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What to watch for: Cardinals offseason FAQ

@anne__rogers
October 10, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- This could be a defining offseason for the Cardinals, and it will start with trying to evaluate a pandemic-shortened season that also had a 17-day layoff for this club, forcing it to play 53 games in 44 days. The Cardinals finished second in the National League Central,

ST. LOUIS -- This could be a defining offseason for the Cardinals, and it will start with trying to evaluate a pandemic-shortened season that also had a 17-day layoff for this club, forcing it to play 53 games in 44 days.

The Cardinals finished second in the National League Central, making the postseason but losing to the Padres in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series, ending their season in the first round. There are things to build on (pitching) and things to fix (offense) as St. Louis looks toward 2021.

Here are some key offseason events and dates to remember:

Which players are free agents? Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers?
Right-hander Adam Wainwright, catchers Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters and infielder Brad Miller are all officially free agents at 8 a.m. CT the day after the World Series ends. None are likely to receive the reported $18.9 million qualifying offer, which will need to be extended by the fifth day after the World Series ends.

Both players have expressed an interest in returning. Molina has said he would like to play two more years, and the Cardinals have discussed what a return contract would look like. But the two will likely go through the free-agency process -- which begins five days after the World Series ends -- before anything comes of those discussions.

If the Cardinals want to bring Wieters and Miller back, those deals likely wouldn’t come until later in the winter or closer to spring as they did last year. Both signed a one-year, $2 million deal before this season.

The Cards' five biggest offseason questions

Which players have options, and when does it need to be decided upon?
Kolten Wong is the only Cardinal with a 2021 option after Andrew Miller vested his with his 14th appearance of the season on Sept. 20. Five days after the World Series ends, the Cardinals must either exercise Wong's $12.5 million option or buy it out for $1 million. Wong, who just turned 30, continued with his elite defense this year, tied for second in the Majors with six defensive runs saved at second base, and he is easily a favorite for the NL Gold Glove Award again this year. He slightly regressed offensively as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter, slashing .265/.350/.326 over 53 games and 208 plate appearances after a career year at the plate in 2019.

The Cardinals haven’t given any indication as to whether they’ll exercise or decline Wong’s option.

Who is arbitration-eligible this year?
The Cardinals have a young core that is arbitration-eligible -- meaning they are between three and six years of Major League service time -- for the first time this year, headlined by right-hander Jack Flaherty. The Cardinals imposed a salary on Flaherty for the second year in a row after the sides were unable to come to a salary agreement in Spring Training. The Cardinals have gone to a hearing just once since 1999, winning that hearing with pitcher Michael Wacha in 2017. That could change this year if they don’t reach an agreement with Flaherty before a deadline in January.

Right-handers Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia, as well as outfielder Harrison Bader, join Flaherty as first-year arbitration-eligible players. Hicks opted out of playing in 2020 due to pre-existing health concerns, but he still earned a full year of service time. So did Brebbia, who did not pitch in '20 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June.

Reyes had his first healthy season in three years and emerged as a viable back-end reliever in 2020. He’ll likely get a chance to earn a rotation spot in spring. Bader’s defense is valuable, and he showed flashes of what he can do at the plate. But overall, offensively, he struggled, hitting .226 with a .779 OPS and a 32 percent strikeout rate.

John Gant, who avoided arbitration last year, is up for his second year this winter. He was slated to make $1.3 million before the shortened-season salary reduction. The 28-year-old had a 2.40 ERA across 15 innings this season, but he dealt with a groin injury for most of the year and was ultimately left off the postseason roster because of it.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
Brebbia could be a candidate if the Cardinals don’t foresee him being ready for 2021 after his elbow surgery. He has flashed his value and was even a candidate to be the Cardinals' closer back in March, before the layoff and before he felt a pull in his elbow during one of his final spring appearances. The 30-year-old had a 3.59 ERA in 2019 with 87 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings (66 games).

The tender deadline is Dec. 2.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and do they have a crunch for roster spots?
Catcher Ivan Herrera, Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is Rule 5 Draft-eligible this year after five years in the organization. The 20-year-old spent the season at the Cardinals’ alternate training site in Springfield, Mo., and is largely considered the future at catcher behind Andrew Knizner. Right-hander Angel Rondon, the Cardinals’ No. 13 prospect and Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2019, is also eligible. Other notable names are infielders Kramer Robertson, Evan Mendoza and Delvin Perez, who was a first-round Draft pick in 2016.

The Cardinals’ roster will be at 36 when Wainwright, Molina, Wieters and Miller become free agents, and it could be at 35 if Wong’s option is not exercised. But St. Louis must make room for the four players on the 45-day injured list -- Brebbia, Dakota Hudson (Tommy John surgery), Ricardo Sanchez (left forearm strain) and Miles Mikolas (right forearm strain) -- as well as Hicks, who’s on the restricted list.

The Rule 5 protection deadline is Nov. 20.

What kind of help do they need, and will they be active in free agency? Who might they target?
The Cardinals need consistent hitting, and they haven’t had that for a few years. They’ll look for a hitter or two, but don’t expect an offensive overhaul this winter with budget constraints and low revenue from 2020. The Cardinals have the option to improve via trade -- they could listen to offers for any of their pitchers.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.