St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals move into offseason mode after falling to Cubs

Jason Heyward could command a $200 million contract this winter.
Jason Heyward could command a $200 million contract this winter. AP

An early exit from the postseason isn’t how the St. Louis Cardinals built their empire.

A 100-win regular season didn’t carry over into the National League Division Series as the Cardinals were defeated by their longtime rivals, the Chicago Cubs, three games to one. Chicago tattooed St. Louis pitching for 10 home runs, all in the last three games.

Rookie Stephen Piscotty struck out eight times, but he was 6-for-16 (.375) with three homers and six RBIs, and Jason Heyward was 5-for-14 (.357) with one homer and two RBIs, but several of the Cardinals key hitters couldn’t meet the challenge.

Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong, the physically compromised Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter were a combined 11-for-69 (.159) with 21 strikeouts.

.159 The batting average (11-for-69) for Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong, Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter in the NLDS

The Cardinals batted .211 in the series with 48 strikeouts.

St. Louis pitchers, so productive in the regular season as the Cardinals won their third consecutive NL Central, were unable to contain the Cubs’ young guns.

Kyle Schwarber was 5-for-10 (.500) with two home runs, Jorge Soler was 4-for-7 (.571) with two homers, four RBIs and six walks, and Javier Baez was 4-for-5 and had a three-run homer against John Lackey in Game 4 on Tuesday that led to a 6-4 victory at Wrigley Field.

Anthony Rizzo also clubbed a pair of home runs against Kevin Siegrist.

It all adds up to a long, cold winter for the Cardinals, who despite their accomplishments must return to the drawing board and look toward 2016.

What’s next?

The biggest offseason challenge for the Cardinals will be signing right fielder Heyward, 26, to a long-term contract. Heyward is a free agent and will be attractive to several teams.

Given his age, Heyward could command a seven- or eight-year contract in excess of $150 million. Bidding for his services could reach the $200 million level.

Heyward wants to return, and the Cardinals have mutual interest. He batted .293 with 33 doubles, 13 home runs, 60 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 154 games, and his defense is top-rate.

The Cardinals have the money to retain Heyward. They are set at every other position and with the exception of pitcher John Lackey have no other significant free agents.

$200 million What it might cost to keep Jason Heyward in a Cardinals uniform beyond this season

Lackey, the rock of the rotation, was 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in a staff-high 33 starts and 218 innings. The right-hander turns 37 on Oct. 23 and probably pitched himself out of the Cardinals’ price range. He could land a three-year deal in free agency.

If Lackey departs, as expected, the Cardinals would head into next season with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia.

Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons, all left-handers, could figure into the formula, and top prospect Alex Reyes, a 21-year-old right-hander, is a future star who had a 2.49 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings at three different levels this season.

St. Louis also could be in the running for free agent left-hander David Price, although it’s difficult to envision the Cardinals making two big splashes with Heyward and Price.

Health matters

Molina might need surgery on the ligament in his left thumb. The All-Star catcher was unable to play in Game 4 of the NLDS after appearing to reinjure the thumb on a swing in Game 3.

A healthy Molina could have made a difference against the Cubs, although longtime understudy Tony Cruz has proven to be a capable replacement. Having Molina, 33, ready for next season is the No. 1 priority. He remains the heart of the team.

Wainwright’s return in September from a torn left Achilles’ tendon suffered in April was among the highlights of the season. He was strong and sharp working out of the bullpen, but having him back in the ’16 rotation will be a huge plus.

Martinez wasn’t available for the postseason after shoulder problems forced him to shut down in late September

The Cardinals desperately needed Martinez in the playoffs, since they started Lackey on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the division series. But Martinez was shut down for the final three weeks of competition after suffering a strained shoulder Sept. 25.

The offseason will provide the time needed for left fielder Holliday and first baseman Matt Adams to heal their right quadriceps injuries. Holliday, 35, twice landed on the disabled list with the quad issue, and it contributed to his worst season with the Cardinals.

Holliday set an NL record by reaching base in 45 consecutive games to start the season, but he finished at .279 with 16 doubles and a career-low four home runs and 35 RBIs in 73 games. Holliday failed to homer at Busch Stadium, where he logged 148 plate appearances.

Adams batted .240 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 60 games, and still was not 100 percent healthy during the postseason. The Cardinals could decide to cut ties with Adams in the offseason, considering the emergence of Piscotty.

Outfielders Randal Grichuk (right elbow, back) and Jon Jay (left wrist) also missed a considerable amount of time. Reliever Jordan Walden didn’t pitch after April 29. Another reliever, Matt Belisle, pitched in just four games after June 25.

Crowded outfield

First base is not Piscotty’s natural position, but that might be where he plays full-time next season since the Cardinals’ outfield once again could have an abundance of depth.

Holliday has one year and $17 million remaining on his contract, and the Cardinals hold a $17 million option on Holliday for 2017. Grichuk projects as the center fielder, and Heyward will hold down right field if he is signed. Peter Bourjos isn’t likely to return, but Jay and rookie Tommy Pham are expected to be a part of the mix in 2016.

Piscotty, who batted .305 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 63 games after joining the Cardinals from Class AAA Memphis on July 21, will likely still see significant time in the outfield. Outfielder and first baseman Brandon Moss, acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline, is arbitration-eligible and could be re-signed.

Solid seasons

Third baseman Carpenter led the Cardinals with a career-high 151 strikeouts, but he smoked a personal-best 28 home runs to lead the team by a wide margin. Carpenter’s 44 doubles, 101 runs, 84 RBIs and 81 walks also topped the Cardinals.

Shortstop Peralta batted .275 with 26 doubles, 17 homers and 71 RBIs, but Peralta struggled in the second half, batting .243 with a .325 slugging percentage.

Grichuk, despite his injuries, batted .276 with 23 doubles, 17 home runs and 47 RBIs in 103 games. Pham established himself with a .268 average, five homers and 18 RBIs in 52 games.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal set a Cardinals record with 48 saves, breaking the former mark of 47 saves by Jason Isringhausen and Lee Smith. Siegrist had his problems in the playoffs, but he rebounded from an injury-laden 2014 season and finished 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA in a staff-leading 81 games. Carlos Villanueva was 4-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 35 games.

48 Saves for Trevor Rosenthal in 2015, breaking the club record of 47 held by Lee Smith and Jason Isringhausen

All of the Cardinals starters won at least 10 games. Wacha was 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA, but had a 7.88 ERA in five September starts and was ineffective in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Martinez was 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA and a staff-high 184 strikeouts in 179 2/3 innings. Lynn was 12-11 with a 3.03 ERA, and Garcia was 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 20 starts.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm