Cards' offseason decisions will center around pitching

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals have tasted postseason success, and they likely will have to pay for it now.

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty's biggest challenge this offseason will be keeping the World Series champions on top while facing budget constraints. Some of his biggest decisions will deal with his starting rotation, beginning with postseason standouts Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan -- two free agents who could be looking for more money after strong playoff runs.

Jocketty believes it's unwise to judge potential free agents on what they do in October, and that philosophy may be tested after Weaver and Suppan played key roles in the franchise's first World Series championship in 24 years.

"I'm sure an agent will try to sell that aspect," Jocketty said. "But you've got to judge a guy on his career, you've got to judge him on the entire year.

"You can't do it on a couple of short series, or you shouldn't anyhow."

Weaver was plucked from the junkyard after going 3-10 with the Angels and getting released to make room for kid brother Jered in the rotation. He was being paid $8.25 million on a one-year contract.

Weaver was 5-4 with the Cardinals his overall ERA was 5.76. But he resurrected his career in the postseason with a victory in each round, and he dominated for eight innings in the Game 5 clincher against the Detroit Tigers. He wants to stay, noting the Cardinals have made it to the postseason in six of the last seven seasons.

"Why wouldn't you if you have the opportunity to have the chance to do this each and every year?" Weaver said. "This is what we play for, to have the chance to win, and we'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Suppan generally has been regarded as a middle to back-end pitcher in the rotation, even after consecutive 16-win seasons in 2004 and 2005. He won 12 games this season with a strong second half, and rose to prominence for the first time in his career with the NL Championship Series MVP award. He made $4 million in the final year of his deal.

Those are just two of the many decisions facing the Cardinals after a run-of-the-mill regular season. Their 83-78 record was the worst record by a World Series winner.

"It just shows you this is the best game in the world because you can't predict it," shortstop David Eckstein said.

The other big choice: Whether to pick up a $10 million option on Jim Edmonds' contract.

Edmonds, 36, had an injury-plagued year with post-concussion syndrome sidelining him for a month, a sore left foot requiring daily pain-killing injections to get him through the postseason and a shoulder likely to require offseason surgery. He led the team with 10 RBIs in a resurgent postseason.

Does second baseman Ronnie Belliard, the top trade deadline acquisition, make sense as a long-term fit? Belliard was prized for his bat when he was acquired from the Indians but has been streaky offensively, impressing most on defense.

Change is inevitable. This year's team had only 10 holdovers from the 2004 team that got swept in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox.

The rotation could be due for the biggest overhaul with only ace Chris Carpenter, a 15-game winner who could win his second straight NL Cy Young Award, under contract. Mark Mulder, who had a 7.14 ERA before undergoing shoulder surgery, could return with an incentive-based deal but he, too, is a free agent.

Rookie Anthony Reyes, who threw eight impressive innings in the World Series opener, likely will get a spot in the rotation. Jason Marquis, who won 14 games but with a 6.02 ERA, was left off the roster the last two rounds of the postseason and will be allowed to test free agency.

The closer also is a question mark. Jason Isringhausen, who has one year remaining on his contract, believes he'll be ready for the start of next season after undergoing his second hip operation in two years in September.

Rookie Adam Wainwright was impressive as Isringhausen's stand-in, and closed out the clinching game for his fourth save of the postseason.

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