans.
If Neshek does move on, it will mean that a season in which he parlayed a Minor League deal into an All-Star setup role will be largely remembered for one of the few mistakes he made. Michael Morse clobbered a flat slider from Neshek in the eighth on Thursday to tie the game.
"He's had a terrific season," manager Mike Matheny said. "I don't need to tell anybody in this room that. He's been great. I didn't see the pitch, but their guy put a nice swing on it."
The Cardinals' bullpen will likely see some retooling this offseason, as well as the bench. The Cardinals were again thin on right-handed reserves, and that was exposed at times this postseason.
With Kolten Wong's breakout postseason, there seems little need for changing the starting four in the infield. Matt Holliday will maintain his place in left, and Jon Jay's bounceback season makes it likely that the Cardinals tender him a contract in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Right field remains unsettled, but the options are aplenty with Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the mix.
"We have a lot of young, good players on this team that step up whenever the lights come on," Wacha said. "Hopefully, next year we can put together another good run and another good season."
The Cardinals will have six players eligible for arbitration, including first-timers Lynn, Shane Robinson and Tony Cruz, as well as second-timers Jay, Daniel Descalso and Bourjos. Robinson and Descalso, neither of whom had much playing time this season, are the most likely of that half-dozen to be non-tendered.