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Tag:Lance Berkman
Posted on: February 25, 2012 10:39 am
 

Photo: Lance Berkman's new look

Lance Berkman

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Repeating as the World Series champions is a serious business -- and Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman is obviously feeling the pressure.

In the team's first full workout on Friday, Berkman wore a fake mustache for "about two thirds" of the workout, according to the Associated Press cutline.

It's a good look.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:25 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 1:47 pm
 

Halladay, CC lead over-30 Hall hopefuls



By Matt Snyder


In our series of Hall of Fame-related posts, leading to Monday's announcement about who will join Ron Santo in the 2012 Baseball Hall of Fame class, we continue right here with a grouping of 30-plus year old players who haven't yet rounded out their resumes. None of these guys could retire right now and be a sure bet for the Hall (though the top option would very much have a chance), but all have at least the slimmest of chances.

Hall of Fame coverage
To clarify what we're attempting to do here, this isn't C. Trent Rosecrans and Matt Snyder say who should be in the Hall of Fame (though Trent does have only two more years until he's a voter). This is us going through and trying to guess how the entire voting body -- which is larger than 550 people -- would react to certain players. We could be wrong. It's just a fun, and subjective, discussion leading up to the 2012 voting results.

Saturday, we'll check out the under-30 crowd to see who is building a Hall-like foundation to their careers (Hint: You may see a "Felix" on there ... ).

For now, we're looking at players over 30-years-old who are still in their prime or just barely past it.

Looking Good ...

Roy Halladay - Could Doc retire right now and make the Hall? Maybe. Maybe not. I would say it's not a sure thing yet but he's headed to the Hall of Fame, because he's not retiring any time soon. If we do this again next year, he might very well have already moved to the surefire list. He's that close. The eight-time All-Star has two Cy Youngs, seven top-five Cy Young finishes and two runner-up finishes in the voting. He's already amassed over 2,500 career innings pitched with 66 complete games and 20 shutouts. His 188-92 record, 3.23 ERA and 1.17 WHIP all look nice. He'll surpass 2,000 strikeouts this season and he's already 40th all-time in career Wins Above Replacement among pitchers. He'll likely climb into the top 30 this season while going past 200 victories. Oh, and he threw a no-no in the playoffs. At 34, he probably has three years left in his prime. So, yeah, this case is nearly complete, barring him turning into Mike Morgan for the next five years. There are guys already in the Hall with worse numbers.

CC Sabathia - Carsten Charles isn't nearly as close as Halladay, he's just on the right track. CC is a five-time All-Star with one Cy Young and five top five finishes in Cy voting. He has a World Series ring and a 176-96 career record, to go with a 3.51 ERA (125 ERA-plus) and 1.23 WHIP. The problem for Sabathia is, though he's played 11 seasons, he didn't become dominant until 2007 -- yes, he was 17-5 as a rookie, but with a 4.39 ERA and zero complete games. From 2007-11, CC has been a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, but that's only five years. He does already have over 2,000 strikeouts, though. Another three seasons like the past three he's had for the Yankees and he's a pretty good bet to make it, I'd guess. Five more and he's a lock. Since he's still only 31, I like his chances.

Work to be done ...

Carlos Beltran - A Rookie of Year, six All-Star games, three Gold Gloves, 302 homers, 293 steals. Good? Definitely. Elite? Not yet. And he's a slightly-broken-down 34. It doesn't look promising.

Adrian Beltre -
Those five seasons of having Safeco Field stifle his offensive numbers could prove very costly. He's still only 32, though.

Lance Berkman
- Does the 35-year-old have about three more seasons coming like the one he just had in St. Louis? If so, he may just have a shot. If not, he's just had a really great career.

Mark Buehrle - He's only 32 and sports a 161-119 record along with two no-hitters (one perfecto). Four All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves, too. If Buehrle pitches six more years or so with the same durability he may sneak into discussion.

Chris Carpenter - Injuries probably did him in. If you look at 2004-06 and then 2009-11 for Carpenter, and say he could have done that over a 12-year period in a 16-year career, he's a Hall of Famer. Instead, he really has only those six seasons to bank on, as his six-year stint in Toronto was mediocre. He's 36 now and probably doesn't have enough has left in his tank to put up four more big seasons, especially considering he wasn't awesome in 2011 and worked over 270 innings (playoffs included).

Johnny Damon - Do you believe 3,000 hits is an automatic ticket to the Hall? Everyone with at least 3,000 hits is in the Hall except: Pete Rose (banned from baseball), Derek Jeter (still active), Craig Biggio (not Hall-eligible until next year) and Rafael Palmeiro (tested positive for a banned substance). With 2,723 hits, Damon is two seasons away. But he's 38. But pretty much just as productive as he's been for a long time, according to OPS-plus. We'll see ...

Matt Holliday - In eight seasons, Holliday is a five-time All-Star and has received MVP votes in five different seasons. His rate stats -- .315/.388/.541 with a 137 OPS-plus -- look awesome, but Holliday didn't come up until he was 24. So he's a 31-year-old power hitter with just 202 homers and 770 RBI. Can he keep hitting like this for another eight years? Until then, he's not getting in.

Tim Hudson - His numbers are a bit similar to Sabathia, minus the strikeouts and World Series ring, but he's 36. Hudson will be on a Hall of Fame ballot, but just one, before falling off. Really good career, though.

Paul Konerko - It feels like he doesn't have enough time left. He's a 35-year-old power hitter with 396 homers and 1,261 RBI. Basically, you could say the same thing I said above about Berkman (subbing in "Chicago" for "St. Louis," of course).

Phillies' offensive trio - Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley formed the offensive nucleus for a team that won the NL East five straight years (and counting), the NL two straight years and the 2008 World Series. But considering various circumstances (age, injury history, etc.), it appears the Phillies offense had zero Hall of Famers through this stretch.

Roy Oswalt - Young Roy appeared on the way, finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting five of his first six seasons. The numbers for the 34-year-old show he's got a chance with three more really great seasons, but his balky back poses a huge problem.

Mark Teixeira - He'll turn 32 in April, so it would appear he has an uphill battle with 314 homers and 1,017 RBI thus far in his career. The .904 OPS (132 OPS-plus) looks really good, but Teixiera's only hit .252 the past two seasons combined.

Michael Young - He's a seven-time All-Star with a .304 career batting average and many writers seem to love him (he got a first-place AL MVP vote this year, for example). Young also has 2,061 hits and is 35. Does he have 939 hits left in him? He has 957 in the past five seasons. He could probably play five more seasons as a DH.



So what do you think, readers? Any of these guys have a shot? Who has the best shot?

Coming Saturday: Under-30 players who have laid a foundation
Sunday: "Asterisk" guys with Hall-type resumes
Monday: 2012 Hall of Fame inductee(s) announced
Monday: Looking ahead at the 2013 first-year eligibles
Monday: Looking at the '14, '15 and '16 first-year eligibles

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Posted on: December 15, 2011 11:14 am
Edited on: December 15, 2011 12:27 pm
 

Homegrown Team: Houston Astros



By Matt Snyder


What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no minor or major league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams. To view the schedule/past entries of this feature, click here.

The most interesting thing about our latest installment in this series is that I believe this would have been one of the better teams in the majors had we done the exercise three or four years ago. How good would a Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Freddy Garcia top three in the rotation have been a handful of years ago -- along with Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Bobby Abreu leading the offense? Alas, we're doing it now and some of that sounds far less enticing. Still, let's check it out.

Lineup

1. Hunter Pence, CF
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Ben Zobrist, RF
4. Lance Berkman, LF
5. Bobby Abreu, 1B
6. Chris Johnson, 3B
7. John Buck, C
8. Aaron Miles, SS

Starting Rotation

1. Johan Santana
2. Roy Oswalt
3. Wandy Rodriguez
4. Bud Norris
5. Jordan Lyles

Bullpen

Closer - Brad Lidge
Set up - Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Troy Patton, Fernando Abad,
Long - Felipe Paulino, Freddy Garcia

Notable Bench Players

Ramon Castro, Carlos Guillen, Drew Sutton, Brooks Conrad, Brian Bogusevic

What's Good?

The trio of Pence, Zobrist and Berkman makes the front part of the offense look really attractive and Abreu offers decent protection for the Puma. Fitting in that two-hole would also do wonders for the development of the young Altuve. Can we assume health in this exercise, considering it's for fun? Sure, I will. So the starting rotation looks pretty good -- albeit not dominant anymore -- with Johan as the ace and Oswalt a good number two (remember, back issues hampered him last year). If Lyles isn't ready yet, we can plug in Garcia or Paulino as the five.

What's Not?

Lidge and Qualls aren't bad, but there is nothing in front of them worth much except two starting pitchers -- and, again, we may need one of the two in the rotation. The bottom part of the batting order isn't very good either and the bench is thin. But let's focus on what is really bad: The defense. I fought back and forth with whether to put Abreu or Berkman in LF, but either one is a bad choice. I just feel like Berkman can move better at this point. I also had to shift Pence to center, even though he's better suited in right. Miles is much better used at second base and he's not even really good there.

Comparison to real 2011

Well, the 2011 Astros were the worst team in the majors and in franchise history. This team isn't particularly good, but it's better than that. With that rotation, a decent back-end of the bullpen and some offense, these Astros should be able to work close to the 75-win range. One thing is for sure, they wouldn't be the worst team in the NL Central. I also feel like the best news for Astros fans is there would actually be some name players here to root for, after having seen the likes of Oswalt, Berkman, Pence and Michael Bourn traded over the past two real seasons. Still, you can't help but think that there are enough pieces here that the Astros could have properly built a real-life team that was still in contention in 2011 -- had they made the right moves.

Next: Los Angeles Dodgers

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Posted on: December 8, 2011 10:52 am
Edited on: December 8, 2011 11:06 am
 

What's next for the Cardinals?



By Matt Snyder


DALLAS -- A Cardinals legend is leaving St. Louis and headed to Los Angeles, as Albert Pujols has signed with the Angels. For many, the main question here is, where do the Cardinals go from here?

There are several moving parts. Let's sort through them.

• As far as first base, the Cardinals already had a backup plan. Lance Berkman can shift right back to first, where he's best suited defensively anyway. This eliminates an awful defensive hole in the outfield, though it is obviously a defensive downgrade at first base, as Pujols is one of the best in the game. It was very unlikely the Cardinals would pursue Prince Fielder or even a lesser free agent first baseman like Carlos Pena before we knew about the Allen Craig injury. With the injury, do the Cardinals get hasty and go large after Fielder? It doesn't seem like a good bet, but we do know the Cardinals had a truckload of money they were about to spend and now haven't been able to do so. So feel free to speculate away.

MLB Winter Meetings
• It's entirely possible this changes the landscape for free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Multiple reports had Rollins close to signing with the Phillies, but instead his agent didn't meet with them Wednesday night. Interestingly enough, Rollins' agent is Dan Lozano. Yes, the same Dan Lozano who represents Pujols. And the Cardinals have a need at shortstop ... and for a leadoff hitter. They were said to be interested in Rollins a bit ago, but obviously all efforts were focused on Pujols until Thursday morning. He's gone now, though, so we may very well see Rollins get a nice offer from the Cardinals. Maybe even a panic-type deal. There is still a feeling Rollins is headed back to Philly, but the Pujols signing very much affects the market for the All-Star shortstop.

• In the outfield, the Cardinals now have a predicament. They were set to go with Berkman, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday. If Pujols left, Berkman would slide to first base and Craig would become the everyday right fielder. The problem is, Craig is likely out until May. And you never know how players will bounce back from knee surgeries. What if there are setbacks? So this poses a big problem. It looks like it's Skip Schumaker in right, for now, and there isn't really much better the Cardinals can do -- assuming their free agent focus turns to Rollins, which I fully expect.

• One last thing, we have to remember the Cardinals are getting back a healthy Adam Wainwright. They won the World Series last season without their ace. And now he's back. So the starting pitching will be improved.

And it better be, because the Cardinals just lost the best player of the last decade.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:56 pm
 

Berkman: Astros' move to AL 'a travesty'

Lance BerkmanBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Lance Berkman won a World Series with the Cardinals, but he'll still be identified mostly with the Astros, where he spent the first 11-plus years of his career in Houston and in the National League. Berkman, a Houston native, isn't happy with the idea that the Astros could move to the American League.

"I think it's a travesty," Berkman said during a news conference on Tuesday (via the Houston Chronicle). "It's a National League franchise. I think if they were going to do something like that, Milwaukee's the choice to go back to the American League; they're historically an American League franchise.

"It's a shame, I think, that Bud Selig is probably going to make that be sort of a condition of the sale. I don't like it. Even when I retire and live here in Houston, I don't want to go watch American League baseball. I'd like to have a National League team."

There could be an ulterior motive -- Berkman hit .425/.477/.900 with five home runs in 11 games against the Astros in 2011 and .196/.274/.304 with one homer in 15 games against the Brewers.

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Posted on: November 3, 2011 10:23 pm
 

Verlander tops at Players Choice awards

By Matt Snyder

Major League Baseball Players Association held its annual awards show Thursday night on MLB Network to reveal winners in 10 different categories. Tigers ace Justin Verlander was the big winner, taking home both the AL Pitcher of the Year and the MLB Player of the Year awards. This on the same night he announced he will grace the cover of a video game in the spring, so it was quite a night for Verlander.

Here's a complete list of the winners:

MLB Player of the Year: Verlander
Marvin Miller Man of the Year: Michael Young, Rangers

NL Outstanding Player: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
NL Outstanding Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
NL Outstanding Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, Braves
NL Comeback Player: Lance Berkman, Cardinals

AL Outstanding Player: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
AL Outstanding Pitcher: Verlander
AL Outstanding Rookie: Mark Trumbo, Angels
AL Comeback Player: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

It's worth noting that this was the second time in three years Young has taken Man of the Year honors, which is given to a "player who inspires others to higher levels of achievement by his on-field performances and contributions to his community." The other nominees for that award were Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals.

Click here to view a complete list of the nominees on MLBPlayers.com.

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Posted on: November 1, 2011 5:40 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 10:20 pm
 

Team-by-team NL free agency outlooks



By C. Trent Rosecrans

With open free agency set to hit us at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, it's worth taking a quick look at what every single team is going to be looking for. We've already done detailed breakdowns in the R.I.P. series, so here are some quick hitters for the National League:

East
Atlanta Braves | R.I.P.
Needs: shortstop, corner outfielder, relief pitching
Money to spend?: Not much. The Braves' biggest need was getting rid of Derrek Lowe, and they did that and have saved $5 million to boot. The team has good, young starters, but put too many innings on their bullpen. They'll need more bullpen arms and also a bat in left field and a shortstop. With Tyler Pastronicky just about ready, the team could use a veteran backup just in case he doesn't work out.

Miami Marlins | R.I.P.
Needs: starting pitching, center field
Money to spend? Oh yeah… with the team preparing to move into a new stadium, owner Jeffrey Loria is expected to make a splash in free agency and could raise payroll to the $100 million range. South Florida will be a favorite of baseball agents in the offseason who will use the Marlins as leverage -- they may even be more popular than the "mystery team" of the past off seasons. The Marlins will be rumored as a possible landing point for nearly every big free agent. The question is, which ones -- if any -- will actually take their talents to South Beach.

New York Mets | R.I.P.
Needs: starting pitching, closer, relief pitching, middle infield
Money to spend? There are plenty of questions about the Mets ownership group, so nobody outside GM Sandy Alderson really knows what's going on and how much money he has to play with. It doesn't look like the team will go crazy in trying to re-sign Jose Reyes. The team will instead hope to improve its bullpen and rotation.

More Free Agency
Position rankings

Philadelphia Phillies | R.I.P.
Needs: shortstop, corner outfielder, closer, relief pitching, first base
Money to spend? It seems like they always find it when they need it, so there's no real concern about the budget. Even with Roy Oswalt likely to leave Philadelphia, there are few worries about the team's rotation. The bullpen, however, will need to be addressed. Ryan Madson may be re-signed and used as the closer, but the Phillies need middle-innings guys, as well. Left field is still an issue and the team could look to upgrade there, but will also need to address first base while Ryan Howard recovers from his Achilles injury. John Mayberry Jr. can play first, but moving him there creates a spot in the outfield.

Washington Nationals | R.I.P.
Needs: center field, starting pitching, relief pitching
Money to spend? Oh yeah. Like the Marlins, the Nationals have money to spend and unlike the Marlins, they have shown a willingness to actually use it. Last year the team overspent on Jayson Werth, something that certainly caught the eyes of free-agents-to-be. Several top names will certainly be courted by the Nationals, including Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson. The Nationals really can't be counted out on anyone.

Central
Chicago Cubs | R.I.P.
Needs: first base, third base, closer, relief pitching, right field
Money to spend? The Ricketts opened the pocketbooks for their general manager, so it's unlikely they'll close 'em for players. Epstein says he wants to build a team from the bottom up, but that takes time and there will be pressure to win right away, and free agency will be part of that. Expect the Cubs to at least talk to the likes of Pujols and Fielder, even if they don't sign them. With Epstein in the fold, it'll certainly be interesting to see what route the Cubs take.

Cincinnati Reds | R.I.P.
Needs: closer, relief pitcher, corner outfielder, shortstop
Money to spend? Not much. It looks like the team will stand pat in the rotation, but after not picking up the option on Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati will need someone to finish out games. Last year Walt Jocketty stayed quiet during the offseason, but this winter that may not happen. However, the team is more likely to use the trade market than spend big in free agency.

Houston Astros | R.I.P.
Needs: shortstop, relief pitching
Money to spend? The Astros are in full-on rebuilding mode, as evidenced by their July fire sale. There's also the holdup of the sale of the team and the possible switch to the American League. If Jim Crane is approved by MLB, he may want to find his own general manager. The Astros won't be much of a player in the free agent market, looking for low-priced.

Milwaukee Brewers | R.I.P.
Needs: first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, relief pitching
Money to spend? Some -- for the right people. The team will try to make a pitch to retain Fielder and possibly Jerry Hairston Jr., but are likely celebrating to be free of Yuniesky Betancourt. The team probably won't be in the race for Reyes or even Jimmy Rollins, but could be in the market for a second-tier shortstop like Clint Barmes. They'll also need to add some arms in the bullpen, but could try to re-sign the likes of Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins.

Pittsburgh Pirates | R.I.P.
Needs: catcher, first base, shortstop, corner outfielder, starting pitching
Money to spend? Yes, as much as $25 million or even a little more, but they also have plenty of holes. The Pirates took some steps forward in 2011, but will need to fill out their roster and will likely be going for the second-tier players to fill out a lineup around Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton and James McDonald.

St. Louis Cardinals | R.I.P.
Needs: First base, shortstop, relief pitching
Money to spend? Some for the right player. The Cardinals have nearly $60 million tied up for 2012 in six players -- Matt Holliday, Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook. There's also the little matter of Pujols -- who will listen to offers from the Cardinals, but is unlikely to give much (or any) of a hometown discount. The team also needs a shortstop and could use another left-handed reliever.

West
Arizona Diamondbacks | R.I.P.
Needs: second base, middle infield, relief pitching
Money to spend? There's not much tinkering expected of a team that surprised everyone by winning the NL West in 2011 -- the rotation is looking good and most of the positions are already manned. The team declined its option on second baseman Aaron Hill, but could also look at former Diamondback second baseman Kelly Johnson. The bullpen was radically rebuilt last season, but could use some tweaking.

Colorado Rockies | R.I.P.
Needs: starting pitching, second base, third base
Money to spend? The team needs a starter and also two infield spots -- all without spending much money. They could be looking to trade to find their infielders and a lefty reliever. But they also need a pitcher that can throw 200 innings in a season, but those don't come cheap on the open market. They'd also like a right-handed bat.

Los Angeles Dodgers | R.I.P.
Needs:catcher, second base, third base, starting pitching, relief pitching
Money to spend? Who knows? With the Frank McCourt mess, nobody knows what the future holds for the Dodgers. If they are sold, the timing may still be off for any big additions to the budget. In a perfect world, the Dodgers are looking at the big names like Fielder, Reyes and Wilson, but it doesn't seem like that will happen.

San Diego Padres | R.I.P.
Needs: closer, relief pitching, corner outfield, middle infield
Money to spend? The Padres have money to spend and spots to fill -- but don't expect them to be wooing the big names. Big money in San Diego is still small money to the likes of the Phillies and Cubs. The highest-priced free agent likely to sign with San Diego is closer Heath Bell.

San Francisco Giants | R.I.P.
Needs: shortstop, corner outfielder
Money to spend? The Giants will spend for the right player, and Reyes may just be that player. Or Rollins. The team may also try to retain Carlos Beltran, but at his age and injury history, the Giants are unlikely to gamble with a multiyear contract.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:55 am
 

2011 World Champs: St. Louis Cardinals



By Matt Snyder


Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever -- this time around it's the St. Louis Cardinals. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...

Team name: St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 90-72, 2nd place in NL Central, NL wild card winner. Won NLDS 3-2 over Phillies, won NLCS 4-2 over Brewers, won World Series over Rangers 4-3.
Manager: Tony La Russa
Best hitter: Albert Pujols -- .299/.366/.541, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 105 R, 9 SB
Best pitcher: Chris Carpenter -- 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 191 K, 237.1 IP

2011 SEASON RECAP

The Cardinals entered the spring as the favorite in the wide-open NL Central, but nearly immediately lost ace Adam Wainwright to a torn ulnar-collateral ligament. So he underwent Tommy John surgery and the Cardinals were largely written off as a serious threat to the Brewers and the defending division champion Reds. A 2-6 start didn't help matters, especially with Matt Holliday having to undergo an appendectomy. Oh, and Pujols was struggling out of the gate. But a change at the back-end of the bullpen and Lance Berkman's re-emergence as a big-time slugger helped straighten things out. By the end of April, the Cardinals were 16-11 and in first place. A bad June and mediocre July weren't enough to bury the Cardinals, but the Brewers huge surge in August seemed to end the postseason hopes for St. Louis. There was no catching Milwaukee. The Cardinals finished 23-9 and ran down the Braves in the wild card, advancing into the playoffs when the Braves lost in extra innings on the final day of the regular season. The fun times extended all the way until the World Series, as the Cardinals took down by the Phillies and Brewers en route to their 18th NL championship. An insane comeback in Game 6 of the World Series paved the way for the Cardinals 11th World Championship.

FREE AGENTS

Yadier Molina, C (club option)
Gerald Laird, C
Albert Pujols, 1B
Rafael Furcal, SS (club option)
Nick Punto, IF utility
Corey Patterson, OF
Edwin Jackson, SP
Arthur Rhodes (club option)
Octavio Dotel (club option)

2012 AUDIT

Everything boils down to what happens with Pujols. If the Cardinals can re-sign him, they'll have essentially the same team in 2012 as they had in 2011, but with a healthy Adam Wainwright taking Edwin Jackson's vacated spot in the rotation -- there's no way they'll have enough money to keep Jackson after extending Berkman and Carpenter while keeping Pujols, Wainwright and Molina. Obviously, if the Cardinals do come back with a similar team and Wainwright is healthy you can expect them to once again be a big-time playoff contender. 

OFFSEASON FOCUS

The biggest focus will be to retain Pujols and I firmly believe they will. What they have to do in order to get him to stay dictates flexibility elsewhere, but most of the biggest questions have already been answered. Carpenter, Berkman and Wainwright are locked up. Holliday already was. It actually seems like a sound strategy. Instead of taking maybe a few months to get Pujols' deal done and then trying to pick up the spare parts, the Cardinals know their budget and what their roster will look like around Pujols. It's one of the many reasons I believe they'll get him. There's obviously a plan in place.
  • Molina's option should and will be picked up.
  • There's not going to be enough money left to do much in the middle infield. They likely can't afford to pick up Furcal's option, so it's going to be some combination of Ryan Theriot, Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso, which is serviceable considering the strength of the rest of the lineup. Maybe they get Furcal to come back on a cheap one-year deal? He reportedly wants to stay and it's not like his value is sky-high.
  • David Freese (3B) and Jon Jay (CF) are going to be the everyday players all season, and both are plenty adequate in their current roles -- especially postseason hero Freese. Jason Motte will also be the full-time closer all season after showing he can do the job down the stretch. These are all full-season upgrades.
  • Keep an eye on Shelby Miller. Jake Westbrook is only going to be a bridge to when Miller can join the rotation. The 20-year-old right-hander was 9-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 86 2/3 Double-A innings this season. It's very possible he's ready to get a shot by June or July. And maybe the Cardinals even plug Lance Lynn in the rotation instead of Westbrook at some point anyway. Expect Lynn to be used as insurance for injury issues -- or even to save Wainwright's arm a bit -- early in the season.
  • If Pujols doesn't re-sign, the possibilities are nearly endless. They'll have a chunk of money to play with an a desperate need to upgrade the offense. Maybe go after Jose Reyes to set the table for Holliday, Berkman and Freese? The non-signing of Pujols is a bridge we'll cross if it actually happens, because at this point I just don't see him not going back to St. Louis.
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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com