ST. LOUIS -- Having been nearly silent on the signing front so far this offseason, perhaps baseball's annual Winter Meetings -- set to take place from Monday until next Thursday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. -- will be the jump-start for the Cardinals' winter work.
Since the Cardinals' playoff run ended, general manager John Mozeliak has made one acquisition: signing catcher Rob Johnson to a Minor League deal. It was hardly a headline-grabbing move, but the lack of activity is also an indication of the club's standing this winter.
Unlike a year ago, when the Cardinals were forced to fill a hole created by Albert Pujols' departure, the organization finds itself on sturdy ground, having lost only Lance Berkman and Kyle Lohse to free agency. The minimal turnover, coupled with the emergence of several young players last season, leaves the organization with seemingly few holes.
That does not mean Mozeliak will be inactive next week; quite the contrary, actually, as the Winter Meetings facilitate discussions among executives and agents by gathering all under one roof for several days. Mozeliak will seek to fill the holes he does see with his club, and he will listen to trade proposals. The Cardinals' growing group of strong young pitchers could draw substantial interest, and if a trade offer is overwhelming enough, Mozeliak could consider making a bigger offseason splash than initially anticipated.
Here is a quick look at the Cardinals' standing heading into next week's Winter Meetings:
Left-handed reliever: The Cardinals wanted to carry two reliable lefty relievers in 2012, but they never could find stability in that area. Marc Rzepczynski is returning, but the club would like to find another lefty to join him in the bullpen. The options on the free-agent market are mostly underwhelming, which increases the likelihood that the Cardinals will scour the trade market for additional possible fits.
Middle-infield depth: With Rafael Furcal recovering well from a late-season elbow injury, Mozeliak has said that finding another starting shortstop is not a priority. Rather, the Cardinals intend to focus on improving their middle-infield depth. There are still questions about who will start at second base, and St. Louis needs to have insurance in case Furcal has any setbacks.
Right-handed bat for bench: By the end of 2012, the Cardinals' bench had become hardly a threat. That was largely a byproduct of injuries, but the Redbirds, having lost Berkman, still need to readdress this area again. Adding a right-handed-hitting power threat would be a good place to start.
Who they can or need to trade
The Cardinals need to trade no one, having constructed a roster through sound financial decisions with a balance of established players and up-and-comers. That said, Mozeliak will consider dealing from areas of strength -- or the farm system -- if it's the best way to address other needs.
Skip Schumaker, who will be a free agent after the 2013 season, could have value to others clubs looking for a utility player capable of filling a hole at second base or in the outfield. Because the Cardinals have other options for both positions, dealing Schumaker could be a possibility.
Matt Adams is another name that could draw interest. Blocked indefinitely by Allen Craig at first base, Adams could be a trade chip as the Cards look to fill other holes. The power potential he has and the years of control over him would be enticing to other clubs.
In no particular order: infielders Kolten Wong, Adams, Carson Kelly; outfielders Oscar Taveras, Charlie Tilson, James Ramsey; right-handers Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Tyrell Jenkins, Michael Blazek; and left-hander John Gast.
The Cardinals would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to depart with any of the three right-handed pitchers from this list, and Taveras can be considered untouchable. But the Cardinals have shown a willingness to depart with prospects to address areas of need and such a move can't be ruled out this winter.
Rule 5 Draft
The Cardinals spent the month tweaking their 40-man roster and currently have one opening on it. As long as that open spot remains on Tuesday, the Cardinals will have the option of selecting an eligible player left unprotected by another club. Last year, the Cardinals made Erik Komatsu their Rule 5 pick, though Komatsu has since been sent back to the Nationals.
Since 1998, only three of the Cardinals' Rule 5 selections have stuck through a season. Remember, if a player does not remain on the team's 25-man roster for a full year, he must be offered back to his previous club for half of the $50,000 purchase price.
Big contracts they might unload
RHP Edward Mujica ($1.625 million in 2012); RHP Jason Motte ($2 million); RHP Mitchell Boggs ($506,000); Rzepczynski ($504,000); and David Freese ($508,000).
Though the Cardinals have not publicly announced a target payroll, the club should have enough flexibility to address their holes this winter. That's largely because the Cardinals are not in position to have to bid big on the top crop of free agents. Letting Lohse and Berkman depart as free agents freed up the necessary money to cover raises through arbitration and guaranteed contracts. Expect the final payroll to come in somewhere around $110 million.