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Hot Stove Daily: St. Louis Cardinals

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the St. Louis Cardinals.

2007 record: 78-84

Finish: Third place in National League Central

2007 opening-day payroll: $90 million

Free agents: Gary Bennett, C; Russell Branyan, 3B; Miguel Cairo, IF; David Eckstein, SS; Troy Percival, RP; Kelly Stinnett, C; Kip Wells, SP; Preston Wilson, OF


Ousted general manager Walt Jocketty was brilliant at maneuvering, always finding bargains and plugging holes with gusto. Whether his replacement, John Mozeliak, can do the same thing this offseason could help the Cardinals look more like the World Series champions of two seasons ago than a team in transition.

His biggest burr is the left side of the infield. Shortstop David Eckstein could leave via free agency, particularly if his agent, Ryan Gliechowski, truly expects $36 million over four years. And with third baseman Scott Rolen and manager Tony La Russa a pair of positive ions pushing one another apart, it seems unlikely that the two could survive another year of partnership.

So Mozeliak hopes some team is willing to take on the $36 million remaining on the three years of Rolen's contract, even though he's coming off a third surgery in three years on his left shoulder. Cesar Izturis wields a flimsy bat, but he seems a good fit for the Cardinals if Eckstein leaves. Trading for Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 1998, is another possibility.

Replacing Percival, likely to fetch a multiyear deal elsewhere, won't be easy. In the second half, he, Ryan Franklin and Jason Isringhausen were perhaps the best 7-8-9 combination in the major leagues. Replacing Wells … well, that shouldn't be much of a problem.

And yet it leaves another hole – the kind Mozeliak needs to prove he's proficient at filling.




The hitting, minus Albert Pujols, is suspect. The rotation might be worse. The Cardinals, much like the White Sox before them, could be in for a steep fall two years after their championship.

Everything sloped downhill when Chris Carpenter's elbow gave out in April. Tommy John surgery will keep him out until at least midseason, and pitchers generally take at least a year after that to regain their velocity and command. Mark Mulder was atrocious in his return from rotator cuff surgery in September and underwent another procedure to clean up the leftover damage. His return is unknown.

Which leaves the Cardinals with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Joel Pieiro, Anthony Reyes and Brad Thompson. Wainwright is legit. Looper petered out last season after a great start, Pieiro is ever inconsistent, Reyes threatened to become Anthony Young Jr. last year and Thompson has been a reliever his entire big-league career.

The lineup worries too, with Jim Edmonds just about done, Chris Duncan prone to ridiculous slumps, Rick Ankiel learning to play with HGH accusations hanging over his head and the aforementioned left side in limbo.

Yes, the bullpen is solid, and that's a nice luxury to have. But it matters little if the hitters and starting pitchers can't hand them leads, which, unless Mozeliak does something drastic, is bound to be the scenario in 2008.

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