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MLB St Louis Cardinals

5 Players St. Louis Cardinals Could Sever Ties With This Offseason

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Which 2013 Cardinals May be Gone in 2014?

Which 2013 Cardinals May be Gone in 2014?
H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

As the St. Louis Cardinals get ready to take part in the 2013 MLB World Series, the last thing anyone's thinking about is what's going to happen next year. However, in the back of every executive, player, and fan's minds, they have to wonder about how the team is going to change over the offseason.

The Cardinals still have to win four games to become World Series champions, but as of now, anyone with the organization who is thinking about next year has to be proceeding as if the Cardinals will be the defending World Series champions. It's difficult for a World Series team to find a balance in constructing their roster as they try to keep the team that won together, yet still make sure they're properly equipped to be competitive in the coming season.

We saw the San Francisco Giants struggle mightily in their quest to defend their championship this year, as they did not adequately address the holes that were created at the end of the season and suffered as a result. The Cardinals have similar holes this year on their bench and in their bullpen, so they must make sure that they plug them up. In addition, they need to make sure that they have enough depth to cope with the fatigue that comes with all the players having played for an extra month during the postseason.

Here are five players that the Cardinals could decide to let go as they make adjustments to their roster for next season.

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5. Jake Westbrook

5. Jake Westbrook
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It's basically a given that Westbrook won't be back with the Cardinals next season. The 36-year-old right-hander was disappointing this year, putting up just a 4.63 ERA over 21 appearances. After returning from a late-season disabled list stint, Westbrook pitched only twice in September, and one of those appearances was a ceremonial start so that the Cardinals could pay tribute to what he had done for them over the previous four seasons. He has a $9.5 million option that the Cardinals can buy out for $1 million next year, so they surely will make that move. Westbrook has even talked about retiring after this year, and another World Series ring would probably make that decision easier.

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4. John Axford

4. John Axford
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals gave up Michael Blazek, a young reliever who had a lot of potential, in order to acquire Axford on August 30. However, after using Axford a lot immediately after acquiring him, the Cardinals cut down on his usage in the final two weeks of the season. He's thrown just 3.1 innings, mainly in non-pressure situations, during the playoffs.

Axford's making $5 million this year and is arbitration-eligible next year. If the Cardinals believe that he's not going to be a major part of their bullpen, they could non-tender him rather easily, especially considering that Jason Motte is returning and they have a host of young power pitchers who can fill the other relief spots.

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3. Edward Mujica

3. Edward Mujica
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

All year long, it's been thought that Mujica probably wouldn't return to the Cardinals in 2014. Up until September, that was because he had turned himself into an All-Star closer, and with Jason Motte returning, the Cardinals probably wouldn't want to give him a huge free agent deal just for him to be a setup man. But during the season's final month, Mujica fell apart and allowed 18 hits and nine earned runs over just 7.1 innings of work.

Because of his struggles, Mujica has been limited to mop-up duties during the playoffs, and when he was given a chance during the NLCS, he gave up a home run that put a bigger dent in the Cardinals' already-slim chances of winning the game. Now, it seems most likely that the Cardinals and Mujica will simply go their separate ways at the end of 2013.

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2. David Freese

2. David Freese
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As Freese struggled through the 2013 season while first-year second baseman Matt Carpenter set the world on fire and top second base prospect Kolten Wong dominated Triple-A, it was widely speculated that the Cardinals would non-tender Freese at the end of the season. Under this scenario, the Cardinals would be able to avoid the uncertainty of arbitration with the 30-year-old Freese, who is making $3.15 million this year, while Wong would be able to start at second and Carpenter could shift to third.

However, Wong hit .153 after being called up in August, and he's been terrible as a pinch-hitter during the playoffs. Meanwhile, Freese finished up the season well and has had some good moments during the playoffs, most notably the homer he hit in Game 5 of the NLDS. It now seems much less likely that Freese will be let go next year, but with a highly-touted second base prospect on their hands, it still remains somewhat of a possibility that the Cardinals could try to move Freese in order to find a place for Wong.

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1. Carlos Beltran

1. Carlos Beltran
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Beltran is the biggest question mark on the 2014 Cardinals. The right fielder, who will be 37-years old next year, is a free agent and will probably command an eight-figure salary. Meanwhile, the Cardinals need to find playing time for first baseman Matt Adams, first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, so it would seem to make sense for them to save money by letting Beltran go.

However, Beltran has been a huge difference-maker for the Cardinals, having hit .296 with 24 homers while delivering them a big spark during the postseason. Taveras and Craig both had injuries that limited them to varying degrees in 2013. Signing Beltran would give them some great insurance, but it complicates things as far as distribution of playing time and limits the Cardinals' financial flexibility.