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What's in the Cards?

Renteria, Morris headline team's free-agent class

Posted: Friday October 29, 2004 12:02PM; Updated: Friday October 29, 2004 12:02PM
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Bye, Bye Birdies?
Name Pos. 2004 Stats Salary
Matt Morris RHP 15-10, 4.72 $12.5M
Woody Williams RHP 11-8, 4.18 ERA $8.0M*
Edgar Renteria SS .287, 10 HR, 72 RBIs $7.25M
Mike Matheny C .247, 5 HR, 50 RBIs $4.0M
Steve Kline LHP 2-2, 1.79 ERA $1.7M
Cal Eldred RHP 4-2, 3.76 ERA $900,000
Ray Lankford OF .255, 6 HR, 22 RBIs $650,000
Chris Carpenter RHP 15-5, 3.46 $500,000+
Tony Womack 2B .307, 5 HR, 38 RBIs $300,000
John Mabry UT .296, 13 HR, 40 RBIs --
* $8.0 million team option for 2005
+ $2.0 million team option for 2005

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals won more games than anyone in 2004 (105 of them), they ran away with the National League Central (which nobody saw coming) and then fought their way into the World Series, where they promptly bowed out with a whimper.

In a lot of ways, despite the Series flop, '04 was a remarkable season for the Cardinals -- especially given their lack of a true ace and the stiff competition they faced from the Cubs and Astros.

In a lot of ways, that season will be hard to duplicate in 2005.

Walt Jocketty, one of the most respected general managers in the business, will spend much of the offseason scanning the market for what everyone else is looking for, too -- pitching. He'll try to re-sign at least a couple of the Cardinals' free agents. And Trader Walt will do some swap talk, too.

Luckily for St. Louis fans, the Cardinals have money to spend. They had the ninth-largest payroll in baseball in '04, at a little above $83 million, and the Cards don't figure to be cutting back. In fact, the Cards might begin to tap into a future revenue stream: The team opens its new downtown stadium in time for the 2006 season.

Looking for talent, of course, is the easy part of the offseason. Landing it is the problem.

The Cardinals probably will look first at home, where right-hander Matt Morris (15-10, 4.72 ERA) is a free agent and Woody Williams (11-8, 4.18 ERA) has an $8 million option (or $900,000 buyout) for next season. Williams is a team leader, but he's 38 years old. A long-term contract is probably out of the question. The club most likely will exercise its $2 million option on Chris Carpenter, who had a career year with 15 wins. The Cardinals probably will look for outside help, too. Boston's Pedro Martinez (who beat the Cardinals in Game 3 of the Series), Florida's Carl Pavano, Atlanta's Russ Ortiz, Philadelphia's Kevin Millwood and L.A.'s Odalis Perez all are free agents.

The Cardinals also have some talented young pitchers in the system that they hope can fill in the holes. Jason Marquis, who won 15 games and started Game 4 of the World Series, will return along with Danny Haren and Rick Ankiel.

The biggest call the Cards will have to make in the offseason, though, is what to do with Edgar Renteria. Their All-Star shortstop is a free agent and wants to come back, and the Cards are expected to at least make the effort. Renteria was the anchor of the best infield defense in the majors.

But if Renteria wants $12 million a year, as has been reported, the Cards might go shopping elsewhere. They already are burdened with huge, long-term contracts to Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. Locking up Renteria (who made $7.25 million in '04) to a long-term deal might not make sense. To a lesser measure, the Cards have to make a similar call on Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny ($4 million in '04).

In addition, manager Tony La Russa will soon be without a contract, but told reporters Thursday he is planning on returning.

It's said that getting to the top is not nearly as hard as staying there. The Cards made it to the top of the NL this year. But if they don't get these offseason questions answered, their stay there may be brief.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.

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