It will take some time for the St. Louis Cardinals to lose the bad taste of a walk-off home run knocking them out of the postseason, but once that emotion fades -- or as much as possible -- then team management will begin to plan for 2015. As with any team, their top priorities involve what to do with pending costless agents. The Cardinals have five of them, but it appears that none of those five figure into the team's plans for next season -- at least not at their current costs.
MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch reports that the Cardinals will forgo the qualifying offers to all five costless agents: reliever Pat Neshek, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, second baseman Mark Ellis, and pitchers Jason Motte and Justin Masterson. Langosch also states that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak will most likely not even try to resign any of them.
One can easily understand why Mozeliak would not extend the $15-million qualifying offer to Neshek even though Neshek was brilliant for them all season. Neshek made only $1 million in 2014. In 71 appearances, though, he was 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 2.3 WAR -- by far the best season of his eight-year career. He will very likely command a huge raise, more than Mozeliak would likely pay. In fact, Langosch said Neshek "likely priced himself out of the Cardinals' bullpen plans."
In his only Cardinals season this year, Ellis played in just 73 games but made $5.25 million. He served two DL stints with tendonitis in his left knee and a strained abdomen. Ellis hit only .180 with no home runs and only 12 RBI. He also had a -0.3 WAR. At age 38, he would likely serve as a backup -- if he finds a job at all.
After starting the season with the Boston Red Sox, Pierzynski found himself released. A substantial injury to Yadier Molina, however, gave him a second chance, and he responded fairly well. Pierzynski hit .244 in 30 games for the Cardinals and made the NLCS roster. He made $8.25 million in 2014, but since he did not play the full season in St. Louis, he is not eligible for the qualifying offer, which he would not have received anyway. Pierzynski turns 38 on December 30, so he is nearing the end of his career within the next few years.
The Cardinals had very high hopes that Motte would return to his 2012 form (42 saves) in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, but it just did not happen. He pitched only 29 times from May to early September and ended the season injured with lower back strain. He had a record of 1-0 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.52 WHIP spread over 25 innings. Combining his 2013 (no games) and 2014 salaries, Motte made $12 million. Langosch says Motte " is at a crossroads," but at age 32, he could hook on somewhere and get another chance to show he can still pitch in the Majors.
The non-waiver deadline trade for the former Indians starter looked very nice on paper, but it did not turn out so well on the field. Masterson was 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA with Cleveland before the trade and 3-3, 7.04 with St. Louis afterward. He did not make the postseason roster. He made $9.76 million in 2014, and these numbers support Mozeliak's decision not to make the qualifying offer. Masterson is 30, so he will get another chance elsewhere for most likely a much lower salary.
The good news is that the Cardinals will not lose any core players to costless agency this offseason. They will fill in holes left from these five players quite easily, and manager Mike Matheny knows how to get the most from nearly every player who puts on a Cardinals uniform. Look for the St. Louis Cardinals to compete for another N.L. Central division title and more in 2015.