Cards look ahead: Beltran not expected back, Rosenthal to be closer, new shortstop needed

News-DemocratNovember 4, 2013 

— Trevor Rosenthal will enter spring training as the St. Louis Cardinals' closer, Carlos Martinez will be groomed as a starter, a new shortstop likely will be brought in and Carlos Beltran is welcome to return on the team's terms.

Those were among the subjects addressed by General Manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny on Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals, coming off a World Series loss in six games to Boston, began looking to 2014.

"This offseason is going to create some challenges for us in the sense that we think we've identified what we need to do better at, where we can improve," Mozeliak said. "Our hope is we can accomplish that in the next few months as the free-agent market opens. Obviously, we'll exhaust all the trade markets as well.

"I feel we're in a good spot. Our core is in place, but we have to find those right additions if we can."

Mozeliak said the Cardinals have made a one-year qualifying offer to Beltran, worth $14.1 million, for next season. The switch-hitting right fielder batted .296 with 30 doubles, 24 home runs and 84 RBIs in 145 games.

Beltran, 36, likely is seeking a multiyear deal, probably with an American League team. But the Cardinals' qualifying offer ensured them of receiving a compensation pick at the end of the first round of the amateur draft should Beltran sign elsewhere.

Mozeliak doesn't anticipate that Beltran will accept the Cardinals' offer, and he said making a multiyear offer to the clubhouse leader does not make financial sense.

"We're making a one-year offer, so obviously, we're OK with that," Mozeliak said. "In terms of starting to think multiyear or longer term, we always try to position ourselves with flexibility, and given what we think we have coming --(Oscar) Taveras, (Stephen) Piscotty -- we feel we have some talent coming.

"Reality is when you look at the depth of what we have and what we have coming, (and) trying to find ample amount of playing time for all these different individuals involved, I'm not sure how happy (Beltran) would be. I don't want to speak for him, but trying to find that right balance may be difficult."

Taveras, one of the top-rated prospects in the game, was limited by an ankle injury to 46 games with Class AAA Memphis, where he batted .306 with five homers and 32 RBIs. He projects as the Cardinals center fielder of the future, with Allen Craig moving from first base to right field to replace Beltran. Matt Adams is expected to replace Craig at first base.

Piscotty, 22, a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, batted .295 with 15 homers and 59 RBIs at high-Class A Palm Beach and Class AA Springfield. He was drafted out of Stanford as a third baseman, but played most of this season in right field.

The Cardinals seem inclined to promote Taveras, 21, to the big leagues rather than give him another season at Triple-A. Jon Jay's play in center field deteriorated in 2013, and that might have been enough to open the Cardinals' mind to Taveras in '14.

"From a talent standpoint, most will agree when he played, he played very well and at a high level," Mozeliak said. "The biggest negative was from a defensive standpoint. When you think about him trying to play center field, he didn't get a lot of reps like we had hoped for. But from an offensive standpoint, I think he's fine."

Mozeliak said Taveras is ready to "step in and contribute."

"The big question is where he can play defensively and how confident are we with him in center," Mozeliak said.

Rosenthal supplanted Edward Mujica as the Cardinals' closer in September and registered three saves in the regular season. Rosenthal responded with four more in the postseason.

Jason Motte, the Cardinals' closer in 2012, is expected to be ready to pitch in spring training after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but Rosenthal has leaped to the front of the class.

"When you look at the short sample size of what 'Rosie' did, it's hard to imagine somebody that's really much better than that at that position right now --all across the board," Mozeliak said. "Having somebody defined as your closer today isn't necessarily the most important thing, but knowing we're going to have some real horsepower in that bullpen moving forward is pretty exciting."

Matheny said the disconnect between Rosenthal's desire to start and the Cardinals' projection for him to close creates a "touchy topic."

"We know Trevor would like to be a starter some day," Matheny said. "We don't deny the fact that could realistically happen, and he would do a terrific job at it.

"But right now, you look at our club and you look at what we have and what we have need for, that bullpen is all based around our closer. We have a lot of confidence in how he has been able to handle that position that we move forward with him being that guy, and that's the message that we give him."

Mujica, who led the Cardinals with 37 saves, is a free agent and might be appealing to several clubs. Mozeliak said John Axford could return only if Mujica departs.

There's virtually no chance that Pete Kozma will be the starting shortstop on Opening Day. The Cardinals could look at a player like free agent Stephen Drew or fill the position via trade. They have long been linked to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, but also might explore a trade with the Chicago Cubs for Starlin Castro.

"I do think Kozma did a nice job defensively for this team this year," Mozeliak said. "For whatever reason, offensively, he just never got going. Our job is to see if we can find better."

Defensively, Mozeliak said the team could stand an upgrade even though it was tied with Arizona for the fewest errors in the National League with 75.

"We did what we were supposed to do," Mozeliak said. "We caught what was hit to us. But when you look at the overall range of the club, it was limited."

Mozeliak also cited the Cardinals' lack of speed. They had 45 stolen bases, and only one team, Detroit, had fewer with 39.

"We became somewhat of a station-to-station team, with the exception of the ability to hit a lot of doubles," Mozeliak said. "I do think if you see somebody like a Kolten Wong playing more, he brings a little bit of the speed element to the club.

"Obviously, somebody like a Taveras on the team changes that as well. But in terms of just looking at that as an element of need, I don't think we're going to solely go out and search for that."

Wong could take over at second base for Matt Carpenter, who would shift to third base if the Cardinals trade David Freese, which is a real possibility.

Mozeliak said he doesn't expect any changes on Matheny's coaching staff in 2014.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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