Cardinals have (at least) five questions to answer this offseason

ST. LOUIS, MO- The St. Louis Cardinals came up just short in the team’s bid to return to postseason play for the first time since 2015. With the offseason now upon them, here’s a look at at least five intertwined questions which figure to loom large over the next few months.

Free Agency Philosophy: The team’s second half turnaround was keyed in part by young players developed internally. Outside of Miles Mikolas, it was a year of overall frustration with free agents (Fowler, Cecil, Gregerson). During the course of the turnaround, ownership seemed to signal an interest in moving away from free agents as a primary solution to problems. So how will that square with this winter’s big free agent prizes, OF Bryce Harper, SS/3B Manny Machado, and others like 3B Josh Donaldson, OF A.J. Pollock and Pitcher Patrick Corbin who could all generate a market of suitors that includes the Cardinals?

Rotation:¬†There are a dozen pitchers on the current roster who could lay some claim to a shot at starting next year. Is some of that organizational depth traded? Will next year’s rotation include Adam Wainwright? What about Carlos Martinez? Does Tyson Ross get a shot at returning after impressing in long relief duty in 2018? After the likes of Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Nathan Eovaldi, the free agent market is thin on starting pitching.

Bullpen: The left side is still in shambles. Cecil still has two years and $15 million left on his contract. Chasen Shreve, the pitcher with big league experience acquired from the Yankees in the Luke Voit deal is out of options and arbitration eligible this winter. On the right side Gregerson still has a year and $5.5 left after a mostly lost 2018. Everyone thinks Jordan Hicks is the closer for 2019, but how he adjusts to what he learned this past year will be critical. He’ll need more thana 100+ MPH heater to get the job done.

Who Plays The Hot Corner:¬†Five players saw time there in 2018, with Jedd Gyorko seeing the most action. He’s solid defensively but isn’t a consistent enough hitter for what looks to be a hole in the second or third spots in the lineup. Do the Cardinals make Manny Machado say no to either third base or shortstop? Paul DeJong could slide over, even without Machado here. Donaldson could be in the mix. How about a wild card? If the Yankees land Machado, they will have a decision to make on several players who could fit into the Cardinals’ equation (Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torre, Miguel Andujar) but would come at a steep trade price.

Outfield: Everyone has been saying the right things about Dexter Fowler’s situation. We’ll never know if the modest offensive uptick he saw with consistent playing time after the managerial change would have continued for the rest of the season and blunt the narrative that he had nothing left in the tank with a lot of money still left on his deal. Right field is very much an open question heading into 2019. Who is the answer? Tyler O’Neill? Jose Martinez? Pollock? Harper?