Who’s the next guy?

Matt Holliday re-signed in 2010.  Albert Pujols is gone.  Yadier Molina re-upped with the St Louis Cardinals last week.  So who’s the next future Cardinal free agent in line for a long-term deal?

Is it Lance Berkman?  Despite the legions of converts to Pumania based on his 2012 season, Berkman is still more closely identified with Houston than with the Cardinals.  Interestingly last season (by OPS+) was the best year of his career.  He signed a one-year deal for 2012 for a symmetrical $12 million, but will be 37 before the 2013 season starts.  St Louis might bring him back on a 2 or 3 year contract, depending on how this season goes, but he has passed the point in his career where a 5+ year deal makes sense.

Is it Adam Wainwright?  Much more likely.  Although on the DL at the end of 2011, which would have allowed the Cardinals to decline his option, that option was picked up, meaning he’ll be with the club through the end of next season.  There is much risk to keeping Wainwright for another 5 or more years.  He’s on the wrong side of 30 (will be 32 after the 2013 season) and has now had Tommy John surgery, meaning his career could end on his next pitch.  In his favor, and helping mitigate that risk, is the fact he has learned at the feet and via the example of Chris Carpenter the past 7 years.  Carpenter is no stranger to arm issues himself, but has learned how to prepare himself in-between starts to minimize the chances of re-injury.  Wainwright is one of the elite pitchers in the NL and it would make lots of sense to retain him.

Is it Jason Motte?  He is also on a one-year deal for 2012, and has two years of arbitration ahead of him before hitting the open market in 2015.  Motte has already been anointed the Cardinal closer by new manager Mike Matheny, a position he capably filled during last year’s magical stretch run and post-season.  St Louis might consider signing the 29-year old to a long-term deal, but given the short useful lifespan closers not named Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman enjoy a lengthy contract could turn into money thrown out the window.  I don’t think St Louis will lock up Motte for more than 3 years at a shot.

Is it David Freese?  Like Berkman, David is on a one-year deal. Unlike Lance, Freese is only making $500K this year, is only 28, and appears to have arrived (based on his performance both during last season and the post-season).  The Cardinal front office is probably waiting to see if he can play 100 games for the first time in his career before entering serious negotiations.  His defense is decidedly average, but his bat is superior at a traditional power position.

I think we have a winner.

If you the fan is looking for the next player to obsess over regarding a long-term extension, direct your energy towards David Freese.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He also blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter.

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