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How much will the Cardinals change in 2016? Hopefully, not a lot

How will the St. Louis Cardinals change their roster after posting the best regular-season record and baseball only to flame out in the first round of the playoffs?

I’m hoping not much.

I see only a couple of holes in the roster which need attention. And I especially hope their are no changes in right field where Jason Heyward is an unrestricted free agent.

Heyward could be the most sought-after position player on the open market. A lot of folks seem to think that fact, alone, makes him impossible for St. Louis to keep. But let’s not forget that Matt Holliday was the most desirable free agent on the market six years ago and St. Louis was able to retain his services.

Of course then, like now, we had to hear everyone say that the free agent in question could say all he wants about how much fun he had in St. Louis, the bottom line was that he would take the biggest offer on the table. It wasn’t until years later that Holiday admitted he instructed agent Scott Boras to shop around if he wanted but to ultimately strike a deal with St. Louis.

The Cardinals have said they are looking for the next generation of cornerstone players and the fundamentally solid Gold-Glove winning right fielder sure fits the part. He’s a guy who gets on base, racks up extra base hits and can steal his fair share of bags. He’s also 26 years old, so he could be a big part of the Redbirds’ plans for five or six years easy.

With Heyward in the fold, the Cardinals will could have four of eight starters under the age of 26 with him in right, Kolten Wong at second, Randal Grichuk in centerfield and Steven Piscotty at first base. Let’s not forget that Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Trvor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist are all 25 on younger.

The main place in the starting lineup that needs help is first base. In addition to having problems staying healthy, Matt Adams has averaged .276 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs over the past two seasons. That’s not a lot of production from a traditional power position. I’m not saying the Cardinals should non-tender the big first baseman. But I don’t think they should hand him the job without a competition, either.

Piscotty showed he could hit big league pitching in an extended audition in 2015. Plus the Cardinals have said they’ll bring back first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss who could also earn playing time. I’d also like to see Mark Reynolds return to fill the utility and pinch hitting role he was supposed to hold down before injuries pressed him into daily service.

The biggest need for attention on the club is the left side of the bullpen where specialist Randy Choate completely flamed out in 2015.

Kevin Siegrist did a great job. But he isn’t really a typical LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) like Choate was supposed to be. The rest of the bullpen seems pretty solid, especially with the potential of Jordan Walden returning and the continued development of Sam Tuivailala.

Besides adding a better hitting utility infielder to the roster, there isn’t much to do. And that may end up being Aledmys Diaz who has started to come together after two years in the St. Louis system. Peter Bourjos could easily be replaced by Tommy Pham.

The wild speculation is that the Cardinals will get into the high-end starting pitching market. While I said last off-season that I would have loved to see the Redbirds go get a guy like Max Scherzer to be their co-ace to answer teams like the Dodgers and Mets in the playoffs, the Cardinals didn’t seem inclined to do so.

I think they’d be even less inclined this year with the graduation of Carlos Martinez from prospect to producer, the re-establishment of Michael Wacha’s health and the expectation that top prospect Alex Reyes will be knocking on the door of the major leagues in 2015.

But I have to admit the Cardinals might be intreagued by Zach Greinke 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA for the Dodgers. One of the main reasons might be that Grienke is 31 and could likely be had for a five-year term as opposed to the eight-year deal David Price is expected to command. But it would probably come at a steep price. Greinke was set to make $71 million over the next three years if he hadn’t opted out. So I’m guessing he’s confident he can push the $30 million mark or it wouldn’t have been worth the gamble. Is $150 million over five year better than it would have been to pay Scherzer $200 million over eight?

I’d still say that the Dodgers are the favorites to retain Greinke. But a starting five of Wainwright, Greinke, Wacha, Martinez and Lynn would be pretty darned imposing and exciting.

Don’t believe the Chicken Littles who say the Cardinals can’t afford to up the payroll if they see the right opportunities. They spent $122 million last season and since then added a new billion-dollar local TV contract. The most profitable team in baseball, according to Forbes, they could EASILY up the payroll to $160 million and remain solidly profitable.

Will they do that? I don’t know. But it’s POSSIBLE.

Let’s not forget that Holliday could be a free agent after 2016, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina will see their contracts expire in 2017 and Adam Wainwright’s deal is up after 2018. That’s a lot of money coming off the books to facilitate new deals.

St. Louis is on the books for $90 million in 2016 but only $65 million in 2017 and $33 million in 2018.

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