The Cardinals know three-fifths of their rotation for next season -- Cy Young Award candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and fellow right-hander Kyle Lohse, who was injured often in a disappointing 2009 but is signed through 2012.
But what comes after Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA), Carpenter (17-4, 2.24) and Lohse (6-10, 4.74)?
Right-handers Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.49), Todd Wellemeyer (7-10, 5.89) and John Smoltz (1-3, 4.26) all are potential free agents. The first two probably are gone, Pineiro because of projected cost and Wellemeyer because he wasn't good enough.
Smoltz and the Cardinals are said to have expressed mutual interest in having the likely Hall of Famer return as a potential fourth starter.
The organization seems inclined to fill the fifth spot -- and perhaps the fourth -- from within. The leaders in that group probably are left-hander Jaime Garcia and right-hander Mitchell Boggs, the latter of whom spent about half a season in the majors this year.
Garcia, 23, spent almost all the
2009 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery but pitched well down the
stretch for Pacific Coast League champion
"From what I've seen of Jaime Garcia, I think he shows the ability to be a major league pitcher," pitching coach Dave Duncan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It would take a little change of philosophy on my part and (manager Tony La Russa's) part to seriously consider him as a part of the rotation in 2010. We've never taken that fifth starter spot and rotated it out at times. We felt it was important to stay with five starters to give the others that extra day.
"With Garcia coming back from injury, can you count on him giving what you hope from a fifth starter? You're hoping 180 innings. I don't know if he has shown the ability to handle those innings and pitch effectively."
--RHP Brad Thompson, who was 21-17 in five seasons as a spot starter and reliever for the Cardinals, was released to clear space on the 40-man roster. Thompson is arbitration-eligible.
--With the release of Thompson, the Cardinals are likely to offer contracts to every other eligible member of their 25-man club.
--2B Jarrett Hoffpauir, who provided a spark and some timely hitting after being brought up to the Cardinals for a brief stint in July, was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. Hoffpauir hit .291 with 14 homers while spending most of the season at Class AAA Memphis.
--INF Joe Thurston, who was with the Cardinals all of 2009, hitting .225 while making 55 starts, was outrighted to Class AAA Memphis, as was RHP Matt Scherer, who was 3-4 with a 3.54 ERA at Memphis. Thurston was a platoon starter at third base until Mark DeRosa was acquired in late June.
--C Bryan Anderson, OFs Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Daryl Jones and RHP Francisco Samuel are among the organizational prospects likely to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason because they have been in the system three years or more. Craig was the organization's player of the year after hitting .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs for Class AAA Memphis.
BY THE NUMBERS: $28 million -- Combined 2010 salaries for RHPs Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's almost impossible to choose between Adam (Wainwright) and Chris (Carpenter). I'm hoping, even though I know it's unlikely, that when the votes are counted, they both get the same amount." -- Pitching coach Dave Duncan, hoping for a deadlock in the Cy Young Award balloting.
The Cardinals didn't have many needs as the season ended although they probably could use one more veteran starting pitcher to go with RHPs Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse. RHPs Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer, who filled out the rotation, both likely will be gone as free agents.
BIGGEST NEEDS: When the Cardinals were dismissed early from the playoffs, they set the wheels in motion to try to re-sign free-agent LF Matt Holliday and also 3B Mark DeRosa. Holliday, however, seemed likely to go into the open market.
The Cardinals have large interest in keeping Holliday and DeRosa and some interest in both LaRue and Smoltz. The others probably are gone.
Schumaker will make more as a second baseman than an outfielder. Ludwick likely will get close to $7 million and might have to be traded for payroll relief if Holliday signs a multiyear deal.
IN LIMBO: OF Ryan Ludwick, a candidate to be traded last year, could be dealt this time. RHP Josh Kinney, a playoff hero in 2006, probably won't return.
3B Mark DeRosa (left wrist surgery in October 2009) should be ready for spring training.
1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) should be back at full strength for spring training.