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Inbox: How should Cardinals fill team's needs?

ST. LOUIS -- With the Hot Stove relatively quiet in St. Louis and the Winter Meetings looming just days away, here are a fresh batch of your Inbox questions to provide some distraction.

Remember, due to the number of questions I receive, not all can be chosen for inclusion. Those that did not make this edition will be kept for future consideration. And, of course, feel free to submit new questions through the link below. On that note, let's get going ...

Everyone seems to agree that the Cardinals' greatest need is a shortstop, a left-handed reliever and maybe a backup infielder. The trouble is that all such players are in short supply, so the cost is too high. So do the Cardinals sign an older player for one year to fill the holes until they can develop someone in the Minors?
-- Jim P., Owensville, Mo.

The Cardinals' offseason wish list may be relatively short, but, as you mention, so, too, is the list of intriguing fits for the team's holes. The free-agent-left-handed-relief market is quite weak, meaning general manager John Mozeliak may have to consider offering a multi-year deal if there is a particularly appealing option. Scouring the trade market and identifying possible Minor League free agents to sign are also avenues through which to address this need.

Adding a shortstop, Mozeliak said recently, isn't as much a priority as fortifying the middle infield in general. That means the Cardinals aren't so concerned about finding a starting shortstop as they are adding an infielder who can spell players at both positions. With Kolten Wong, the Cardinals' No. 4 prospect, expected to compete for a Major League job as early as next season, a one-year stopgap would make sense as the Cards await his ascension. Since Rafael Furcal is recovering well from an elbow injury, the team has the flexibility to wait another 12 months before addressing the shortstop situation again.

Since Carlos Beltran is only signed for one more year and Oscar Taveras is making a lot of noise in the Minors, is it possible that the Cardinals could trade Beltran at the Trade Deadline in 2013? Taveras could then take the starting job in right field in '14. Or is it maybe too early to say?
-- Tanner C., St. Louis

It's hard to envision a scenario in which the Cardinals would entertain dealing Beltran in July unless the club is out of contention. And it's even more difficult to imagine that being the case given how much of this year's core is returning. While the Cardinals would risk receiving no compensation should Beltran walk as a free agent, the organization did not sign him with the intention of flipping him for prospects, but to help lead the club to the postseason.

Taveras provides the Cardinals with the ideal successor for Beltran and can use 2013 for further seasoning in the Minors. It's not too bold to project that the top prospect will be starting in the Cardinals' outfield at the start of the '14 season.

Why did the Cardinals sign Rob Johnson? I thought they were focusing on the middle infield and the bullpen?
-- Jason D., Jefferson City, Mo.

Indeed, the Cardinals' primary needs -- left-handed relief, bench help, middle infielder -- have not changed. That does not, however, preclude the club from also boosting its options in other areas. There's no risk and minimal money required in signing Johnson to a Minor League deal. The Cards have the option of cutting Johnson during Spring Training without being on the hook for any Major League compensation.

The signing, though, adds some competition for the backup catching job, which was Tony Cruz's in 2012. With Bryan Anderson and Steven Hill recently coming off the team's 40-man roster, the Cardinals can benefit from the depth.

What is the status of Eduardo Sanchez?
-- Joseph R., Kenmore, N.Y.

I wondered if Sanchez could be one of the players the Cardinals would take off the 40-man roster this month, but he survived the cut and, for now, remains. At just 23 years old, Sanchez remains an intriguing arm within the Cardinals' system. But arm problems -- he missed time with a shoulder injury in 2011 and an elbow issue in '12 -- are still a concern, as are mechanical issues. An inability to build off the '11 success he had with St. Louis in '12 stalled Sanchez's impact.

As of now, Sanchez is poised to come to Spring Training with the chance to compete for a bullpen spot. It will be an uphill battle for the right-hander, given how many other pitchers surpassed him on the depth chart last season.

What do you think the chances are of signing Adam Wainwright to an extension this offseason?
-- Matthew D., St. Charles, Mo.

Discussing an extension with Wainwright is among the items Mozeliak intends to address this winter. With Wainwright set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, the Cardinals would much prefer coming to an agreement before next offseason, when other clubs could make their own offers.

Wainwright has expressed interest in extending his tenure with the Cardinals and in negotiating this winter. It all sets up well for something substantial getting done before next season

From the beginning of Spring Training, I never understood why there was a competition for second base. As the season progressed, Skip Schumaker seemed to move further into the background, then Tyler Greene was gone. I realize batting average isn't everything, but I cannot understand why Daniel Descalso came out ahead of Schumaker. Is there a problem with Schumaker that I don't know about?
-- Art H., Las Vegas, Nev.

If you're looking for a conspiracy theory of sorts, you're not going to find one with Schumaker. He is thought of as highly as anyone in the clubhouse and handled his fractured playing time without complaint. I would argue that there was no more frequent a topic asked of manager Mike Matheny last season than that of the second-base situation. Matheny's regular response, once it became obvious that Descalso would be getting the bulk of playing time, was that he preferred to go with the stronger defensive option.

Also, once Descalso started coming through with key postseason hits, it presented Matheny with little opportunity to put Schumaker back in the starting lineup. Moving forward, Schumaker is not expected to get regular starts at second. Rather, he'll fit on the roster as a utility player who can step in, as needed, in both the outfield and infield. He could also be used as a trade chip.

Why wasn't Matheny considered for the National League Manager of the Year Award? Despite his rookie manager status, he took a team that everyone thought would be dead without Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols, kept them in the hunt for a postseason berth all season, and then brought them to within a game of the World Series. He did all this while dealing with injuries and the highest of expectations from management and fans.
-- Travers W., Alton, Ill.

While Matheny certainly deserves credit for the job he did to navigate a team through significant adversity and into the postseason, I can't see any argument holding that would suggest the voters got it wrong. The Nationals' Davey Johnson won the award after leading Washington to the franchise's first division title. The Nationals finished with more wins than anyone in the Majors, too.

Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy -- each of whom also overcame plenty of adversity in leading teams to division titles -- finished second and third, respectively, in the voting.

Remember, too, that all votes must be cast by the end of the regular season. At that time, the Cardinals had merely the 11th-best record in baseball. While that was sufficient enough to sneak into the postseason, it was not overwhelming evidence to suggest that Matheny did the best managerial job in the league.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Beltran, Daniel Descalso, Rob Johnson, Eduardo Sanchez, Skip Schumaker