Welcome to the first Cardinals Inbox of the offseason. As always, if you have a question, use the link below to submit it -- and please be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown. If you send a regular email, rather than using the form, be certain to use the word "mailbag" in the subject header -- otherwise your mail may be directed to the spam folder or possibly be ignored in an unbecoming manner. Also, please understand that literally hundreds of emails arrive every week, so they can't all be used in the inbox or receive personal responses.

With the amazing newly-released Rolling Stones "A Brussels Affair" playing on the speakers, let's get on with the questions.

Any general guesses on a Pujols timetable? Is there going to be a contract under his Christmas tree or will this be Holliday-like and take until January? -- Daniel S., Russellville, Ark.

I've repeatedly said I'm going to avoid guessing on outcomes of the Pujols negotiations, and I'll stand by that. But I think we do at least have some rough guess as to a time frame. And first and foremost, it's this: not soon.

These deals take time, and this one will likely be no different. Based merely on history, it's very reasonable to figure this won't get done before the Winter Meetings, Dec. 5-8 in Dallas. The typical time frame for mega-free agents in recent years has been either during the Winter Meetings or shortly thereafter. Holliday was definitely an exception. I think it's reasonable to figure Pujols will be more the norm than the exception.

I am wondering if there is a possibility that Allen Craig will get a shot at playing second base next season, assuming Pujols re-signs. I don't see how you can't find a place to play him and put his .300 bat in the lineup every day. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. -- Jonathan G., Louisville, Ky.

It's long been known that I'm a huge backer of Craig's ability. The guy is a Major League hitter, there's no doubt about it. But I believe that if Pujols is back, Craig will be relegated to part-time duty at the corners next year. In the long term, they'll find a place for him, but in the short, they're not going to move him.

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There are two reasons for this. One is that we all saw what happened when the Cardinals tightened up their middle-infield defense late in the year. Suddenly, the team looked like more than the sum of its parts, rather than less. I expect the Cardinals to upgrade their second-base defense if they make a change this winter, not downgrade it.

The second is health. Craig has had some difficulty staying healthy, and playing out of position -- especially at second base, an extremely physically demanding position -- only exacerbates those worries.

Since it seems the Cardinals are going to have a competition for the backup catcher spot between Brian Anderson and Tony Cruz, how do you initially have the competition handicapped? It seems Anderson is mentioned in possible trades. If he were named the backup, would that increase the likelihood he is traded? In other words, does a player in the Majors have more visibility than one in Triple-A, or does it even matter? Thank you for answering questions. -- Brian K., Springfield, Mo.

I think the main answer is, you make the decision based on the Major League roster, not on potential trade value. The player who wins the competition -- and I would strongly expected it to be Cruz, though Anderson may have a slightly better chance under new management -- is who will be in St. Louis, and the one who loses is the one who will be in Memphis. I think potential trade value is a secondary consideration.

I'm also not entirely sure how much trade value either player has at this point. I also think it gets harder to deal either one if there's no veteran. If they're the second and third catchers in the organization, you have to be aware that if you deal one of them, you're dealing the guy who would step in if there's an injury.

To get back to your initial question, though, I'd have to count Cruz as the favorite. With or without Tony La Russa, it's clear that this organization prioritizes catcher defense very highly, and Cruz is the better defender. His versatility also helps.

I've been wondering why management would not be interested in signing Edwin Jackson for next year and beyond? As you have noted on several occasions, he was one of if not the best starter down the stretch, and with Jaime Garcia's development -- and sometimes fatigue -- late in the season and Westbrook's sometimes shaky performance, it would seem a sixth starter would add a lot of depth. I enjoy his competitive demeanor and would see him as a good fit. -- Andy W., Roseland, N.J.

The short answer is, you can't pay what it's going to take to get Edwin Jackson for a sixth starter. If the Cardinals didn't have five starters under contract, it would be a much different answer. But they do. Even if they wanted to trade someone, both Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse have blanket no-trade clauses.

With an unlimited budget and unlimited roster space, it would be very nice to retain Jackson. But I expect he's going to get a very hefty contract, both in terms of years and dollars, and there's no way that makes sense for a team with five starters under contract. Not to mention at least one more (Lance Lynn) waiting in the wings.

I have been wondering, I know that normally the managers of the All-Star teams are the managers of the previous two teams of the World Series. So, will Mike Matheny manage the National League All-Star team this year, or will they bring Tony La Russa back? -- Sam K., Lafayette, Ind.

First of all, the answer is that it's up to Commissioner Bud Selig's discretion. But the Commissioner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently that he'd like to see La Russa manage the game. La Russa, meanwhile, told the paper he'd have some interest in doing it.

That means I may have to eat a little crow, because I wrote on Twitter a while back that I'd be shocked if La Russa chose to do it. Apparently, I may be wrong.

This much is clear, though: the Cardinals' coaching staff will be in Kansas City next July