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Next chapters await players at career crossroads

They have had enviable careers littered with awards, World Series rings and respect from their Major League peers. They possess knowledge and experience that can illuminate a clubhouse. They are the epitome of what it means to be a big leaguer.

But for some of the veteran players at a career crossroads as 2013 winds into '14, what happens next?

There are varying levels of uncertainty this winter when it comes to Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Paul Konerko, Lance Berkman and Justin Morneau, and even for a younger player such as reliever Daniel Bard.

The last time we saw Halladay -- a two-time Cy Young Award, a 200-game winner and a likely Hall of Fame contender -- he was finishing off a 2013 season plagued by shoulder woes by leaving a game against the Marlins in Miami after three batters. His top fastball hit 83 mph. Halladay couldn't find the strike zone. His season was over. But was his great career?

Halladay had right shoulder surgery in May and suffered arm fatigue late in the season. He also revealed in September that he had been dealing with a diet-related illness that runs in his family and is now under control. But none of that will quell the uncertainty surrounding the right-hander's future at the age of 36 -- Halladay will turn 37 in May -- and with 2,749 1/3 Major League innings under his belt.

Halladay is a free agent and hasn't given any indication that he's ready to call it quits.

"I don't know what the future is going to hold, but I want to go somewhere that wants me and somewhere that is going to have a shot," Halladay said. "Like I've always told [the media], I hope that's here. Worst-case scenario, I start throwing and things aren't happening the way they're supposed to. Then I'm going to be honest with whoever is interested and make a decision from there.

"If things go the way that I've been told they're going to go and the way I expect them to go, I'm going to be competitive next year."

Can the same thing be said about Zito? We will find out soon.

The veteran left-hander, who won the American League Cy Young Award while with the A's in 2002 and won two World Series rings with the Giants, just saw his seven-year, $126 million deal with San Francisco expire. With a fastball that never topped 90 mph and now hovers around 85, Zito remains an offspeed specialist, but he's also a free spirit. At the age of 35, he might decide it's time to retire if the right winter deal doesn't come along.

Or Zito might hook on somewhere with a short big league deal or Minor League deal.

If it's over, Zito went out with a nice moment in September when he got a standing ovation at AT&T Park and his teammates urged him to stay in the dugout and absorb the adulation and appreciation.

"This game is all about, 'What do your peers think of you?'" Zito said. "When your peers respect you in that manner, there's nothing that's more validating as a player."

Konerko, meanwhile, is as respected as any player in recent White Sox history. He's the captain of the team and was a huge part of its 2005 World Series championship. Konerko's production slowed in 2013, particularly over the last three months, when the 37-year-old had mounting left wrist and back issues, and he hit only five home runs in his final 218 at-bats.

We'll see if Konerko returns in a lesser role on the field while continuing his major influence on Chicago's clubhouse. We'll see if he decides to hang up the spikes. It doesn't seem like there will be an alternative to those two possible choices.

"I'm committed to let Paulie go out," White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said. "He's earned the right to go out however he wishes."

Berkman might opt for the same fate. The prolific switch-hitter, who also will have a case for Hall of Fame enshrinement when his career ends, will turn 38 in February and is coming off a season in which hip and knee problems didn't give him a chance to show the Rangers what he could do when healthy.

Late in the season, Berkman admitted that he had a tough decision to make this winter.

"It's hard to say. I'm taking it one day at a time and doing whatever I can to help us win games," Berkman said. "That kind of speculation and analysis will come later."

Morneau is not in the same situation as these players. In fact, he might just be getting restarted at the age of 32 after having his 2010 season cut short because of concussion symptoms that hindered him since. In 2013, at least, Morneau had the most at-bats (572) that he's had since 2009 and he hit 17 home runs.

The main question now for Morneau, a former two-time AL MVP Award winner: Can he return to being a fixture in a lineup, or is the recent decline in power a reality of his age and what his body has been through?

Age is not a problem for Bard, who won't be 29 until June and who was one of the most difficult-to-hit relievers in baseball while with the Red Sox in 2010 and '11. But control is a major problem right now, and it's the reason Bard was waived by Boston and spent a lot of time in the Minors, where he walked 27 batters in 15 1/3 innings.

The 2014 season could be the telling one for Bard's future. The Cubs claimed him off waivers, so he's reunited with former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, now Chicago's president of baseball operations.

"He's a guy who has seen me at my best and at my worst," Bard said. "It's pretty awesome to have somebody you know is on your side."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Daniel Bard, Roy Halladay, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, Barry Zito