Cards offseason FAQ: What decisions await?

November 8th, 2021

The Cardinals’ offseason should be a fascinating watch, with a new manager in Oliver Marmol, a roster to bolster ahead of championship aspirations and the likely final rides for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright in 2022. Last season was a roller coaster -- after serious struggles in June, a club-record win streak in September led to a postseason appearance in October that ended with a loss to the Dodgers in the Wild Card Game.

In order to build towards an encore, here is everything you need to know about the Cardinals’ offseason:

Which players are free agents?

Right-hander Luis García and left-handers Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, Kwang Hyun Kim, J.A. Happ and Wade LeBlanc are all free agents this offseason. No position players are free agents, with Nolan Arenado not planning to exercise the first of his two consecutive opt-outs.

Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers?

None are expected to receive qualifying offers, a decision that must be made by the fifth day after the conclusion of the World Series. However, Lester, García, LeBlanc and Happ are all candidates to return on a new deal.

Which players have options, what’s the dollar figure and impact on payroll, and when do they need to be decided upon?

Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martínez had team options for 2022, but the Cardinals did not pick them up. Instead, they exercised a $2 million buyout on Carpenter and a $500,000 buyout on ​​Martínez to make both longtime Cardinals free agents. That clears a combined $29 million in expected salaries off the books for 2022.

For what it’s worth, Carpenter had a vesting option based on accumulated plate appearances over the past two seasons. Since he did not reach the necessary mark, the option turned into a team option.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?

There are various non-tender candidates, most of whom were shuttled between the Majors and Minors this season. They include José Rondón, Max Moroff and Justin Williams. Justin Miller was another candidate, but the Cardinals instead designated for assignment their former waiver claim.

Teams have until Dec. 2 to make any non-tender decisions, though the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and is there a crunch for roster spots?

Most notable among the bunch that needs to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft: outfielder Nick Plummer (No. 10 prospect), shortstop Delvin Pérez (No. 13), first baseman Luken Baker (No. 14), infielder Kramer Robertson, infielder Brendan Donovan (No. 18), right-hander Griffin Roberts and catcher Julio E. Rodriguez (No. 21), among a handful of others.

There is a bit of a roster crunch to do so, given the Cardinals’ large number of players on the 60-day injured list that will soon come off and refill spots on the 40-man roster. But some work has already been done, such as adding Juan Yepez (No. 27 prospect) to the 40-man roster for the postseason, which has him protected from the Rule 5 Draft. He would otherwise have been a prime candidate to be selected.

If so, how might that be resolved, and when does the 40-man roster need to be set?

Plummer, Robertson and Donovan are good bets to be added to the 40-man roster, given that they were on the taxi squad for the postseason. As for the other prospects mentioned above, the Cardinals may opt not to protect a few of them this winter if they are not especially close to playing in the Majors, though Baker and Perez will be interesting cases to watch. (Players selected in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft must spend the entire season on the big league roster or be offered back to their original club.) All of those decisions need to be made by Dec. 1.

What kind of help does St. Louis need, and will the club be active in free agency? Who might it target?

The Cardinals’ biggest needs this offseason revolve around adding a left-handed bat and a starting pitcher. For the former, might Corey Seager be on their radar? The Dodgers’ star is among a plethora of shortstop talent -- also an area of need -- set to hit the open market this winter, but would command a large contract. On the pitching side, St. Louis could use a lefty to bolster its rotation -- Carlos Rodón might be a fascinating fit -- but right-handed hometown ace Max Scherzer would be the most talented pitcher available on the market.