The Cardinals left baseball's winter meetings needing just a couple of parts -- backup catcher, another relief pitcher -- to more or less complete their 2011 model. But the biggest part of their offseason will be devoted to a player they already have under contract, three-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols.
Pujols' $16 million option has
been picked up for next season, but the larger question is his next contract.
The club, hoping to sign Pujols to a "lifetime" contract, met with agent Dan
Lozano a couple of times in Lake Buena Vista.,
"I think each side is just going to keep it private," manager Tony La Russa said .
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he did not sense any immediate urgency for a resolution.
"The closer you get, the more urgency there is," said DeWitt. "But we're still a year out from free agency. It's not like someone can go make a deal with him today, tomorrow or before he reaches free agency. There's a long time.
"We would like to get it done sooner than later. But that doesn't mean if it doesn't get done in the next 60 days, it won't get done."
The 60-day figure more or less corresponds to the amount of time before spring training begins. Lozano has suggested that Pujols does not want to discuss contract after spring training begins.
"You know there's only so much time before we start spring training," La Russa said. "I know Albert well enough that once he gets into spring training, he doesn't like distractions. I just know where the heart and heads of both the team and the player are -- they want it to work out. They'll work at it, and we'll see what happens."
The benchmarks for Pujols'
contract, of course, are Alex Rodriguez's 10-year deal with the New York Yankees
at $27.5 million a year and
--1B-OF Lance Berkman will play right field, not left, as it turns out. When Berkman was signed for $8 million a free agent, the first thought was that Berkman would play the less demanding left field with incumbent left fielder Matt Holliday switching to right, as he had told manager Tony La Russa that he would do. La Russa conveyed those sentiments to Berkman, but La Russa said the latter told him he would prefer to play right. "Lance has played more right field than he's played anything," said La Russa. "So I think our plan is to go into spring training with Matt playing left and Lance working in right." Berkman actually hasn't played any outfield spot for three years. But he says that after recovering from knee surgery of last March, he is physically able to do it.
--INF/OF Allen Craig will get a shot at playing third base in spring training, manager Tony La Russa said. After La Russa last summer said he didn't think it was "fair" to try Craig, then a rookie, at third base during the season -- Craig had played mostly outfield and first base the last two years -- he now seems inclined to give Craig plenty of time at third in the spring. This would backstop the Cardinals a bit if David Freese is slow to return after having surgery on both ankles. La Russa, who suggested that Craig might even benefit from a third season in Triple-A if there wasn't much playing time at the major league level, said, "The one thing we're trying to do is create enough at-bats for a guy like Allen to where he's contributing, because he's ready to play in the big leagues as long as he plays." General manager John Mozeliak said, "(Craig) has played (at third base) before. When you look at it as an opportunity for him to get more at-bats, it would make sense for him to do that." Most of the past difficulty Craig has had at third base had been because of his throwing motion.
--SS Brendan Ryan, who has lost his job to newly acquired Ryan Theriot, still was with the club in mid-December although the Cardinals have made no secret they are trying to trade him. Ryan could be kept as bench strength although manager Tony La Russa said, "The reason Ryan Theriot was traded for is we have a chance to win, and Brendan, because of his (.223) year, opened the door. I think it's irresponsible as an organization to go into the group next year if you have a chance to improve at that position and hope that Brendan got back. So now we don't have to hope. We've got Ryan (Theriot), and we'll see what happens to Brendan."
--The Cardinals, as they did last season, might have to depend on young players off their bench. INF Tyler Greene, who is out of options, will be given one more chance to prove himself as a utility player. Greene has power and speed but has been erratic in the field and has hit just .222 and .221. If SS Brendan Ryan is traded, left-handed-hitting INF Daniel Descalso, impressive in a late season audition, might have a chance. OF Nick Stavinoha, dropped from the 40-man roster although he was the Cardinals' most productive pinch-hitter in 2010, also figures in the mix. Stavinoha played little outfield after suffering a shoulder separation in July.
--The Cardinals, seeking a backup catcher to Yadier Molina, were looking at veteran Gregg Zaun, who would play at age 40 but missed most of last season because of a right shoulder injury. They also had interest in Molina's older brother, Bengie, although the eldest Molina probably still is interested in playing regularly.
--The Cardinals didn't take anyone in the Rule 5 draft nor did they lose anybody at the major league level.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Games played in the outfield by Lance Berkman since 2007.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What can we realistically afford to pay and for how long while keeping a competitive team on the field ... he doesn't want to play for a team that's going to struggle." -- Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., on the negotiations on a future contract for 1B Albert Pujols.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with one of the best core groups in baseball: 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, RHPs Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and Gold Glove C Yadier Molina. But the supporting cast must be upgraded.
ARRIVALS: RF Lance Berkman (free agent from Yankees), LHP Brian Tallet (free agent from Blue Jays), SS Ryan Theriot (trade with Dodgers).
BIGGEST NEEDS: At the top of the Cardinals' wish list is a contract extension for 1B Albert Pujols, now that general manager John Mozeliak has filled most of the other priorities.
It is probable that none of them will be brought back.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: SS Brendan Ryan, RHP Kyle McClellan.
Ryan, coming off a .223 season, shouldn't command too much money and might be traded anyway. McClellan is one of the best middle relievers in the game but doesn't have much in the way of stats covering saves and wins.
IN LIMBO: SS Brendan Ryan. Ryan doesn't figure to be a regular with Ryan Theriot having been acquired. The Cardinals don't want to give him away, but it isn't likely Ryan will be with the team in February.
--3B David Freese (right ankle surgery in August 2010, left ankle surgery in September 2010) should be ready for spring training.
--LHP Jaime Garcia (left arm fatigue), RHP Adam Wainwright (right forearm strain) and C Yadier Molina (right knee inflammation) all were shut down at the end of the season. All are expected to be ready for spring training.