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Wading into 2014 for the St. Louis Cardinals

With a day off to take a breath from the heated NL Central Division race, this is as good of a time as any to look ahead at the Cardinals 2013-24 offseason.

We've all become very aware of this team's shortcomings and strengths after 140 games. The Birds weren't able to do much to address them at the trade deadline. But they'll face key decisions on guys who have been very big parts of this team for the last few years.

- Chris Carpenter's two-year $21-million contract signed during the euphoria of his pitching the Redbirds to their 11th World Series championship in 2011 has been a bust by all measurable standards. Although he was 44-22 with a 3.02 ERA from 2009-11 with an average of 222 innings pitched over that three-year span, Carpenter has pitched only 17 innings and hasn't won a game on his current pact. It was thought that, after undergoing surgery mid-season last year that the ace would be good to go this year. But he announced on the eve of spring training that he couldn't pitch. And, although some hope emerged later that he'd make a miracle comeback, it wasn't to be. 

Carpenter might be the guy on this list that I'd most want back if he were healthy. But he's not and it's extremely unlikely at age 38 that things are going to turn around now. General Manager John Mozeliak said if Carp thinks he can pitch in 2014 the team owes him the courtesy of letting him try. But if he does, it's going to have to be for about a tenth of the $12.5 he drew in 2013.

A better role at this point might be to add Carpenter to the payroll as a coach. He's a great influence on younger players commands that they respect the game. Might Carp make a nice bench or bullpen coach?

- Rafael Furcal has seemingly been forgotten in St. Louis thanks for the fact that he was injured last year down the stretch and hasn't appeared in a game this season after blowing out his elbow. Furcal is pulling down $7 million that will be added to the war chest in 2014. But, with no reasonably priced replacements on the trade or free agent markets, might the Redbirds be interested in a reunion? If Furcal's throwing arm is better I could see the Cardinals spending $2 million towards bringing him back as a timeshare at short. Would he be willing to play a reduced schedule? Given his injury history and the fact that he hasn't hit better than .265 since 2010, Furcal might not have a choice. But it sure would have been nice to have his veteran abilities available for the past two months as we've watched Pete Kozma die on the vine. He'd be a nice insurance policy with a very interesting up side.

- Edward Mujica has been a real lifesaver for the Cardinals in 2013 and a huge bargain as a closer with a $3.5-million paycheck. But I fear he might have priced himself out of St. Louis because of his spectacular performance. Is it realistic to believe Mujica would be content going back to pitching the seventh inning for middle reliever money when Jason Motte returns from the disabled list? This is Mujica's one chance at a huge contracts and he's almost certainly going to take it.

- John Axford might be here, ultimately, because the Cardinals don't think they can afford to keep Mujica. He's an experienced closer. But he's in the bargain bin because of a lousy couple of years in Milwaukee. If the Redbirds can get Mujica to come back for about what they paid Mujica this year on a one-year reclaimation deal, I think that's likely the way they go. If not, the team might be content to push up the timetable of making Trevor Rosenthal the closer should Jason Motte struggle to regain his form.

- Carlos Beltran is a curious case. He's had a career renaissance in St. Louis and has, arguably, been the club's most productive player over his two seasons here. But Beltran turns 37 next April, he has bad knees and he's shown a tendency the last couple of years to fade if ridden too hard. None of those reasons are compelling enough to slam the door on Beltran. The problem is that he's recently said he doesn't want to be a part-time player and that he wants to play for multiple seasons. Are the Cardinals going to be willing to make that sort of commitment to a player who fills the position of top prospect Oscar Taveras? I doubt it. But it makes perfect sense to tender Beltran a one-year contract. If he accepts, Beltran would likely get a small raise on his $13 million annual salary. If he doesn't, the Birds would most likely get a first round draft pick. It would hurt to lose Beltran. But not as much as it would hurt to have to commit to paying a 40 year old guy $15 million three years from now.

- Jake Westbrook was a real head scratcher last year when he was signed to an extension. If he is re-upped this year, we'll know that he has compromising photos of GM John Mozeliak or a member of the DeWitt family. His $8.75 million will help the team retool for next season.

David Freese is a really interesting guy. He's a superstar in Cardinals lore thanks to his exploits in the 2011 World Series. But he's had a huge problem with injuries throughout his career and he's picked a really lousy time to have his worst season. Matt Carpenter has emerged as one of the best players on the team. And while Carpenter plays second base now, he's naturally a third baseman. And let's not forget that Kolten Wong, the Second Baseman of the Future, has made it to St. Louis and is eating up Freese's playing time. The third sacker makes a reasonable $3.15 million but is well into the arbitration gravy train. So he's going to be a lot more expensive to keep while the drum beat that he should be traded grows louder.

With the departure of some are all of those players, the Cardinals could potentially save about $36 million to spend towards finding a number two starter, a shortstop and possibly a veteran bat to replace Beltran.

But not so fast. Adam Wainwright gets a $7 million raise thanks to his new contract that kicks in for 2014. Jason Motte gets a $3 million raise, Randy Choate and Jaime Garcia get a $2 million raise and Yadier Molina and Allen Craig get a $1 million boost. That's $16 million of the savings spend before we talk about raises for arbitration eligible players like Lance Lynn, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso are going to get as well as the possibilty of bringing some of the free agents back.

I'd like to think the money would be there to invest in a top pitcher or to take on a good shortstop. But I'm not sure it's going to be in the budget. It looks like, for better or worse, it's going to be up to the kids in 2014.