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10/03/08 2:00 PM ET

Cardinals facing a pivotal offseason

With big contracts coming off the books, St. Louis has room to be active

Last winter, the Cardinals spent most of the offseason getting younger and more flexible. Most of John Mozeliak's task in his first offseason as general manager consisted of shedding some questionable contracts, such as those of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen.

Ideally, he created enough wiggle room to be more aggressive in adding to the roster for the 2009 team. This is a pivotal winter for Mozeliak and the Cardinals. If the front office is perceived to be sitting on its hands this offseason, the hometown reception will not be warm.

They should be in position to be active, though. Several more hefty contracts come off the books this winter, with Mark Mulder, Jason Isringhausen and Juan Encarnacion among those leaving the payroll.

The club got busy quickly, re-upping right-hander Kyle Lohse to a new four-year deal. The contract is backloaded, so the impact on the 2009 payroll isn't too great.

Before going to arbitration, the Cardinals have a little more than $67 million committed to nine players. One of those, Adam Kennedy, is likely to be traded, and there's also the $1.5 million buyout on Mulder's 2009 option.

Ryan Ludwick, Todd Wellemeyer, Rick Ankiel and, perhaps, Aaron Miles can all expect noticeable raises in arbitration, probably bumping that number to $75 million or more before the Cards dip into the free-agent and trade markets, but that still leaves some room.

The 2008 payroll was in the neighborhood of $100 million, and that's probably a good working number to figure for '09 as well.

So that means the Cards should have somewhere on the order of $25 million to commit to at least one middle infielder, a left-handed reliever, a swingman for the bullpen and/or the back of the rotation, and perhaps a luxury item or two -- such as a closer or a middle-of-the-order slugger.

Free agents: Encarnacion, OF; Isringhausen, P; Cesar Izturis, SS; Jason LaRue, C; Braden Looper, P; Felipe Lopez, IF; Russ Springer, P; Ron Villone, P

Eligible for arbitration: Miles, IF; Randy Flores, P; Wellemeyer, P; Ankiel, OF; Josh Phelps, IF/OF; Chris Duncan, OF; Brad Thompson, P; Tyler Johnson, P; Ludwick, OF

Player options: None

Club options: Mulder, P, $11 million ($1.5 million buyout)

Non-tender possibilities: Flores, Johnson

Yadier Molina, .305 BA, .349 OBP, 7 HR, 56 RBIs
Bryan Anderson, .308 BA, .377 OBP, 4 HR, 41 RBIs (Double-A/Triple-A)

Molina is locked up through 2011, and the club would like to bring back Jason LaRue as a backup. If that happens, it could signal a trade for Anderson, who has hit at every level.

Albert Pujols, .350 BA, .455 OBP, 34 HR, 108 RBIs
Josh Phelps, .291 BA, .373 OBP, 31 HR, 97 RBIs (Triple-A)

Pujols is simply the best hitter in the league, so there's not a lot of opportunity for anyone else. The Cardinals rarely carry a designated backup to him.

Adam Kennedy, .274 BA, .317 OBP, 2 HR, 36 RBIs
Aaron Miles, .311 BA, .350 OBP, 4 HR, 30 RBIs

Free agent Lopez may be the favorite at this position. Kennedy has requested a trade and will likely be accommodated. One way or another, second base is a position where the Cards would like to upgrade the offensive output.

Brendan Ryan, .240 BA, .301 OBP, 27 R, 7 SB

This is a wide-open spot. Izturis could be re-signed, especially if the Cards can bring in a bat at second base.

Troy Glaus, .266 BA, .367 OBP, 25 HR, 94 RBIs
David Freese, .306 BA, .361 OBP, 26 HR, 91 RBIs (Triple-A)

Glaus will be back for one more year, since he exercised his player option when he was traded from Toronto. But the future is very interesting, with Freese coming off a terrific year and 2008 Draft pick Brett Wallace racing through the system.

Rick Ankiel, .264 BA, .337 OBP, 25 HR, 71 RBIs
Brian Barton, .274 BA, .355 OBP, 2 HR, 13 RBIs
Chris Duncan, .248 BA, .346 OBP, 6 HR, 27 RBIs
Ryan Ludwick, .294 BA, .369 OBP, 35 HR, 106 RBIs
Joe Mather, .241 BA, .306 OBP, 8 HR, 18 RBIs
Colby Rasmus, .252 BA, .351 OBP, 12 HR, 15 SB (Three Minor League levels)
Skip Schumaker, .305 BA, .363 OBP, 8 HR, 86 R
Nick Stavinoha, .337 BA, .366 OBP, 16 HR, 74 RBIs (Triple-A)

It's a muddy situation, with a lot of capable guys and a lot of guys with questions. Ankiel, Duncan, Mather and Rasmus all ended the year dealing with some kind of injury. This is an area of depth, though, and if the Cards do any dealing this winter, it's safe to guess they'll deal from their pile of flycatchers.

Adam Wainwright, 11-3, 3.20 ERA, 91 K, 34 BB
Chris Carpenter, 0-1, 1.76 ERA, 15 1/3 IP
Kyle Lohse, 15-6, 3.78 ERA, 119 K, 49 BB
Todd Wellemeyer, 12-9, 3.69 ERA, 131 K, 61 BB
Joel Pineiro, 6-7, 5.21 ERA, 74 K, 33 BB
Mitchell Boggs, 3-2, 7.41 ERA, 13 K, 22 BB
Jaime Garcia, 1-1, 5.63 ERA, 8 K, 8 BB
Mike Parisi, 0-4, 8.22 ERA, 13 K, 15 BB

It's not as deep as it might seem at first glance, since Garcia and Parisi are both coming off Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, and Carpenter's health situation is very clouded because of a nerve condition in his shoulder. However, Lohse's deal means that if Carpenter is ready, the Cards have their opening five starters secured: Wainwright, Carpenter, Lohse, Wellemeyer and Pineiro. A long reliever/swingman/sixth-starter type would be a welcome addition.

Randy Flores, 1-0, 5.26 ERA, 1 SV
Ryan Franklin, 5-6, 3.39 ERA, 17 SV
Kelvin Jimenez, 0-0, 5.48 ERA
Tyler Johnson, DNP
Josh Kinney, 0-0, 0.00 ERA
Kyle McClellan, 2-7, 4.04 ERA
Jason Motte, 0-0, 1.00 ERA, 1 SV, 15 K in 9 IP
Chris Perez, 3-3, 3.63 ERA, 7 SV
Brad Thompson, 5-3, 5.13 ERA
Mark Worrell, 0-1, 7.94 ERA

The questions are the ninth inning and the left side. Perez, Motte or Franklin could conceivably be used as closer, or the Cards could sign someone -- or even re-sign Isringhausen. Surgery ended the years of both Johnson and Flores, and Ron Villone is no certainty to be brought back, so something needs to happen to shore up left-handed relief. Right-handed middle and setup relief, however, looks very strong, even if Springer retires or signs elsewhere.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.