While the baseball offseason doesn’t officially start until after the conclusion of the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals have cemented the 2016 staff by confirming new contracts for all of the major league coaches. Bench coach David Bell, along with hitting coach John Mabry, assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller, and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, will be returning for 2016. Also returning are first base coach Chris Maloney, third base coach Jose Oquendo, and bullpen coach Blake Ilsley.
Manager Mike Matheny is under contract through the 2017 season.
The look of the 2016 roster is less certain. Perhaps the first priority for the offseason is attempting to sign outfielder Jason Heyward. The 26-year old officially hits free agency five days after the conclusion of the World Series. General Manager John Mozeliak has indicated a strong preference for inking a deal with the outfielder, but other suitors for Heyward loom large. The Chicago Cubs are a possible competitor for Heyward, as their center fielder, Dexter Fowler, will also hit free agency this fall. Heyward, who concluded the 2015 season with an accumulated WAR of 6.0 (ranking him 11th among all major league players for 2015) and a slash line of .293/.359/.439, also has an extensive defensive pedigree, with two Gold Glove Awards as an outfielder.
Other Cardinals free agents-to-be include starting pitcher John Lackey, relievers Matt Belisle, Randy Choate, and Carlos Villanueva, and 1B/OF Mark Reynolds. Given the availability of LHPs Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales on the 40-man roster, as well as other options in the minor leagues, it is pretty much a certainty that the 40-year old Choate has pitched his last inning for St. Louis.
While the Cardinals have not shut the door on the possibility of re-signing Lackey, the chances are that Lackey will be seeking his fortunes with one of the other 29 MLB teams. The question looming concerning Lackey is whether the Cardinals will make Lackey a qualifying offer, set at the amount of $15.8 million for the 2016 season. Should the Cardinals make the offer and Lackey decline, the Cardinals will receive a supplemental draft pick in 2016. The likelihood of the Cardinals making Lackey the qualifying offer is very high.
Belisle, who spent 74 days on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, had surgery on Oct. 19 to remove bone chips from his elbow. Belisle pitched 33 2/3 innings for the Cardinals in 2015 and had an ERA of 2.67. Villanueva, who was primarily used as the bullpen “long man”, pitched 61 innings in 2015, with an ERA of 2.95.
Other bullpen question marks are Jonathan Broxton, picked up in a deadline trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, and Steve Cishek, a former Marlins closer who was also a mid-season pick up. Cishek is arbitration eligible for the 2016 season and had a mixed bag of results with the Cardinals, including a high walk rate in his 23 1/3 innings pitched with the Cardinals, and was left off the postseason roster. Broxton has a $9 million mutual option for the 2016 season with a $2 million buyout, an option the Cardinals should not be keen to pick up.
The Cardinals have seven arbitration eligible players in 2016. They include Moss, Cishek, Peter Bourjos, Tony Cruz, Trevor Rosenthal, Adams, and Seth Maness. Rosenthal and Maness are a certainty to be tendered contracts, while Cruz, Adams, and Moss are likely to be tendered. Whether the Cardinals will tender contracts to Cishek and Bourjos is uncertain; the Cardinals may make an effort to trade both before the tender deadline in early December. Absent a trade, non-tendering both players is probable.
Other roster questions include whether or not the Cardinals will pick up the 2016 option of pitcher Jaime Garcia. GM Mozeliak has indicated there is a strong possibility that the Cardinals will exercise the option. In addition, Mozeliak has indicated that another option for back up middle infielder for 2016 will be considered, perhaps an internal candidate, signaling the expected departure of Pete Kozma. Kozma, who slashed .152/.236/.152 in 111 PAs in 2015, has no minor league options remaining. If Kozma is removed from the 40-man roster, he has the option of electing free agency.
In other news, six Cardinals players and staff are finalists for the 2015 Esurance MLB Awards. They are GM John Mozeliak (Best Executive), Mike Matheny (Best Manager), Jaime Garcia (Best Bounceback Player), Carlos Martinez (Best Breakout Player), Yadier Molina (Best Defensive Player) and Randal Grichuk (Best Rookie). The awards are voted on by media, front office personnel, retired MLB players, fans, and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Voting will be open through Nov. 13 and winners will be announced on Nov. 20.
Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal is in contention for the Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year Award. The award is voted on by a nine-member panel, including Hoffman and eight other former relief pitchers, and will be awarded in a press event prior to Game 2 of the World Series.
As previously reported here, Cardinals’ Director of Player Personnel Matt Slater was interviewed for the vacant Phillies GM position, but was not one of the finalists. Former Cardinals’ Scouting Director and current Assistant GM of the Oakland Athletics, Dan Kantrovitz, was one of three finalists for the position, but was not hired by the Phillies.
There have been no transactions by the Cardinals since Oct. 14.
Yadier Molina (partial tear of left thumb ligament) and Matt Belisle (right elbow inflammation) are recovering from surgery. Belisle had bone chips removed from his elbow on Oct. 19, and Molina underwent surgery to repair his left thumb ligament on Oct. 15.
Game 1 of the World Series, between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, is scheduled to start on Tuesday, Oct. 27, with a possible Game 7 to occur on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Five days after the conclusion of the World Series, all potential free agent players are eligible to begin negotiations with any team. All qualifying offers and decisions on player options are to be made on that day as well. The Cardinals will have exclusive negotiation rights with their eligible free agents during the five day period. Any player given a qualifying offer has seven days to make a decision whether to accept or decline the offer. John Lackey and Jason Heyward are virtually certain to receive qualifying offers, if neither signs with the Cardinals during the five-day period.
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